Looking for some good news? Well here it is: Dr. Karen London’s new book, Treat Everyone Like a Dog, is out, and it’s fantastic. Here’s what Ken Ramirez says about it–“My only complaint: I wish I had written it!” When Ken says that, it’s time to pay attention.
Here’s from the Foreward that I was honored to write:
“You know how you think of the perfect thing to say when it’s too late? Perhaps while driving home from a meeting, or while soaping up in the shower? That’s me, and I know I’m not alone. Perhaps it’s you too. But it’s not Dr. Karen London, who has the quickest wit of anyone I know, and can be counted on to say the perfect thing, at exactly the right time.
And she’s done it again, because this is a book of perfect things, things that will make your life oh-so-much better by incorporating the principles of dog training into your life. Would you like your spouse to bring you flowers more often? Your kids to hang up their clothes, or resist the candy in the checkout line? . . . as Karen reminds us, good dog trainers get their dogs to do amazing things–like stopping on a dime while chasing a rabbit, or dropping a greasy food wrapper after hearing a quiet word from their owners. If we can get highly-motivated predators, members of another species, to happily run to us and avoid eating food that magically appears in front of them, then surely we can get our kids to stop at the curb rather than running into the street after a ball!”
All of us professional dog trainers know how to do this, right? But no one walks the walk like Dr. London. I know a lot of kick-ass dog trainers, but I don’t know of anyone who has incorporated the basic principles of learning into her life as well as she has. How often do even the most skilled of trainers among us struggle to influence some simple behavior of the people in our life? Not to mention ourselves? We may be able to call our Labrador away from a half-eaten hamburger, or stop our German shepherd from chasing a rabbit, but can we get our spouse to pick up their dirty laundry? Our kids to write thank you notes? Karen uses examples from her own life that illustrate how much of good dog training can make our lives better, including a sweet story about one of her sons who had a medical problem that made eating difficult for awhile. Like a lot of kids, he also found it hard to sit still at the table. Karen used shaping to reinforce first just eating–anything, anywhere–and gradually upped the reinforcement to eat a full meal at the dinner table. Her own patience and thoughtful progression with what is often a loaded issue (the kid’s gotta eat!) is an inspiration to us all.
I mean it literally when I said the book is inspiring: I was reading a draft of the book one early morning, frustrated with myself because I kept forgetting to take a medication I needed to take an hour before eating. I found myself forgetting to take it day after day, and then castigating myself for being so forgetful. And then I got to the section where Karen talks about the value of keeping a log, and decided to cross off every day that I remembered on a calendar. (I’m one of those people who will actually, heaven help me, add something to a To Do list in order to cross it off–I find it that reinforcing.) I also chose a calendar with beautiful photos of birds, which itself made me happy. You know what happened: After two weeks I never forgot again.
Here’s my favorite personal example, as I described in the Foreward:
“When I was first dating my husband, he told me that his ex-wife complained often that he rarely called or emailed her during the day, even when it was about something important that would take little time. As someone in the flush of a new romance, I knew I’d want to check in on occasion during the day. I consciously decided that I’d never mention it if he didn’t respond to me, but flirted with him shamelessly when he did. It took less than a month for him to be emailing or calling more often than I did.”
Without doubt one of my favorite parts of the book is Karen’s come back to those who say that using positive reinforcement to influence the behavior of our family and friends is “manipulative.” She notes that no one ever says that about negative responses, like complaints or punishments. She’s right: Who has ever heard “How manipulative!” after a parent tells a child to stop crying, or complains to a spouse about not putting gas in the car. But, of course, we are trying to influence the behavior of those around us, as well as ourselves, all the time. It’s simply part of being a social species. What’s surprising is how often we resort to negatives, when they so rarely work. What’s wonderful is how often other techniques, like positive reinforcement, capturing behavior, and focusing on one thing at a time, can work wonders.
No matter how well-versed you are in understanding how individuals learn and change their behavior, I can’t imagine not getting something important from this book. It’s also funny and heart-warming and in my opinion, is going to be a classic. That said, here’s more from the Foreword:
Full disclosure; I’m not completely objective here. I first met Karen when she became my Teaching Assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996. The class, “The Biology and Philosophy of Human-Animal Relationships” had 150 students, a curriculum full of controversy, and required a lot of interaction between me, her, and the students. There was a lot to juggle and Karen was so helpful I began calling her Radar, like Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly in the television series M*A*S*H. Radar always had the question answered before it was asked, and defined the word “invaluable.” We went on to work together at Dog’s Best Friend Training, where Karen worked her way up from Assistant Trainer to behavior consultant, working with some of our most difficult aggression cases. . . . Karen has incorporated dog training principles into her daily life better than anyone I know, and I know a lot of kick ass animal trainers. No one walks the walk like she does. Reading this book inspired me, and it will you too. Honestly, and truly, I can’t wait for you to read this book.
I asked Karen recently what inspired her to write this book, and I loved her answer as much as I love the book: “The book isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.” She also said that “Treat Everyone Like a Dog is a love letter to dog trainers and a manual for everyone else.” Nice.
Now, it’s your turn. I can’t wait to hear your examples of how you have used science-based animal training principles to influence your own behavior or that of those around you. The ones with two legs. Send comments about your successes (and failures, why not?), and then go order Treat Everyone Like a Dog.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Lots of you enjoyed the video of Maggie’s runs at the Nippersink Sheepdog Trial, so here’s my 2nd run with Skip at the Cedar Stone Farm Trial earlier in October. Our first run was better, but I thought this one would be more interesting because it shows where Skip and I need to do more work.
[Note: I’d advise muting the whole thing. The wind noise is awful, you can hear lots of chatter in the background and almost none of my signals to Skip.]
He did nice outrun but a bit wide. See how, at second 32, he went into that break in the trees on the left? He lost a point or two for that (out of 20), and used up valuable time. He did nice, quiet lift (sec 46), but again, was so far back and so cautious he used up more valuable time (and a point or two, out of 10). Not surprising though, Skip was trained in Ireland where the sheep are like deer and have to be handled with kid gloves. A top handler told me it takes a year at least for a dog from the UK to adapt to US sheep. Also, note how differently each of the sheep reacted–they were eating grain and needed different amounts of pressure to leave it.
I was happy with his Fetch starting around sec 60; it was pretty straight and right through the gates. (Worth 20 points, bringing the sheep straight to the handler–note I’m far to the right of the camera.) He stopped once when I hadn’t asked him to, which was surprising, because he was a bit fast on the first run. I’m going to have to watch him on that; he tends to be almost too afraid of getting into trouble, and that could come back to hurt us when he is older, when dogs get even more cautious. The fetch ends after the sheep are turned around the handler at the post (2:40 sec). Our turn was okay, but could have been tighter, especially since these sheep are so used to people.
We started the drive (3o points) around sec 2:59, and he did a really lovely first leg to the first gates, made them dead on. The cross drive began well, but around 4:13 Skip took matters in his own paws and swung around to bring the sheep back to me. I can’t tell you exactly why any one dog does that, but it’s common in younger dogs, and is best described as “This cross-driving stuff is hard/stressful, and bringing the sheep back to you is much easier and ensures that we have control of the sheep.” I gave him a verbal correction (Hey!), and got him back in line. But we missed the second gates–all on me, it’s remarkably hard to manage one’s depth perception on that second gate, and had a sloppy last leg from the gates to the pen. That’s where we lost most of our points. We made the pen, but had run out of time by then. He only got a total of 50 points out of 90, but his run looked better than his score and I’m not unhappy with it, given that we are both learning how to work as a team and I’m still struggling with finding the line between the two drive gates.
Sometime soon Jim and I will make a video of me working Skip or Maggie so that you can hear my whistles and see the dog respond. I know a lot of you asked about them; we aim to please. (And yeah, someday soon I’ll get it together and put titles on the videos. Sigh.)
There’s a sprinkling of snow on the ground as I write this, and the fall colors are fading fast. Soon it’ll be the black, white and brown of November through April, so I am soaking in every last pixel of color I can find. Here’s our prettiest tree right now, a wild Serviceberry growing beside a ditch:
Did mention I spoiled myself with a new macro lens? I had fun with it this weekend. This riot of red and pink is in some containers by our front door. I need to get the pots to the barn for the winter soon, but will wait til the flowers are dead but before the soil freezes, expands, and destroys the containers. Not that I have any experience with that . . .
My Maggie with the new lens. I love the background.
Send us your stories of how you’ve used dog training principles to influence the tw0-legged members of your life. I can’t wait to read them!