Don’t Shoot the Dog: The Art of Teaching and Training

Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor

Full Title: Don’t Shoot the Dog: The Art of Teaching and Training, The Secrets to Changing Behavior in Pets, Kids, and Yourself.

Author: Karen Pryor

Overview

The author covers several key behavior training techniques in the book with examples of how to use them.

Although the book is written in the context of training animals, the author also openly acknowledges that these can be used just as well with humans. One thought that kept occurring to me while reading the book was that, with some small adjustments, these same techniques could be used to reinforce habits and behaviors in ourselves.

The author moves back and forth in talking about training new behaviors versus untraining or eliminating undesirable behaviors. Rather than follow the author’s organizational structure, I think it’s more useful to split things up between those two end goals.

Adding and training new behaviors

Reinforcement

Tying a behavior to an immediate or nearly immediate reward so that the two things are associated in the mind. This is different from what we tend to think of as a reward. For example, many of us are familiar with the cliche of telling a kid that if they get good grades on their report card they will get <insert some big thing we think they want>.

Because the reward appears in a nebulous future, this incentivizes the behavior but does not actually reinforce it. Thus they want to accomplish the goal to get the reward, but it does not actually make performing the goal easier.

Shaping

Stimulus Control

Untraining or removing undesirable behaviors

Untraining with reinforcement

This is actually several techniques around untraining a behavior.

Other less-important notes

  • This is one of the very very few paperback books I own. Because I take so many notes in the margins and do so much highlighting, paperbacks tend to be inconvenient. But this book only exists in paperback these days and it’s too good to let something stupid like that keep me from owning a copy.

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