I'm often asked about my methods for training dogs and what approach I take to change behaviour. For years, I've just replied that I am principal based, not method based because fundamentally, how all dogs learn is the same.
Of course, as we are all individuals, and dogs are too, so each different dog will have their own little idiosyncrasies that are distinctive and personal, but FUNDAMENTALLY, all dogs learn the same way. This isn't my opinion on the matter, this is science.
This got me thinking deeply about The Art and Science of Dog Training. Beyond the limiting thoughts that accompany traditional dog obedience trainers, those who are stuck on their METHOD of training rather than the principals of learning, when you strip away the layers upon layers of opinions, theories, arguments and manipulative phraseology, the only thing left are the fundamental truths.
The first fundamental truth is that all dogs' behaviour is influenced by an innate intelligence. All dogs have this and it is equally the same in all of them. It is what keeps them in the moment, it makes them responsive, adaptive and tells them exactly what to do, at the time they need to do it and in the context of which is required. This genetic component of behaviour is of prime importance when considering what motivates behaviour responses. Genetic characteristics are the intrinsic, predispositions to particular behaviours in certain situations. These are also known as instincts that are preprogrammed in our dogs.
Although learned behaviours can be acquired through very personal, subjective experiences, dogs don't get trapped in the "thought-feeling" loop that humans can suffer in for years and years of depression and anxiety. Dogs are meant to exist simply; when they are hungry, they eat; when they are tired, they sleep; when they need to poop, they poop; when they are scared, they fight or flight. It's really not that complicated, but we make it complicated because WE live in the "feelings" of our, always racing, thoughts. And then, we put those feelings onto our dogs and completely forget about their inherent need to be raised in an environment that they can thrive in. An environment that allows them to be a dog, but learn how to co-exist with humans with help from the next fundamental truth.
The second fundamental truth is within the principles of learning. Dogs DO NOT understand right from wrong or good from bad the way that humans do. As we discussed above, dogs are governed by an innate intelligence that tells them exactly what they need to do, in the moment they need to and in the context that is required. This remarkable intelligence gives dogs the ability to solely rely on themselves rather than a map or steps telling them exactly how to do what and when they should do it. There's no 12 Step Program in "How to be a Dog." They are just born, knowing what they need to do and with proper socialization from their family, they thrive both psychologically and physiologically.
Dogs know what works...and what doesn't work. It's simple:
Learned behaviour can be acquired through interactions with the environment (including people and animals), or it can be acquired through very personal, subjective experiences (perceptions, thoughts and emotions). When dealing with animals, the latter factors are much more challenging to identify, which is why we rely on observable behaviour to identify setting events and discriminative stimuli when establishing our hypothetical contingency statement of a particular behaviour. Unfortunately, our doggos can't tell us their story, they can only show us their response to stimuli.
In regards to teaching dogs how to co-exist with humans, Applied Behaviour Analysis offers scientifically sound teaching technologies through the application of the learning principals of behaviourism. With its roots in human learning, ABA, offers the tools required to assess the dysfunctional relationship between a particular behaviour and the environment and seeks to replace the undesired behaviour with constructive and more socially acceptable behaviour responses.
The Science of Dog Training is what it is. It's science. I have read manipulative phraseology presented by a method-based dog trainer that stated an e-collar isn't punishment or negative reinforcement, but the principals of learning prove otherwise. An e-collar functions to lessen the likelihood that a particular behaviour will occur; that's the whole point of it, and that by definition, is punishment. The main problem with an e-collar is that it is non-contingent punishment, because the dogs rarely understand the EXACT behaviour that resulted in the shock. The handler may observe an immediately change in behaviour, but this is not to be confused with actual learning which can only occur when the dog understands how their behaviour influenced the consequence. What you achieve, is learned helplessness, or lack of any behaviour to avoid the possibility of punishment.
This particular approach to training dogs is technique based rather than principle based because the attempt to change an undesired behaviour happens without first clarifying the relevant relationship between behaviour and the environment/consequences. It's focus is on rapid behaviour change often without understanding of the contingencies, rather than actual operant interactions that influence experiential acquisition of new behaviours. A trainer can train however they want to, but they can't deny the fundamental truths of the principals of learning.
The Art of Dog Training is a lifelong journey to discover within yourself as both a companion to dogs, or a professional to dogs. It is how you deliver the science in a way that is unique to you. The science is the way it is, the art is ever evolving; it is your own very special way to apply the science to raise and care for your whole family.
The Art and Science of Dog Training offers a completeness for both the trainer and the student. The science is unwavering, the art is beautifully evolving through teaching exercises. But it all comes together to raise ethical standards, empower learners and truly enrich the lives of all who participate.
I have spent the past 15+ years learning the science of how all things learn and mastering my art as an animal trainer, behaviour consultant and transformative coach. With my specialty in canine reactivity, fear, aggression and canine communication, I have many insights to share into understanding, preventing, predicting and changing canine behaviour.