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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Bailey’

Raegan left a wonderful link to a blog post by Dr. Sophia Yin on whether dog training should be a craft or a science.

In the post, Dr. Yin explains that the military has been able to train dogs to take commands from radios or laser guides because it adopted a “dog training as science” paradigm.

She begins with discussing the story of a dog trainer for the Dutch police named Simon Prins. Prins was starting to question how far traditional methods could actually take police dogs. Police departments now required dogs that could do a whole lot more, and Prins thought he could come up with a better system that could unleash the potential in so many police dogs:

In 1996, Simon Prins, co-author of K9 Behavior Basics: A Manual for Proven Success in Operational Service Dog Training (2010), was hired to lead an innovative project for the Canine Department of the Netherlands National Police Agency. A test project with a three-year timeline, it would continue if it were a success. The project included a detailed list of tasks for dogs to perform.

“This included normal operational tasks, such as tracking, explosive and narcotics detection,” says Prins. “Also climbing, rappelling, traveling by helicopter and boat, and, the most challenging, training dogs to work with cameras and to follow radio or laser guidance at long distances.”

Although Prins had been a patrol-dog handler in the regional police force for only a few years, he was selected for this project because he was seen as an innovator. “I had been questioning our traditional force techniques because I noticed that dogs would shut down and stop working, or my police dog would become aggressive to me and to the trainer. So I was already looking for new methods.”

New methods were what the job was all about. “The traditional [force-based] trainers all said that radio or laser guidance was not possible,” says Prins. But he was sure there must be a way; so, even though he would not be able to return to his old job if he failed, he accepted the challenge. Within three years, he had succeeded in completing all of the tasks set for him, as well as a few more.

So all these military and police dogs that now take commands from the radio or from laser guiding are only able to do so because they are trained using scientific dog training methods.

However, because dog training had always been treated like an ancient craft that was passed down from generation to generation, it was assumed that it was impossible to train dogs to do these tasks.  This is a very good example of how the “dog training as craft” paradigm has stymied advancement:

At this point, you may be asking yourself — given the fact that people have been training dogs for more than 4,000 years — why did traditional trainers feel these new tasks were impossible. Also, if a guidance system had already been developed for cats [using a cochlear implant] in 1967 in the U.S., why did it take Prins three years to reinvent the wheel 30 years later?

Bob Bailey, who worked on the 1967 project and later become co-owner of Animal Behavior Enterprises after marrying its co-founder, Marian Breland, explains. According to Bailey, it was the advent of animal training and behavior as a science that allowed them to develop the system for dogs, cats and, later, dolphins. “Dog training has been practiced as an ancient craft,” says Bailey. “The science of training wasn’t developed until the 1940s with B.F. Skinner.”

What’s the difference between craft and science? According to Bailey, “Crafts generally develop over thousands of years and tend to preserve what’s old and what has been done before. Information is passed down in secret from master to apprentice, and the apprentice must never question the master.” As a result, when errors are introduced, they tend to be preserved. Another characteristic of a craft is that a change is usually designed only to solve an immediate problem. Says Bailey, “Rarely do they look for general principles.”

Science, on the other hand, is a systematic way of asking questions, a process that eventually weeds out mistakes. It’s guided by principles and data, approaches change and are revised as new information comes to light. As a result, science advances quickly compared to craft.

Bailey backs up his description with an example: “For 1,000 years, the Chinese used gun powder to build small rockets. Then the Turks decided to build bigger ones, which they used on the British. It took them 800 years to develop the technology.” Then, in the 1900s, science and technology stepped in. In 1926, American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-propellant rocket. In 1969, less than 50 years later, the U.S. sent a rocket to the moon. [Emphasis mine].

“So it took 800 years of craft to send a six-foot rocket half a mile and less than 50 years of science to send a rocket to the moon,” Bailey summarizes.

I should mention that Bob Bailey and the Breland family did use Skinner’s methods to train animals, but their work has led to a refinement of Skinner’s work. Their work includes discovering concepts like instinctive drift, and they no longer accept that animals are born blank slates, as behaviorism had initially posited.

Refining Skinner’s work through new discoveries does not mean that the behaviorist theory of learning has been negated. Refinement theories in light of new findings is what science is all about. Darwin never knew anything about genetics. In fact, he actually wound up rejecting some parts of his theory of evolution through natural selection because he had no understanding of how inheritance worked. When Mendel’s work became accepted, Darwin’s theory of evolution became much better understood.

Craft doesn’t refine anything.

Craft is passed onto the apprentice with a series of traditions and shibboleths. Things must be done a certain way, even if they are ineffective.

To do otherwise is to insult the practitioners of the craft who came before. In this way, craft is riddled with dogma.

And this, folks, is why so many modern dog trainers have rejected training methods that have been developed over the centuries.

Better methods have availed themselves through rational scientific inquiry and experimentation.

And yes, they reject them.

No one cares if the ideas of those who came before are negated.

In science, negation of erroneous ideas that others may have held in the past is a major positive feature in science.

Science focuses on what is known now, not what others believed thousands of years ago.

These scientific training methods work, and they are continually being refined as new evidence becomes available.

Holding onto the past, even when it is less effective, is tradition for tradition’s sake.

It’s actually the main target of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.”  Poor readers of poetry might assume that this poem is a celebration of building stone walls with one’s neighbors. It is not.

The narrator in the poem is actually quite ticked that he has to help build this rather pointless wall.  The narrator complains “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out / And to whom I was like to give offense.”  And when he points out that the neighbor’s pine trees will never come onto his property and that his apple trees won’t either, all the neighbor can do is offer up the tired bromide that “Good fences make good neighbors.”  The narrator points out that a wall would really be of use only where there are cows to keep out or in, but all the neighbor says is that same bromide. It soon occurs to the narrator that no matter what he says, the neighbor will still be beholden to that bromide, which his father instilled upon him years ago:

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

And that’s why dog trainers didn’t know you could teach a dog to take commands from a radio or laser.

They were too imprisoned to tradition, and that’s why the science-based dog training paradigm has had so much success.

But because so many people still view dog training as a craft, we’re going to be stuck in so many places.

And this problem doesn’t just exist in dog training.

Tradition for tradition’s sake has also make many people blind to the real problems facing dog gene pools that are being “improved” in closed registry systems.

And these problems aren’t just limited to dogs.

It’s really a major problem for the human condition as a whole.

And it’s one that we need to fix if we are ever to advance to our true potential as a species.

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