K9 Magazine contributor and columnist Mike Deathe is a well respected animal trainer and behaviourist. He recently attended a seminar conducted by Dr. Ian Dunbar and has since redefined his entire approach to dog training. This feature is in three parts and details just how influential that seminar was on Mike Deathe.
If you think you understand everything about how dogs learn, after reading this you may have to do what Mike did and reconsider.
I spent three days sitting in a conference room listening to Dr. Ian Dunbar talk about dogs, training and learning theory; and somewhere during day three I had an epiphany.
You see, I have a degree in psychology and always thought I really understood learning theory. But during this seminar, I started looking at learning theory in a different way. I am not sure if this was Dr. Dunbar’s intention, but it radically changed the way I look at the subject.
In college I learned several different premises under the auspices of “learning theory,” but each was taught individually as a “stand alone” idea. After hearing Dr Dunbar speak, I realised that the three major corner stone’s of learning are actually pieces of a much larger and complete way of looking at learning. I was originally looking at this based on how it would apply for dogs, but as I flesh this concept out, I think this will transcend dog training and help explain successful training for all. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about the three cornerstones of learning theory and their “fathers.” Thorndike, addressed - do it right=reward, do it wrong=punishment or binary learning. Skinner (operant conditioning) covered the four quadrants of punishment and rewards. Pavlov (classical conditioning) champions learning through associations, either positive or negative.
Thorndike’s law of effect states: The law of effect principle developed by Edward Thorndike suggested that responses, closely followed by satisfaction, will become firmly attached to the situation and therefore more likely to reoccur when the situation is repeated. Conversely, if the situation is followed by discomfort, the connections to the situation will become weaker and the behaviour of response is less likely to occur when the situation is repeated. In essence here, we are speaking of binary learning, learning that occurs through one of two choices and their eventual result…positive or negative, reward or punishment, black or white.
About Mutz R Us
Muttz R Us was founded in 2009 by me and my wife Kate. Several years earlier I decided to quit my job as a district manager of an automotive care firm and became a stay at home dad. Kate worked for the Federal Government and was traveling up to three weeks a month. Between the two of us we decided one of us should take a step back so that someone was home with the kids. We have two boys, Donovan and Dylan.
Life went on, with me being Mr. Mom (my love and respect go out to all the stay-at-home moms and dads…it’s harder than it looks.) I told Kate “I’ve got to get a part-time job.” After 15 years of being in the workforce, I needed something besides game shows and soap operas while the kids were in school.
I took a part-time job at a national pet supply chain and before I knew it, I became a dog trainer. A passion was born. I have had dogs since I was four years old and currently my family owns four. We have three muttz, Penny, Lexie and Bear, and we also have a Purebred (yes, even I own a purebred.) Leonberger named Leo. She was adopted, just like my other three muttz. She is sight impaired with roughly 70% vision loss, which adds a different aspect to socialization and training for a dog.
I primarily train on weekends, which are the same two days the company I work for invites adoption groups into the store. I regularly saw the number of dogs and cats that never found a home. It made me wonder how many people actually realise the number of wonderful and viable pets that are wanting and needing loving homes.
We decided that "Adopt a Pet, Save A Life" should be our philanthropic motto. We paired that along with our desire to help animal organizations raise funds and came up with T-shirts to make fun of our Purebred cousins (remember, I own one too..), and "Ta Da.", Muttz "R" Us was born.
About Dr. Dunbar
Veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and dog trainer, Dr. Ian Dunbar received his veterinary degree and a Special Honors degree in Physiology & Biochemistry from the Royal Veterinary College (London University) plus a doctorate in animal behavior from the Psychology Department at UC Berkeley, where he researched the development of social hierarchies and aggression in domestic dogs.
He has authored numerous books and DVDs about puppy/dog behavior and training, including AFTER You Get Your Puppy, How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks and the SIRIUS® Puppy Training video.
In 1982, Dr. Dunbar designed and taught the world's very first off-leash puppy socialization and training classes -- SIRIUS® Puppy Training. Subsequently, he created and developed the San Francisco SPCA's Animal Behavior Department, the American Kennel Club's Gazette "Behavior" column, which he wrote for seven years, and the K9 GAMES®, which were first held in San Francisco in 1993 and continue as annual events in Japan and France. He hosted the popular UK television series Dogs With Dunbar for five seasons and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, including the Today Show (US) and Dash Village (Japan).