What's the difference between Natural Dog Training and Operant Conditioning?

Natural Dog Training is fundamentally concerned with motive whereas Operant Conditioning is fundamentally concerned with reinforcements. All subsequent points of departure proceed from this distinction.

Furthermore, this distinction reveals that two concepts integral to behavioral science 1) animals learn by reinforcement, and 2) the notion of “high value” rewards actually represent an inherent contradiction in terms because it entertains that there is a system of value which accords motive to a dog, and that this can be discerned by observing that which reinforces. Yet there are countless examples wherein something unpleasant happens to a dog and yet the behavior persists, which means that the only possible interpretation is that the underlying motive is in contravention to the consequences experienced. Therefore outcomes can never serve as an adequate metric for motive. NDT maintains that motive in animal behavior can only be discerned by a law of nature, i.e. a state of energy, and not by a psychology of reinforcement.

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Published March 15, 2010 by Kevin Behan
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One response to “What's the difference between Natural Dog Training and Operant Conditioning?”

  1. christine randolph says:

    the “reinforcement” given in OC I think is supposed to be the “motive” for the dog to repeatedly do the behaviour correctly…

    it is a toy or food or a tug of war or an off-leash walk etc, etc, etc,

    in a way, this can be equated to postulating that all humans will predictably behave in a certain way if they are promised specific amounts of money –

    or, to make it even more obvious, sex with virgins in heaven after they suicide-bomb an airplane full of infidels…

    surely, everyone would agree that for humans other than a certain subset of impoverished young jihadists with an IQ of below 80, this is nonsense.

    so how can a similar theory be true for our genetic predecessors, mammals ?

    OC NEVER is an explanation WHY a particular reinforcement is fulfilling for the dog. they say they focus on the behaviour, the reinforcement is Anything that Works, trial and error

    if the dog is not hungry enough, just increase the VALUE of the reinforcement.

    NDT says why certain activities are self-rewarding and fulfilling for a dog and how to use them to improve the dog’s inner wellbeing and put them in a frame of mind to work alongside humans,

    An NDT trained dog is said to engage in desired behaviours because the inner feeling of working with the human is reinforcing.

    i.e. behaviours that makes the dog’s gut feel a certain way that is fulfilling to the dog so it will repeat the behaviour in order to feel this feeling again.

    the same behaviours are generated by OC via external reinforcers which do not always work, i.e. if the dog is not hungry enough.

    so, OC-generated behaviours should by and large be less reliable and will fall apart when the dog is distracted or agitated..(which they do, or do they not..?)

    In a way, fulfilment of an inner unspecified but urgent need, is the explanation given by the FBI for serial killers, why they have to kill again and again. A feeling of exhilaration and fulfilment from a well sequenced, ritualistic kill, i.e. a kill that has several predictable phases during which the killer becomes more aroused. (or do they make that up on TV?)

    so, why does such an explanation seem so far fetched for animals, especially predatory mammals who, like humans, are known to have a killer instinct in their genetic makeup?

    It does not seem illogical to me to look at our animals as sort of addicted to the feeling of fulfilment which motivates many of their activities and is at the source of any agitation or aggression.

    if NDTs theory could be transferred to humans, it could explain a lot of addictive destructive human behaviour.

    would be a lot more useful than just dog training.

    I am not saying dog training is not a valid life-fulfilling activity…

    it could even help rehabilitate human perpetrators, if socially acceptable surrogate behaviours can be suggested to and adopted by individuals suffering from destructive compulsions.

    a bit like a methadone program for heroin addicts

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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