Dolphins & Bees - there’s no doubt that there are incredible differences between dolphins and bees. One is a marine mammal and the other is an insect. One outweighs most humans while the other weighs less than your fingernail.
So what do they have in common?
For one thing, you can’t put a leash or a collar on either of these animals to train them. Yet, we can train each of these animals to complete multi-operation tasks.
Let’s talk dolphins. The US Navy Marine Mammal Program trains dolphins to work out in the open water, doing a variety of tasks. These tasks include detecting, locating, and retrieving objects – all in the open ocean. A dolphin can’t exactly wear a collar or leash that tethers it to its trainer. What is used to train the dolphins to complete these tasks and return to the trainer and back to its training facility?
Let’s talk bees. Scientists have been studying bees for quite some time. More specifically, their cognitive abilities - how they learn, can they learn, how much can they learn. Studies have included training bees to pull on a string and most recently, to play “soccer” with a small ball. Like the dolphins, bees can’t wear leashes and collars. What is used to train the bees to complete these tasks?
How do you train two wildly different species to accomplish tasks? How do you motivate these animals to want to work for you?
The answer is in using reward based operant conditioning. A trainer rewards desirable behaviors to increase the frequency of those behaviors. In some cases, the trainer first “marks” (using a marker. i.e. clicker or whistle) a desirable behavior that the animal exhibits and then immediately rewards the behavior (treat/toy).
The animal repeats those behaviors that are rewarded. Why does it work? Because the animal repeats the behavior that works for him. He repeats what he gets rewarded for. It’s a beautifully simple, yet immensely powerful concept. Rewarding for a specific behavior increases the behavior’s frequency. How incredibly awesome is that?
But what does this have to do with our dogs?
We can use the same principles with dog training and achieve great success!
When we purposefully and habitually reward our dog for a specific behavior (sitting, giving paw, laying down, etc.), our dog will repeat the behavior to earn the reward. Think for a second of how you could replace using punishment with this simple concept. In essence, catch your dog “doing good” and reward him with a treat. Do this and you’ll have a dog giving you the behaviors that you want (and he wants!).
I’m not suggesting you throw away your leashes and collars and walk down the street with your dog off leash armed with treats. Instead, I’m challenging you to look for your dog doing things you want him to do and reward him. Keep repeating this. You’ll find that your dog starts to do more “more good” than bad.
In a previous post, “The Great Bed Experiment”, I tell the store of how I got all of my dogs happily hanging out in their beds. Check out that post to see how quickly and easily you can train your dog to hang out in his bed (while you prepare dinner or watch TV or do bills, etc.)
Start today. Pick a behavior that you want your dog to do (and that he does already), catch him doing it, and reward him every time you catch him doing it. Be observant and be generous. I bet you’ll see this behavior increase in multiples. If you don’t, then let me know. I can help you fine tune things so that you and your dog can be successful!