The behaviourism diversion

…which sounds very like a Big Bang theory episode, doesn’t it?

I was kind of joking when I tweeted David about our puppy, and whether the books I’d bought on dog training counted as educational theory. But maybe there’s something worth reflecting on here.

Here’s where we’ve got up to after only four weeks – he can sit, shake hands, do a ‘high ten’, lie down and roll over, and jump in and out of a box (those last two are very new – just in the last two days). He can also follow a chopstick – even doing a figure eight around my legs – a good precursor to agility competition exercises. This is pretty good for a twelve week old puppy, especially a cocker spaniel – I guess that’s what happens if you give a puppy to a learning & teaching lecturer who is also a bit of a control freak.

I find the predictability of training Indy quite astounding; the regularity and speed with which he learns and the repetitive patterns of the connections he makes. I like the way it doesn’t matter what his mood or energy levels are; in fact starting a training session is a great way of getting him focused and calm. Obviously this kind of operant conditioning is very different from the kind of learning and teaching I do at UAL. But here’s the thing – it’s SO predictable and quick-win that after five or ten minutes you’re thinking ‘ok, so what now?’ While teaching *new* dogs new tricks is pretty good fun, I still prefer the unpredictable, complex and very human teaching context of the day job.

Looking back at this video reminds me how useful it was to video myself teaching my cats how to use the cat flap; how a fresh perspective on yourself enables you to see what you need to do differently (I am reminded of Stephen Brookfield when he talks of being able to see the back of your own head). I can see from this recording how close Indy is to me, and that I need to introduce a bit more distance in order to increase his staying power in the positions and reduce his dependence on the positive reinforcers.

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