How important is it for the average pet owner to understand the science (and controversies) regarding animal behavior? Let’s start with this excerpt from a textbook…
“Operant conditioning is an experimental science of behavior. Strictly speaking, the term operant conditioning refers to a process in which the frequency of occurrence of a bit of behavior is modified by the consequences of the behavior. Over the years, however, operant conditioning has come to refer to an entire approach to psychological science. This approach is characterized in general by a deterministic and experimental analysis of behavior. It is also characterized by a concentration on the study of operant or instrumental behavior, although not to the exclusion of the study of instinctive and reflexive behavior. As an approach to the study of behavior, operant conditioning consists of a series of assumptions about behavior and its environment; a set of definitions which can be used in the objective, scientific description of behavior and its environment; a group of techniques and procedures for the experimental study of behavior in the laboratory; and a large body of facts and principles which have been demonstrated by experiment. Operant conditioning is concerned with the relationship between the behavior of organisms and their environment.” [Introduction To Experimental Analysis Of Behavior]
Now, do you know how to get your dog to stop barking at the mailman? To not fight with the dog next door? To not drool and pace when left alone? To Come when called, off leash, and in public? Or to get the kids to not run around teasing the dog? I really don’t think so. I figure it is my job to dig through all of this theory and then show you how to train your dog and fix behavioral issues. Obedience and behavior classes shouldn’t be like a college PhD class on biology, ecology, ethology, sociology, and psychology.
I think it is a sign of a novice dog trainer when they focus on all this gibberish rather than fixing what is going on. Yes, I do believe a good trainer needs to know the theories of learning and behavior and how to apply them, but I don’t think the average Joe needs to know, wasting precious money on information that doesn’t fit their needs.
I have always tried to provide value in every lesson, not wasting people’s money or time. I translate this gibberish into simple English, and understandable examples and lessons. After over 20 years of training, I have developed a number of my own unique exercises to train obedience commands and to fix behavioral problems. The theory behind them is correct, but instead of using the “big words”, like “agonistic”, “allelomimetic”, or “determinants”, I use every day language that everyone understands. The people still get trained. The dogs still get trained. And life is good.
On the other hand, I see way too many dogs that are abused by trainers who know nothing about behavior, doing silly or ignorant applications of techniques, causing more harm than if they had just left the dog alone. For example, I know of a dog that was a barker, barking excessively at the door when guests arrived. So, the owner hired someone who tossed socks at the dog while the doorbell rang. The dog ended up traumatized and on Prozac. They clearly hired the wrong trainer.
So, you can have a well trained dog without all that gibberish. I just hope your dog encounters the right trainer along the way so things turn out well for you and your dog.