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Don’t Shoot The Dog!

November 15, 2010

Don’t Shoot The Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training
Karen Pryor
$16.00 202 pages.

Behavioral scientist and animal trainer Karen Pryor explains positive reinforcement, in the context of teaching, and training and shaping behavior. Her background is in animal training, dogs, horses and dolphins. Her anecdotes of using training techniques made for a fun read that will have me looking more closely at any trained animal performance. Even the ones on TV with animal actors.

Talking about training techniques, Pryor makes it clear that a good trainer needs to have a coherent behavior shaping plan in place, and that a lot of “bad” or “stubborn” behavior comes about because an animal isn’t clear what behavior is being rewarded, or is picking up on mixed signals from the trainer. A lot rests on the self-discipline and structure of the teacher. I was especially impressed with the number of well-trained cats she referenced. Because of the conventional wisdom that “herding cats” is impossible. And because of the cats I’ve known.

I was most interested in reading this because of the applications and explanations of using conditioning and reward training techniques to shape people’s behavior. Although I felt Machiavellian, even thinking about doing that. But what else am I going to do… I don’t have animals or kids to train! There were a few interesting examples– how to deal with noisy or whining kids by not reacting at all to the behavior, but acknowledging a better tone of voice immediately. Again… not sure how it applies to dealing with adults. One thing she noted, which made me laugh was: absolutely don’t tell friends or colleagues you’re using training techniques on them!
I may need to go back and reread. She did a decent job of explaining and giving examples, but I don’t feel like I have the level of understanding that would let me apply these principles if I wanted. To cats! I promise!

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