In the seventies I was training a Bernese Mountain Dog and after weeks of training and the dog seeming to have mastered the obedience exercises, I decided to test my control by taking him into the pasture with my father’s herd of cows. Big mistake
When the dog was but one millimeter beyond some invisible threshold between the dog and myself; he bolted and slammed at full speed into a cow hitting her in the soft pocket under her front leg and right behind her shoulder. Now this dog was raised in the tony town of Greenwich, Connecticut and had never seen or dealt with a cow in its young life. And yet he hit her in the one and only spot that would be safe to grab onto because for the next twenty minutes he went on the ride of his life, over walls, through fences, through wooded thickets and over hill and dale and was protected from her bucking and kicking and the other cows and bull trying to ram him as well. When I finally extricated him from this Wild West rodeo gone wrong, there wasn’t a scratch on him. How did he “know” what to do, and I predict that were any other dogs in on the escapade they too would have invariably acted in a complementary way so as to harass and separate the cow from the bull so that the herd would have been confronted with a group acting in concert. Of course with repetition this hypothetical group of dogs would have perfected their style but not by virtue of practice, but because they would have become more uninhibited and therefore more EFFICIENT at every step of the operation by virtue of tuning into the geometry of feelings. They would have started orienting according to the mathematics of unresolved emotion decompressing from their respective physical memory banks back into pure emotion.
This is exactly what happens when training police dogs. The dogs don’t learn by virtue of reinforcements as to how to bite the sleeve calmly, and then carry it around, hold the criminal at bay and then release their bite cleanly. These behaviors reflect an internal emotional force that evolves into existence once the dog feels uninhibited. The dog actually regresses through every phase of its past and this is then recast in terms of pure emotion. Pure emotion is composed of one part arousal (hunger) coupled to one part vulnerability (balance) so that an impulse is informed by a perfect calculus of force and motion, then to be moderated by a geometry of feeling (deflection of energy without loss of momentum) that occurs when unresolved emotion as physical memory is triggered by circumstances. Complex expressions of behavior aren’t “learned” by virtue of classical or operant conditioning, rather they evolve according to the laws of nature that are merely DESCRIBED by the above systems of description. And since the emotional battery requires an external trigger, just like a consumer needs an external source of money because the network (economy) doesn’t allow us to print our own, it LOOKS like learning by imitation, repetition, trial and error is taking place but this is a serious misreading of the phenomenon and cannot accommodate the evidence as sooner or later such a model needs to say the animal is thinking.
So while it takes external triggers to fully catalyze the behavior, this isn’t learning in the behavioral science sense of something reinforcing something, any more than a chemical reaction transpires because it was “reinforced” by a catalyst triggering the reaction. When the dog’s drive is strong enough, what previously would have inhibited it all of a sudden becomes a catalyst to a more complex behavior. Learning is a function of temperament evolving into its various forms of manifestation; each form being a slice of a group configuration, i.e. an expression of sociability, in other words, working as a group to overcome a common objective. This is why we breed dogs for temperament rather than for the capacity to learn skills. Temperament is a faculty of discrimination and therefore a dog doesn’t “learn” how to be a police dog. First, the dog must want to bite, and then it can learn anything, most especially and most paradoxically according to behavioral science, when not to bite.