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Dogs offer human companions unconditional love and joy. However, dogs are dogs. They are not human.

In understanding dogs as dogs we learn the subtlety and nuances of their rich and varied lives. Dogs want structure in their family, and they are happy to give up subordinate to an appropriate and benign guide. Be a kind leader and a dog will do anything for you, including being the best dog a dog can be.

Be aware that some breeds have predispositions for certain behaviors. For example, a terrier will always be a terrier. A terrier may dig for the sheer pleasure of digging. Give that girl a special place to dig.

Training and Learning (my musings)

While I am pleased that more dog trainers are embracing a thoughtful less violent approach to dog training, some trainers are confused as to the methods they are actually using. For example, some trainers proudly state that they use the "scientific principles" of learning theory. Well, there are several theories of learning, including the one to which most of them refer (operant conditioning). Some go on to say that they use operant conditioning and classical conditioning as opposed to methods used by "traditional" dog trainers.

But the truth is "traditional" dog trainers also use a subset of operant conditioning, they just use the opposite spectrum as the "positive"dog trainers.

So herein lies the problem: The one learning theory that most, if not all, dog trainers use is operant conditioning with some classical conditioning thrown in (with very little understanding of how important classical conditioning is - more so than operant - in my opinion).

Many traditional dog trainers focus on positive punishment (punish bad behaviors as they happen) and negative reinforcement (apply an aversive until compliance is achieved). Cesar Milan uses negative reinforcement quite a bit when he gives many non-stop micro corrections on the collar until the animal complies. He calls the dog's response "calm submission". It is actually learned helplessness (the dog basically gives up).

Many "positive" dog trainers use positive reinforcement (reward good behaviors as they happen) and negative punishment (take away something the dog likes when he misbehaves - like removing your attention & praise).

How Does PeTalk Train?

As an ethologist (one who studies the behavior of an organism in his own environment), I use many theories of learning (including classical and operant conditioning). Some of the theories I follow are little known to many dog trainers; for example, I look at Tinbergen's fixed action patterns for our poor reactive dogs, and the Gardner's Feed-forward theory that states that one behavior can initiate a cascade into following behaviors (a little like Breland and Breland's "Misbehavior of organisms". I also allow guidance from Harlow's theory of learning to learn, which states that after an organism learns an initial behavior, all following behaviors are progressively easier.

In addition to psychological theories of learning, I allow the evolutionary perspective to guide my training practice. What are natural behaviors to the dog, cat, bird...? How can I best use these natural behaviors to train a dog or cat or bird or horse? Should I use big hand signals on a horse who has thousands of years of practice being a herd animal - a prey animal - who is exquisitely tuned to detect even the most subtle of cues? No. From an evolutionary perspective we know that our pets have evolved to be the best at what they are.

At PeTalk we do not use positive punishment or negative reinforcement. We do not use pronged collars, choke collars, or remote training (shock) collars.

For more on what I believe to be true for dogs, please read the articles below:

Social Development of our dogs follow many of the same trends that humans and chimps follow. For more information on canine social development click here.

Communication is another area where we misunderstand our canine companions. A wagging tail has much to tell us about intention in dogs. For more information on canine communication click here.

Research in Animal Behavior: If you are interested in a brief history of research in animal behavior click here. You may be surprised! This article is always changing, as the research progresses.