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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 21-Nov-05


Monday 21-Nov-05

Dogs and motivation

I have a couple of dogs, a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd, who provide companionship, entertainment and security. As I type, they are both giving voice to someone walking up the driveway.

The way dogs learn, behave and are motivated is generally pretty simple, and Pavlov's experiments in conditioning dogs are pretty much as it happens. Stimulus and reward are associated in their tiny minds and the sound of the toaster clicking on brings them running, with hopeful eyes and salivating mouths. They also have their priorities, like people, and a squirrel across the road is immediately more important than walking nicely to heel.

David Packard, the P in HP, uses an animal analogy in The HP Way, where he describes his experiences of ranching, where moving cattle was a shepherding type of activity, giving them an occasional prod to keep them going and nudging them back on track when they went astray. He noted, in his usual understated way, that this was not dissimilar to managing.

Dogs, whilst simple, are not automata and each has their own personality and each responds to different motivations. Poppy is an intelligent retriever bitch who loves to eat and run and would probably do both at the same time if she could. Tika is a dim but mostly gentle shepherd dog, who likes to be near you and is highly protective. He's the one who chases squirrels, although probably not out of a desire to save us from harm. Poppy is motivated more by food, whilst Tika responds well to praise.

My father ran a dog training class in the town where he lived for many years. He would spend weekends away at training camp with dog psychologists and frequently won prizes in obedience shows. We inherited Tika from him and I learned much about training dogs from him. Some is purely dog stuff. Other things are applicable to people too.

Like the effects of consistency. If dogs and people know how you will react to a given situation, then they know absolutely how to behave. And also of inconsistency. If you reduce the rewards that you give for a certain behavior, then the dog will still keep behaving in that way, in the hope of food. And in the end they will forget about the food and just behave.

One of my favorite quotes is by Groucho Marx:

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

Your comments

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."



-- Gopal Aggarwal

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