There is a very big difference between dog training at the Natural Dog School and at most other training schools. First it is important to understand the approach other dog training professionals take. Almost universally they believe that the laws of learning are inviolable, and repeat the mantra of rewards and punishments. Some become more dogmatic in their view that either rewards are the only way or that balance between the two is critical. All however are convinced that behaviour is something to control, using increasingly scientific and sophisticated methods to achieve their goal. Dogs need to be taught how to do things, they have to be socialised, and dog owners are cast in the role of arbiters of right and wrong, we choose the behaviour. There is a mistrust of the very nature of the dog, a sense of coercion, manipulation. We are therefore fighting against the flow, pushing upstream. It’s a battle with the forces of nature, trying to tame the heart of the dog.
The laws of learning however are not true laws, they are not based on physics or maths, they do not really work. They do give a quick approximation, but it’s important to understand their limit. We are dealing with a complex adaptive system of which we are a part. A quick example of this complexity might help,
A certain mother habitually rewards her young son with ice cream after he eats his spinach. What additional information would you need to be able to predict whether the child will:
- a. Come to love or hate spinach,
- b. Come to love or hate ice cream,
- or c. Come to love or hate mother?
(Bateson, 1972, p. xvii)
Learning occurs on many levels, and is not something that can be imposed with certainty. As the “laws of learning” are used to an increasing extent there is a point at which the system will break.
…any system based on the control of behavior through the use of rewards (or, of course, punishments) contains the seeds of its own destruction. There may be a temporary period, lasting even for many generations, during which some exciting new system concept so appeals to people that they will struggle to live within its principles, but if those principles include incentives, which is to say arbitrary deprivation or withholding at the whim of human beings, inexorable reorganization will destroy the system from within: nature intervenes with the message, “No! That feels bad. Change!”
—William T. Powers (1973, p. 269)
What Natural Dog Training attempts to do is work with a dog’s natural drives and enhance their stability, robustness and predictability. We want to encourage a character of strength and flexibility, confidence and adaptability. These are internal traits that can be developed and the core exercises of Natural Dog Training do just that. They are skills to practise not behaviours to learn.
Bateson, Gregory (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press
Powers, W. T. (1973). Behavior: The control of perception. Chicago: Aldine.