Click on any phrase to play the video at that point.Close
Dogs have interests. They have interest sniffing each other, chasing squirrels. And if we don't make that a reward in training, that will be a distraction. It's always sort of struck me as really a scary thought that if you see a dog in a park, and the owner is calling it, and the owner says, you know, "Puppy, come here, come here," and the dog thinks, "Hmm, interesting. I'm sniffing this other dog's rear end, the owner's calling." It's a difficult choice, right? Rear end, owner. Rear end wins. I mean, you lose. You cannot compete with the environment, if you have an adolescent dog's brain. So, when we train, we're always trying to take into account the dog's point of view.
Now, I'm here largely because there's kind of a rift in dog training at the moment that -- on one side, we have people who think that you train a dog, number one, by making up rules, human rules. We don't take the dog's point of view into account. So the human says, "You're going to act this way, damn it. We're going to force you to act against your will, to bend to our will." Then, number two, we keep these rules a secret from the dog. And then number three, now we can punish the dog for breaking rules he didn't even know existed. So you get a little puppy, he comes. His only crime is he grew. When he was a little puppy, he puts his paws on your leg -- you know, isn't that nice? And you go, "Oh, there's a good boy." You bend down, you pat him -- you reward him for jumping up. His one mistake is he's a Tibetan mastiff, and a few months later, he weighs, you know, 80 pounds. Every time he jumps up, he gets all sorts of abuse. I mean, it is really very, very scary the abuse that dogs get.
So, this whole dominance issue -- number one, what we get in dog training is this Mickey-Mouse interpretation of a very complicated social system. And they take this stuff seriously. Male dogs are very serious about a hierarchy, because it prevents physical fights. Of course, female dogs, bitches, on the other hand, have several bitch amendments to male hierarchical rule. The number one is, "I have it, you don't." And what you will find is a very, very low-ranking bitch will quite easily keep a bone away from a high-ranking male. So, we get in dog training this notion of dominances, or of the alpha dog. I'm sure that you've heard this.
Dogs get so abused. Dogs, horses and humans -- these are the three species which are so abused in life. And the reason is built into their behavior -- is to always come back and apologize. Like, "Oh, I'm sorry you had to beat me. I'm really sorry, yes, it's my fault." They are just so beatable, and that's why they get beaten. The poor puppy jumps up, you open the dog book, what does it say? "Hold his front paws, squeeze his front paws, stamp on his hind feet, squirt him in the face with lemon juice, hit him on the head with a rolled-up newspaper, knee him in the chest, flip him over backwards." Because he grew? And because he's performing a behavior you've trained him to do? This is insanity. I ask owners, "Well, how would you like the dog to greet you?" And people say, "Well, I don't know, to sit, I guess." I said, "Let's teach him to sit." And then we give him a reason for sitting. Because the first stage is basically teaching a dog ESL. I could speak to you and say, "Laytay-chai, paisey, paisey." Go on, something should happen now. Why aren't you responding? Oh, you don't speak Swahili. Well, I've got news for you. The dog doesn't speak English, or American, or Spanish, or French.
So the first stage in training is to teach the dog ESL, English as a second language. And that's how we use the food lure in the hand, and we use food because we're dealing with owners. My wife doesn't need food -- she's a great trainer, much better than I am. I don't need food, but the average owner says, "Puppy, sit." Or they go, "Sit, sit, sit." They're making a hand signal in front of the dog's rectum for some reason, like the dog has a third eye there -- it's insane. You know, "Sit, sit." No, we go, "Puppy, sit" -- boom, it's got it in six to 10 trials.
Then we phase out the food as a lure, and now the dog knows that "sit" means sit, and you can actually communicate to a dog in a perfectly constructed English sentence. "Phoenix, come here, take this, and go to Jamie, please." And I've taught her "Phoenix," "come here," "take this," "go to" and the name of my son, "Jamie." And the dog can take a note, and I've got my own little search-and-rescue dog. He'll find Jamie wherever he is, you know, wherever kids are, crushing rocks by a stream or something, and take him a little message that says, "Hey, dinner's ready. Come in for dinner."
So, at this point, the dog knows what we want it to do. Will it do it? Not necessarily, no. As I said, if he's in the park and there's a rear end to sniff, why come to the owner? The dog lives with you, the dog can get you any time. The dog can sniff your butt, if you like, when he wants to. At the moment, he's in the park, and you are competing with smells, and other dogs, and squirrels.
So the second stage in training is to teach the dog to want to do what we want him to do, and this is very easy. We use the Premack principle. Basically, we follow a low-frequency behavior -- one the dog doesn't want to do -- by a high-frequency behavior, commonly known as a behavior problem, or a dog hobby -- something the dog does like to do. That will then become a reward for the lower-frequency behavior. So we go, "sit," on the couch; "sit," tummy-rub; "sit," look, I throw a tennis ball; "sit," say hello to that other dog. Yes, we put "sniff butt" on queue. "Sit," sniff butt.
So now all of these distractions that worked against training now become rewards that work for training. And what we're doing, in essence, is we're teaching the dog, kind of like -- we're letting the dog think that the dog is training us. And I can imagine this dog, you know, speaking through the fence to, say, an Akita, saying, "Wow, my owners, they are so incredibly easy to train. They're like Golden Retrievers. All I have to do is sit, and they do everything. They open doors, they drive my car, they massage me, they will throw tennis balls, they will cook for me and serve the food. It's like, if I just sit, that's my command. Then I have my own personal doorman, chauffeur, masseuse, chef and waiter." And now the dog's really happy. And this, to me, is always what training is. So we really motivate the dog to want to do it, such that the need for punishment seldom comes up.
Now we move to phase three, when now -- there's times, you know, when daddy knows best. And I have a little sign on my fridge, and it says, "Because I'm the daddy, that's why." Sorry, no more explanation. "I'm the daddy, you're not. Sit." And there's times, for example, if my son's friends leave the door open, the dogs have to know you don't step across this line. This is a life-or-death thing. You leave this, the sanctity of your house, and you could be hit on the street. So some things we have to let the dog know, "You mustn't do this."
And so we have to enforce, but without force. People here get very confused about what a punishment is. They think a punishment is something nasty. I bet a lot of you do, right? You think it's something painful, or scary, or nasty. It doesn't have to be. There's several definitions of what a punishment is, but one definition, the most popular, is: a punishment is a stimulus that reduces the immediately preceding behavior, such that it's less likely to occur in the future. It does not have to be nasty, scary or painful. And I would say, if it doesn't have to be, then maybe it shouldn't be.
I was working with a very dangerous dog about a year ago. And this was a dog that put both his owners in hospital, plus the brother-in-law, plus the child. And I only agreed to work with it if they promised it would stay in their house, and they never took it outside. The dog is actually euthanized now, but this was a dog I worked with for a while. A lot of the aggression happened around the kitchen, so while I was there -- this was on the fourth visit -- we did a four and a half hour down-stay, with the dog on his mat. And he was kept there by the owner's calm insistence. When the dog would try to leave the mat, she would say, "Rover, on the mat, on the mat, on the mat." The dog broke his down-stay 22 times in four and a half hours, while she cooked dinner, because we had a lot of aggression related towards food. The breaks got fewer and fewer. You see, the punishment was working. The behavior problem was going away. She never raised her voice. If she did, she would have got bitten. It's not a good dog you shout at. And a lot of my friends train really neat animals, grizzly bears -- if you've ever seen a grizzly bear on the telly or in film, then it's a friend of mine who's trained it -- killer whales. I love it because it wires you up. How are you going to reprimand a grizzly bear? "Bad bear, bad bear!" Voom! Your head now is 100 yards away, sailing through the air, OK? This is crazy.
So, where do we go from here? We want a better way. Dogs deserve better. But for me, the reason for this actually has to do with dogs. It has to do with watching people train puppies, and realizing they have horrendous interaction skills, horrendous relationship skills. Not just with their puppy, but with the rest of the family at class. I mean, my all-time classic is another "come here" one. You see someone in the park -- and I'll cover my mic when I say this, because I don't want to wake you up -- and there's the owner in the park, and their dog's over here, and they say, "Rover, come here. Rover, come here. Rover, come here, you son of a bitch." The dog says, "I don't think so." (Laughter) I mean, who in their right mind would think that a dog would want to approach them when they're screaming like that? Instead, the dog says, "I know that tone. I know that tone. Previously, when I've approached, I've gotten punished there." I was walking onto a plane -- this, for me, was a pivotal moment in my career, and it really cemented what I wanted to do with this whole puppy-training thing, the notion of how to teach puppies in a dog-friendly way to want to do what we want to do, so we don't have to force them. You know, I puppy-train my child. And the seminal moment was, I was getting on a plane in Dallas, and in row two was a father, I presume, and a young boy about five, kicking the back of the chair. "Johnny, don't do that." Kick, kick, kick. "Johnny, don't do that." Kick, kick, kick. I'm standing right here with my bag. The father leans over, grabs him like this and gives him ugly face. And ugly face is this -- when you go face-to-face with a puppy or a child, you say, "What are you doing! Now stop it, stop it, stop it!" And I went, "Oh my God, do I do something?" That child has lost everything -- that one of the two people he can trust in this world has absolutely pulled the rug from under his feet. And I thought, "Do I tell this jerk to quit it?" I thought, "Ian, stay out of it, stay out of it, you know, walk on." I walked to the back of the plane, I sat down, and a thought came to me. If that had been a dog, I would have laid him out. (Laughter) If he had kicked a dog, I would have punched him out. He kicked a child, grabs the child like this and I let it go.
And this is what it's all about. These relationship skills are so easy. I mean, we as humans, our shallowness when we choose a life-mate based on the three Cs -- coat color, conformation, cuteness. You know, kind of like a little robot. This is how we go into a relationship, and it's hunky-dory for a year. And then, a little behavior problem comes up. No different from the dog barking. The husband won't clear up his clothes, or the wife's always late for meetings, whatever it is, OK? And it then starts, and we get into this thing, and our personal feedback -- there's two things about it. When you watch people interacting with animals or other people, there is very little feedback, it's too infrequent. And when it happens, it's bad, it's nasty. You see it's especially in families, especially with spouses, especially with children, especially with parents. You see it especially in the workplace, especially from boss to employee. It's as if there's some schadenfreude there, that we actually take delight in people getting things wrong, so that we can then moan and groan and bitch at them.
And this, I would say, is the biggest human foible that we have. It really is. We take the good for granted, and we moan and groan at the bad. And I think this whole notion of these skills should be taught. You know, calculus is wonderful. When I was a kid, I was a calculus whiz. I don't understand a thing about it now, but I could do it as a kid. Geometry, fantastic. You know, quantum mechanics -- these are cool things. But they don't save marriages and they don't raise children.
And my look to the future is, and what I want to do with this doggy stuff, is to teach people that you know, your husband's just as easy to train. Probably easier -- if you got a Rottie -- much easier to train. Your kids are easy to train. All you've got to do is to watch them, to time-sample the behavior, and say, every five minutes, you ask the question, "Is it good, or is it bad?" If it's good, say, "That was really neat, thank you." That is such a powerful training technique. This should be taught in schools. Relationships -- how do you negotiate? How you do negotiate with your friend who wants your toy? You know, how to prepare you for your first relationship? How on earth about raising children? We think how we do it -- one night in bed, we're pregnant, and then we're raising the most important thing in life, a child. No, this is what should be taught -- the good living, the good habits, which are just as hard to break as bad habits. So, that would be my wish to the future. Ah, damn, I wanted to end exactly on time, but I got eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two -- so thank you very much. That's my talk, thank you. (Applause)
You can share this video by copying this HTML to your clipboard and pasting into your blog or web page.
need to get the latest Flash player.
Got an idea, question, or debate inspired by this talk? Start a TED Conversation.
Speaking at the 2007 EG conference, trainer Ian Dunbar asks us to see the world through the eyes of our beloved dogs. By knowing our pets' perspective, we can build their love and trust. It's a message that resonates well beyond the animal world.
Veterinarian, dog trainer and animal behaviorist Ian Dunbar understands our pets' point of view. By training dog owners in proper conduct (as much as he trains the dogs themselves), he hopes to encourage better relationships with dogs -- not to mention their friends and children, too. Full bio »