Karen Pryor - a little bit about why you should not shoot the dog


Karen Pryor – is the creator of clicker method of training, the famous behavioral psychologist and zoopsychologists, author of the book "Don’t Shoot The Dog!" and just popular European canine instructor, author of the books about child rearing. Pryor, herself, believes that her method is applicable to both - animals and people. Many people, who had become acquainted with her technique, have accepted it with joy, took it over the classic taming and they obtained good results. We are not going to tell again about the famous method, many of our readers for sure well aware about the Pryor’s method of training, but those, who did not read - can find it in her books. We will talk about the different views and different attitude towards this system of training.

It happens that Prior books have critics apart the admirers as well.


   Thus, some of them stick to reasoning that a dog bred by a game training and purely positive reinforcement can refuse to perform a command in the real world. They suppose, yes, it works in the conditions of sports competitions, but only until a dog falls into a really difficult situation. The situation, for example, is equated to those, when a dog, trained to protect and / or defend, really gets into circumstances, when the owner needs a protection, rather than working against the contestant on the ring. The thing is, as claimed by critics of this method that perception of the person, which really poses a threat, will be much too different from the gaming situation, familiar to a dog, when it applies the set of skills, obtained basically during a game. And some dogs may not cope in a stronger psychological pressure. Also, as they affirm, a dog may not be ready to work under conditions of aggression in its own respect, or even more so, under the weapon.

   However, even these critics have not found anything against the use of clicker method for obedience training and partial correction of dog’s behavior.


   Another part of the Pryor’s books critics at all tell the technique is imperfect, but not basically bad. However, as they say, only a fraction of those mechanisms, which Pryor discuss, have been described in the books, but full-fledged operation is not possible without their full understanding. This second part is not so much the critics, which do not approve the method or doubt in its effectiveness, they are more critics of books.


   However, there are those, who had very negative remarks about the Pryor’s technique and her books as well. For example, a quote from one such statement, which I took from a dog training forum in the Internet:

"The method itself and the key terminology from livestock training are not too bright. Besides it is working well on people?

People are trained by methods of animals training...


   This is - as the Western "management" in Russian conditions for the purpose of prosperity and development of Russian economy... Russia is blooming and smelling under control of Western "management" ... there is a hope that people will also bloom and smell, after such independent trainings with self-invented INCENTIVES...


   The dynamic programming principle lays the foundation of the technique. The very principle in the technique is given distorted. Some key points of the dynamic programming principle in this method are abstract or not mentioned at all.


   The conclusion - this technique is simply rewritten from some literature without analyzing the essence of underlying principles, or else, interpreted in the own way, that has introduced such distortions into the livestock training.


   Recommendation - it is desirable not to use this technique in such form on people for the personal growth to avoid personal problems in the future because of "sticking" in the animal type mentality order or in zombie psyche order.


   The ground for such opinion - this technique does not allow a person to approximate to the human type mentality order in personal growth.


   An interesting point comes here to surface in addition to the criticism, - mentioning of the dynamic programming principle. What kind of animal is that and where it came from?


   The dynamic programming in management theory and computer science – is a way to solve complex problems by dividing them into smaller subtasks. This is in programming. In part the term is involved in psychology, when it comes to the various manipulative psychological techniques.


   The word "programming" in the phrase "dynamic programming" is actually almost has no relation to the "traditional" programming (code writing), but it makes sense in the phrase "mathematical programming", which is synonymous with the word "optimization". Therefore, the word "program" in this context means more the optimal sequence of actions for solving a problem. For example, certain schedule of events in the exhibition is sometimes called a program. The program in this case is understood as admissible sequence of events.


   The general principles of operation are the same, so, therefore, the term has been borrowed. In training, in fact, the use of manipulative techniques follows too – as we are, anyhow, forcing the dog to do what we need to, and not only now, but afterwards as well, and not through the power, but with pleasure. We can argue long about the ethical side of using these methods in human interaction, but Pryor is not the first one, who offered this parallel and proved that the same principles operate with people as those with the animals. Just there are more mechanisms of human influence and they are clearer to us. Behaviorists were the first one among psychologists, who brought up this subject, behaviorism as theory is very similar to the classical ethology.

Getting back to the title of this article - so why we can really not to shoot or shout at the dog?


   By creating the certain conditions, trainer forces the dog to search for solutions until the desirable will be found, and then strengthens this algorithm by reinforcement, gradually creating a bond between clicker and obtaining the positive reinforcement (including deferred reinforcement). This technique allows the use of natural mechanisms of mentality and psychophysiology, giving stable and interesting results.


 However, you cannot completely disregard the opinion that in a number of cases, this method may not work. In the end, no one excludes the possibility to combine methods (at the competent work it is quite possible). Besides, the most dog owners actually need obedience and a good socialization, and this method is quite suitable for such purpose. But you should bear in mind that complete mastering the techniques of this system will require much more time and efforts than the conventional "mechanical" training. However, it provides more opportunities, especially if you are interested to take part in sport trials and dancing with your dog – the reinforcement of the discovered dog’s action algorithms can let you to reach more exciting and diverse results. The dog sometimes is able to come up with something that would have never come to your mind!
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