Monday, September 7, 2009

Karen Pryor's book-Reaching the Animal Mind

I borrowed Reaching the Animal Mind from a friend over the weekend and could not put it down. This is a book by Karen Pryor who has worked training dolphins, and has also worked with elephants, gorillas, fish, cats, chickens, octopus, many other animals and people. To tell you what I really found inspiriting about the book I would like to quote a paragraph from the chapter on Fear on page 139.

Fear is a part of life in general, I suppose. Certainly it has evolutionary value; we are right to avoid what we fear. It's probably useful that all of us, no doubt down to the hermit crabs and below, can apparently learn to recognize what we should be afraid of, in a single try. But I see no good reason why fear should be an accepted, overlooked, and unprevented part of so many of our social institutions and processes. Fear is the enemy of learning. It"s the negator of joys, the preventer of play, the inhibitor of trust and love. Fear just gets in the way, slows things down, and causes unnecessary pain. One of the blessings of reinforcement based technology is that at least as far as animals and children go we now have a realistic way to keep them and take care of them and teach them without automatically using fear.
What makes that possible is the ability to take the viewpoint of an ethologist-reading, understanding, and respecting the innate signals, from a dog's sad eyes to a little boy's worried forehead-and combining that with the problem-solving skills of an operant trainer, to set up a different and happier circumstance and outcome.

AND in her book for those people who equate positive training with being permissive....on Page 167

Being "positive" is not the same as being permissive. You can say no to things kids want to do that are unsafe or impractial or unaffordable. You can exercise your own intentions and preferences. You can arrange life without having to please everyone all the time. In most cases most of the daily events that people tend to want to stop without punishment are actually not training problems anyway, but management problems. The baby is about to stick a bobby pin into the light socket? Saying no is not the answer. Until the baby is older, you will need to cover the light sockets and keep small objects out of the baby's reach. The puppy is peeing on the rug? Confine the puppy to the kitchen and laundry room, or to a crate and a play area, when you can't watch it or take it outside. Managing the environment is the sensible alternative to punishment, especially when the goal is a behavior the organism has not learned yet.

I found the book a little hard at first to get into and then I could not put it down. There is a web site with videos and articles to go along with the book, which was a very cool thing, I hope more books do that in the future. I got so excited by all the talk of clicker training and I recognized places that I have become lazy and unimaginative and have relied on the old habit of yelling about some of my dogs bad behaviors rather then really training and fixing the problem, so of course I had the clicker out before I had even got through a few chapters. There are a few exercises in the book for you to try, and lets just say my cat is well on the way to learning to "High Five".

I LOVE clicker training and I LOVE how anxious my dogs get to train, how they are not afraid to fail, how quick it is and I think it really does help me to respect the learning process and the learners. I do not use it all the time but I pull out the clicker when I have new behaviors that I want to teach-and it is always a party when the clicker comes out with everyone begging to be the lucky one to be given a chance to get me to give them treats, LOL. If you are a person new to clicker training or someone that would just like to get a little more info and a chance to get excited about clicker training again... I would suggest this book!


Sara said...

I just finished that book too. I was excited to see how much science actually went into clicker training. It clearly isn't some training works.

I was surprised by the variety of animals she had worked with and used clickers with. I thought even non animals people, psychologists in particular , would like this book.

Sam said...

this sounds like a book I'd like. Maybe my dog club has it in its library.

I'm with Sara.. I'm glad clicker training is sticking around. I, like you, use it mostly for new behaviors only, but it makes teaching certain things SO much easier.