Several well-intentioned readers have questioned me regarding publishing my book on the Communicative Approach to Training Theory. And yes, I have interest from a small publisher on assembling what I’ve written into a book form. However, for the foreseeable future, I don’t plan on doing anything about it. My reason for this literary sloth became crystal clear to me when a reader of this blog messaged me with several questions. Her inquiries revealed to me that she had a mis-understanding of what the Communicative Approach was intended to accomplish. The exact details aren’t important at this point, but here’s why I’m not in a hurry to publish a book.
Working from a blog-centered format, I was able to immediately respond to her and clarify several of her misinterpretations. We had a wonderful conversation, and I believe that a friendship has been formed. She is more comfortable continuing her chosen method of training, with the enhancement of “relationship-based” attitudes of the Communicative Approach. If she had been working from a formal “Book”, or an “E-book” format, she would have gone away with an incomplete understanding. I was able to help her immediately and with a personal touch. Customer service is still King!
The other consideration that I have before me, is the inspiration I receive from my readers. I sincerely feel that writing in a vacuum, without input from supporters and detractors, is egotism of the highest order. And while I have a solidly formed outline for what I write, understanding of other opinions is important. Understanding my readers is important. When I take a controversial position, I’m better equipped to enter the fray of debate without being snarky or dogmatic. That’s how you teach, and how you convince others, that you are worth reading. I will always consider my Consumer here at “German Shepherd Adventures” , without compromising my beliefs.
I’m not going to reprint Ms. Clarkstons e-mail here, as it was quite lengthy, and some of it was superfluous to the subject at hand. Our subsequent conversation was similar, in one respect: It was absolutely riddled with the “scientific” vernacular of a particular style of training. It required a very specific understanding of the vocabulary, and an in depth knowledge of the short-hand terminology used by adherents to “Operant Conditioning/Clicker” training. Here is a short compendium of the words my new friend presented.
Variable ratio –
Premack principle –
(R+) which means Positive reinforcement
Rate of reinforcement
(P+) which means Positive punishment
(NRM) which indicates No Reward Marker
(R-) which means Negative reinforcement
(P-) which means Negative punishment
“Wow,” I thought as I read her e-mail, “So much technical hoo-ha to describe something which has a simple baseline to understand.”
Our conversation was equally strewn with the landmines of “Techno-E’s”, except that things were usually referred to in the vocal shorthand of the enlightened. I’d repeatedly heard references to (spelling here is phonetic, as I heard them) ” Are-Neg,” “Pee-Neg,” “Are-Poz”, “En-Are-Em”, “See-Stim” and a bunch of others that I allowed to dissipate into the ether.
After thoroughly examining the now hard copied e-mail, and engaging this nice lady in conversation for an hour, I stopped her and asked the simplest of questions. “What are you trying to accomplish with your dog?” Her reply was tentative and measured.
“I want him to be obedient, and protective of my family, respectful of our home. I want a happy and eager dog…and I’m using all the latest science of behavioral studies to make him that way.”
“Okay, that’s a wonderful goal,” I replied. “But why are you making it so hard on yourself, and complicated for Bruiser? (her dog)”
“What do you mean?” She asked, as though I had bitten a chicken’s head off in front of her.
“Well, you have such a technical program laid out here, that you’re forgetting to have a communicating relationship with the big-boy. He’s a German Shepherd, and what he really wants is to play ball with you. You spend all of HIS time, clicking at him, and looking for scientific support for what he’s doing, or NOT doing. Understanding, and Listening to your dog tell you what makes him happy has to be done in Dog Language. YOU have a great understanding of the language of Operant conditioning, but your dog doesn’t care. Your timing is a bit off with him, and that creates problems, but what you really need is to start learning to incorporate a positive relationship with him, and assure him that you are trying to understand him,instead of insisting that he understand you. That’s the trap of being insistent on using Operant Conditioning exclusively to train a dog…Unlike whales and dolphins, dogs live in our homes, with us. That’s a next-level relationship, which has a far different responsibility. To use your terminology, OC is a successful way to teach a dog various things you want him to do. But it only scratches the surface of having a relationship that makes the dog comfortable in his own skin. He wants to know that you are there to provide “leadership”, “protection” and “fulfillment”. A Clicker cannot give those things. When you depend on treats to insure your dogs compliance, you will eventually have to re-train him off some behavior. When your dog recognizes your kind and gentle Leadership, he’ll make you the center of the galaxy.”
“I’m not quite sure I understand all that…the books I’ve read, and the seminars are more “science”. I’m an RN, and I like that type of precision.”
“Precision is great. Keep using OC and you will have a precisely trained dog. But there’s so much more that he wants and needs from you. All of the fancy phrases and acronyms, and the jargon mean exactly “squat” to him. They’re designed to impress other humans about your education and I.Q. If you want to impress a Dog, prove to him that you can provide the Leadership that he instinctively looks for everyday. What’s more, when you master the presence of being a leader, other people’s dogs will be drawn to you. Especially if they are unbalanced by lack of leadership. It’s not degrading to your dog, and he doesn’t feel abused. You don’t beat him into following you, you prove to his brain that you will care him. The Communicative Approach is an enhancement of your method, not a replacement for it.”
“That makes sense, because I’m convinced that OC is the best method of training, but it is missing something that I can’t define…But it’s difficult to understand why “science” is’nt the whole answer…and most Trainers are so supportive and convinced of OC and clicker training. They can’t all be wrong…”
“I never said they were wrong. 250 jumping whales can’t be wrong. But they are incomplete. Let me explain it this way: If a human parent raised their children purely by scientific methods, ignoring “manners” , “social behaviors”, and the subtleties of everyday life, how would they turn out? Like little, unfeeling robots. They might be obedient, but they wouldn’t have any idea how to be “Likable”, they would lack the ability to be “nice” because science teaches survival of the fittest. Get yours before somebody else does. Which is kind of what we see today to a degree in people who were raised without the proper “Leadership”. Permissiveness doesn’t create success.”
“Well, I hope you’ll help me understand how to train this to Bruiser. It’s not as well laid out or defined as clicker training.”
“That’s the wrong approach. Do you “Lead” people at your job? You’re an RN in an Emergency Room…Do people recognize that you are there to help them, maybe even save their life?”
“If they don’t at first, they pick up on it fairly quickly…It’s an attitude I take when I’m doing my job. I care about them, and I want to help them…”
“Did you learn THAT from a book?”
This finally set the siren off in her head. “No…” she started slowly, “I’ve always just wanted to help in the best way I can…”
“Bingo! You understand the foundation of the Communicative Approach. You can learn all the anatomy and physiology and chemistry and technical parts of medicine, how to help a person heal a sickness or wound. But if you are an emotionless person, with terrible bedside manner, your patient will still not like you. But a caring, comforting nurse, with little knowledge is still valuable. Understanding that truth, a Caring, Comforting nurse with great technical knowledge is a treasure!!! Be that “nurse” to your dog.”
“That I understand…”