Over the past ten years canine behavior has been investigated and the practical findings made available in an easily understood manner. Now those principles of canine behavior and communication are being combined with another research area, that of operant conditioning and reinforcement scheduling, to produce a more effective training approach.
To effectively combine these two areas into an effective training program, it is also necessary that the handler possess the insight and knowledge that comes from observing and understanding his dog in order to be able to read the dog and to know what types of positive reinforcement are most appealing to the dog. In addition, the particular exercise and the steps in teaching it must be thoroughly understood so that the slightest responses on the dog’s part that build the foundation for subsequent steps can be reinforced when they occur. This approach can be applied to all exercises and, if carried out correctly, can increase the reliability of the dog.
If one is successful using this approach with his own dog, the problem now becomes one of teaching this method in a class situation. Many students, and some instructors, want an ABC-type approach requiring little of the insight and knowledge referred to above. This new approach is much more sophisticated than the traditional ones used in many classes. It will require the instructor to be knowledgeable in the areas mentioned, to be able to get its fundamentals across to the students, and to put in additional time outside of class for his own continuing education and preparation.
The comment has been made at more than one clinic or seminar that there are plenty of dog psychologists around, but none that have trained dogs. This may well be the case, but the time has come for those of us who are trainers to take advantage of the basic findings of the canine behaviorists, animal psychologists, and the use of successful reinforcement schedules in the applied area of training companion, competition, and working dogs. We have just begun to scratch the surface of the dog’s capability to be trained for the service of man, and many of the potential uses for such trained dogs will not be things the dog can be forced to do; he must work because he wants to. The field is open to development by those looking for a challenge.
©1974 W. H. Morrison, III