Some claim that there is a new fad running rampant through dog training circles.
It is based on some of that sciencey stuff by Pavlov, Skinner, Watson and Thorndike. A few well-known trainers such as Breland, Keller and Bailey furthered this fancy stuff by using geeky science outside the lab, causing this new age stuff to proliferate to the dog owning public.
Perhaps you have heard of some of these fads. You’ll recognize these fancy methods because they use terms such as positive reinforcement, desensitization, counterconditioning and the charming though less scientific term clicker training… among others. Some feel that these will quickly pass.
I’m still waiting.
It should happen at any moment. After all, this fad has been around for at least 162 years. Yes, you read that correctly.
One hundred sixty two years of “fancy” training and counting.
In 1882, S.T. Hammond published, “Practical Dog Training or Training vs. Breaking.” It begins by saying….
“The system of dog training described in this book is a new one…This system is humane and rational. It is also practical and efficient.”
Hammond’s book comes after 30 years of him using these techniques. Do not jump to the conclusion that Practical Dog Training is a book for lunching ladies and their lap dogs. It is a hunting dog manual. Many of the exercises are similar if not identical to exercises done today using positive reinforcement and classical conditioning. Hammond even suggests in places that people “cluck” prior to giving a piece of meat. I suppose you could say that Hammond was a clucker trainer.
I thought I would share a few excerpts from Practical Dog Training. If we stick to the strict definitions of the quadrants, not all of the exercises are positive reinforcement and classical conditioning. Hammond’s book is heavily weighted in that direction.
On Clucking and Treating
“….as soon as his attention is fixed upon the meat, and he looks at it steadily for a second, release your hold and cluck to him as a signal that he can now have it….”
Getting a Dog Accustomed to Gun Shots
“…take the pans to quite a distance from his pen…..When it is time to feed him we go to the pans….we give a stroke just loud enough for him to hear plainly and at once proceed to his pen and give him his feed. By pursuing this course for a few days and gradually going a little closer every time, he will become accustomed to the sound, and learning that the noise is connected with our coming, and also his dinner, he soon gets used to it, and in a short time will stand the racket without flinching….”
“We think it a very good plan to always have in our pocket something good for him to eat, and when he minds this long note (whistle) and comes in quickly, we reward him with a bit of something substantial as well as with fine words.”
Back chaining a fetch
“In this lesson especial care must be had that each successive step is well and thoroughly learned before proceeding any further. Thus when you have succeeded in getting him to take a step or two toward you, do not try him at a longer distance until he has had considerable practice at this, and will readily come the one step or two at the word, “bring”;….”
Fear of Water
“If he shows no inclination to wet his feet you will find it a very good plan to hold a piece of meat over the water where it is but an inch or two deep, and where he cannot get it without putting his feet in….he will learn that it will not hurt him … You should never throw him in no matter how much you feel disposed to do so, but rather let him find out for himself that water will not hurt him, and he will soon lose all fear.”
If we stop to think about it, it is absurd to think that pre-Pavlov, humans could only comprehend or use punishment and coercion. Using food, as the book points out, is “rational”. It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to think that no one, ever, in history ever noticed that animals would work for food or make associations – that it was “discovered” in a lab.
I do not mean to insult or diminish what scientists and pioneers of dog training gave us. If anything, I think that they gave us something far more important. We risk diminishing some of their contributions.
- They gave us a common language.
- They taught us the details of how to us learning theory and conditioning effectively.
- They applied those scientific lessons to real life situations and shared that knowledge with those who want to train better.
“Sciencey” terms such as desensitization and positive reinforcement help us better communicate with other professionals. Guidance from training greats, who applied the science help us train more effectively.
We use OLD dog training methods, based in positive reinforcement and conditioning better because of NEWER information on HOW it works. That does not mean that positive reinforcement, desensitization or counterconditioing is new, nor is it a fad. It has been around for far too long to be a fad.
Trainers who used positive reinforcement before it had a name deserve some recognition. At least, they deserve a little humility from us. When it comes to the practical aspects of dog training, not much has changed. Much of what Hammond wrote would easily flow in a Facebook dialogue on dog training today.
Maybe it is time we stopped bickering about who thought it first. If we look back across the ages, science describes what we’ve done all along using only a handful of terms: Reinforcement, punishment, conditioning, extinction, habituation, flooding. All that we do regardless of training methodology, can be described with the language of the training greats who defer to science. There is not much new under the sun.
I feel it is apropos to raise a glass and say, “I am a clucker trainer!” It is not a fad. Get used to it. It is practical, effective and rational. Mad respect to the observational skills of the trainers of old who recognized a good thing when they saw it. Thanks to the pioneers who taught us how to do it well.
For those who want to read Hammond’s book, it’s available online by clicking (or should I say clucking?) here.
Do you want to use Awesome Dogs graphics? Many are available free for sharing and use (with a few rules of course) from the Awesome Dogs Shareables Community. Click here to add to your client packages, profile pic or marketing material!