Theory V Practice

Thought for the day – theory versus practice

The Theory

Behaviours that have been taught have been brought under the owner’s control simply by putting them on cue. What this means is that in the initial stages of training, the handler refrains from putting a command on the behaviour, but simply teaches it by free shaping or luring.

Only once the behaviour is ‘perfect’ does he or she finally introduce a word or signal to cue it.

After this – and this is the important part – the dog is never reinforced for performing the behaviour unless it has been specifically requested or ‘cued’.

The Practise

Hmmm!  Unfortunately, the problem in my mind is that on the whole, learning theory strategists are not working with animals that are living in their homes, happily gaining reinforcement and rewards for all kinds of behaviours of their own volition!

Quite frankly, many dogs cheerfully survive on very little direct, deliberate reinforcement from their owners at all – instead, their cup runneth over with merry little rewards that happen to come their way by accident (“I wonder what happens if I open this white door… yumm! cold chicken!”) or via self-reinforcement, such as relief (“My owners have been out too long… I need to go to the loo…. oooh, that feels better…”) or simple, common-or-garden fun!

Of course, fun comes in many forms: the behaviour itself is enjoyable – such as spinning or tail chasing, running or barking, or the behaviour makes people laugh, give eye contact, physical contact or verbal communication in response.

The bottom line is that “behaviours that get rewarded get repeated” – it’s just that sometimes it’s difficult to identify the reward!

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