Cliff (of Lenny fame) and Eric Brad has an interesting exchange on Eric’s site, linked below, and this gives me the opportunity to emphasize again the fundamental distinctions between NDT and Learning Theory. And even though I’ve probably said these things many times on this site before, perhaps in this interweaving of a number of concepts some things are made clearer.
So the question is, am I using behavioral principles of learning without knowing it, with the downside therefore being an inefficient use of same, or, are behavioral learning practitioners using principles of energy without knowing it, with the downside therefore being an inefficient use of same?
First of all, learning isn’t everything. An energy theory of behavior recognizes that there are two emotional values innate to all animals (these are the predatory and preyful aspects). These two values blend to compose an animals’ sense of other beings as an overall resistance/conductivity value. These values are not learned and yet they are not instincts, i.e. hardwired into genetic fixed action patterns. Rather these values when combined can “float” in an animal’s mind on a gradient ranging from highly conductive (preyful) to high resistance (predator), and this ratio can shift in an animal’s perception by way of emotional context, i.e. the emotional conductivity of the moment depending on circumstances as well as the ambient mood of other beings. The main determinant of conductivity is whether or not the dog feels aligned with the objects of its attraction. Attraction and alignment is the basis of social behavior because being aligned with an object of attraction is the prerequisite for flow.
This plasticity of being able to freely shift from one pole to another is evident among people in the simple act of having a conversation. One person speaks while the other listens, and then they flip roles. They are emotionally flipping from one polarity to another, the speaker projects energy—-i.e. occupying the predator modality, and the listener receives energy—-i.e. occupying the preyful modality). If the two parties aren’t energized, then the conversation is not fun, and if they don’t flip polarities according to a rhythm, then one begins to feel pressure until they reach a point that’s unsettling. In fact the one who is monologuing is just relieving a built up pressure rather than engaging in conversation. Either way, flow isn’t happening.
Because of the plasticity of Temperament whereby these values can float, police dogs can be trained to love gunfire and being on the receiving end of a garbage can thrown at it by a “helper” or criminal. Police dogs can perform at this level not because they are seeking a reward, but because their prey drive is converting resistance into flow, and the experience of converting resistance into flow is its own reward (just as the flow of emotional energy is the reward of a good conversation, there doesn’t have to be any real exchange of information). Unlike learning, feelings ARE everything. Thus, we only have police dogs as opposed to police lions or police monkeys, because (1) dogs evolved from wolves and (2) wolves, being physically inferior to their prey even when in numbers, evolved according to emotional capacity. Unlike other great predators that are far more physically powerful than their prey, wolves evolved to hunt by feel, to feel, en masse and as one, what their prey is feeling. Then, by bringing a great emotional charge to bear on their prey, i.e. projecting energy via an intense focused stare with intermittent probes of the herd’s defenses, and while simultaneously remaining in sync with each other, they are able to change their prey’s perception of them to that of an overwhelming predator. Wolves change how their prey feels by being aligned with each other around a common object of attraction of great resistance. The domestication process highlighted this emotional capacity even more, and thus we have a vast diversity of breeds, each breed representing a specific blend of predator-relative-to-prey emotional values (i.e. the specific fight/flight characteristics of a particular prey species’s nervous system). These ratios are breed traits, from pointing, setting, fetching, digging up, hounding, sighting, herding, baying, tracking, treeing, guarding, etc., etc.. We have so many breeds with a diversity of traits because of a Temperamental plasticity, the capacity to flip polarities and shift perception to complement the emotional context.
No other animal can be trained to render the service of a police, search and rescue, or therapy dog, not because dogs are better learners than other animals, but because they can go-by-feel at a higher rate of change and under a greater degree of intensity. Police dogs become sensually aroused by the predatory aspect of a criminal as opposed to becoming inhibited or overloaded, which is what limits all other species of animals in their capacity to integrate and find gainful employment in man’s world. So while indeed I do use food to prime the pump, I’m not using food to reward the dog and I’m not interested in marking this or that step along its way other than a pat on my side or an inflection in my voice. Marking may be very important for teaching a dog to square dance or do movie tricks, or winning an obedience title under controlled conditions, or even getting a dolphin to jump through hoops with a trainer on its back, but it doesn’t necessarily increase emotional capacity. Rather, I use food to amplify the dog’s perception of the preyful aspect in that particular context because the hunger circuitry, engaged by the food, is the means by which an animal apprehends something positive in its environment. Then in conjunction with food, I am also using my body language to present the dog with a specific degree of resistance according to the dog’s emotional capacity at that stage of its development. I am doing two things at the same time. I present the dog with some degree of stiffness in my movements and degree of confrontation in my stance, in juxtaposition with a counterbalancing degree of loosey-gooseyness and explosiveness away from the dog. And if the hunger component of the dog’s emotional dynamic is strong enough, then the contrast between my preyful and predatory aspects, internally motivates the dog to overcome my resistance. The dog is feeling, quite possibly for the first time in its life since puppyhood, that its internal force of desire, an intrinsic arousal/hunger, is able to convert resistance to flow. In this emotional state, specific behaviors (heel, sit, down, stay, come-when-beckoned) are autonomically and automatically elicited as THE MEANS of becoming aligned and in rhythm with a complex object of resistance. The dog doesn’t have to learn these, they are already part of its behavioral script because these are the very same actions that we can observe wolves to be performing during a hunt and which evolved over millions of years. Thus the training logic of NDT is consistent with the phenomena of evolution and domestication, a logical consistency behavioral reinforcement theory doesn’t have.
The conversion of resistance to flow rewards the dog, not obtaining the food. Furthermore, I’m not actually luring the dog into position. I am using the food or ball as if it is a magnet that has an electromagnetic effect on the dog, and in this regard, where and how I hold the food has an emotional affect on the dog just as positioning a magnet and turning up an electrical current has an effect on electromagnetic devices. The dog is feeling what to do, not learning what to do. If learning as a function of tangible reinforcements were fundamental to how animals learn, then any species of animal could be trained to perform the duties that dogs have been trained to perform for thousands of years, well before learning theory was around.
Interpreting behavior through a reinforcement lens is not objective and it leads to profound misinterpretations in theory and in practice. For example, we often hear from behaviorists that some dogs are not food motivated. But this is like saying some dogs are not “air-motivated,” that they don’t want to breathe as much as others. The truth is that if a dog isn’t aroused by food, it’s because it’s stuck at the balance end of the continuum. In NDT, any stimulation is a specific blend of arousal relative to intensity. If the intensity is too much for the hunger circuitry, then it is perceived as resistance and makes the dog feel unbalanced. Consider that the exact same range of personality traits that can be found in dogs, from the soft hearted to the lion hearted, from the low to the high threshold, can be observed in wolves. There isn’t one personality state a dog exhibits that can’t be observed among wolves. And yet we find that every wolf is ravenous, there is no such thing as one wolf more food motivated than another. If a wolf cub is born without the appropriate biotonus lust for nourishment, then it is ill and its mother will likely eat it. So unless we’re talking about an unhealthy dog, there is no such thing as a dog that isn’t food motivated and in the thousands of dogs I’ve worked in the NDT approach, I’ve never met one. To be sure many began picky about what they ate, but each one ended up the process by wanting to eat no-matter-what. If a dog is selectively hungry, it’s because the resistance of the moment is more than it can bear. All it’s trying to do is remain upright.
In practical application, millions of dog owners using learning theory are rewarding their dogs with cookies when their dog sits or heels, as opposed to what they don’t want the dog to do, such as jumping on a stranger or lunging at another dog, the “counter-conditioning” approach. But in NDT terms, if the stimulus (stranger or dog) represents 500 volts of stimulation, and sitting for a cookie represents 200 volts of satisfaction, then in fact the dog is not learning what the owner presumes it is learning. The cookie doesn’t satisfy the intensity of the attraction (which is why so many dogs appear to not be food motivated) and so the dog still feels an emotional shortfall even if it were to sit. The underlying dynamic of turning resistance into flow wasn’t channeled into sitting; 300 volts have been left on the table and out of the equation. The dog may have learned to sit on a cue, but he still feels that something profound is missing from what it is doing. The dog doesn’t quite feel RIGHT by sitting even if this state of conflict isn’t immediately apparent to the trainer. Whereas a dog will happily sit, down or come when called, without being in conflict, if by so doing it feels as if it turned the resistance inherent in a stimulus into a feeling of flow by the act of sitting, heeling, staying or coming when called. It’s the turning of resistance into flow that creates compliance without conflict, and autonomically generates the behaviors we want from our dog.
Alignment with a complex object of attraction (such as wolves encircling a moose or a dog heeling with its handler) converts resistance into flow. The very complexity of group synchronization is the key to flow. This is why dogs love car rides. Everyone in the car is facing the same direction and are synchronized in unison with the ups and downs, back and forth, and side to side movements of the car. Simple motion is becoming pure emotion through Temperament. This is the energy theory in a nutshell and has nothing to do with mystical forces. Anyone can answer this question for themselves, does a dog love a car ride because of where it’s going, or just for the love of the ride?