In the 1950s Blanche Saunders was a staunch advocate of pet dog training, travelling the length and breadth of the US to promote obedience classes. In The Complete Book of Dog Obedience, she said, "Dogs learn by associating their act with a pleasing or displeasing result. They must be disciplined when they do wrong, but they must also be rewarded when they do right." Negative reinforcement procedures played a key part in Saunders’ method, primarily the jerking of the choke chain. The mantra taught to students was "Command! Jerk! Praise!" She felt that food should not be an on-going reward, but that it was acceptable to use "a tidbit now and then to overcome a problem." Saunders perhaps began the shift away from military and police training methods, stressing repeatedly the importance of reinforcement for good behaviour in training, a move toward the positive training methods used today.
In 1965, John Paul Scott and John Fuller identified the critical periods for learning and social development in puppies, and published Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog a landmark study of dog behavior.
The 1980 television series Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way made Barbara Woodhouse a household name in the UK, and the first international celebrity dog trainer. Known for her "no bad dogs" philosophy, Woodhouse was highly critical of "bad owners" particularly those she saw as "overly sentimental", She described the "pyschoanalyzing of dogs" as "a lot of rubbish". Her no-nonsense style became a pop-culture icon, with her emphatic "sit" and catch cry of "walkies" becoming part of the popular vernacular.
The Monks of New Skete, who were breeders and trainers of German Shepherds in Cambridge, New York, published How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend: A Training Manual for Dog Owners in 1978 and it became an immediate best seller. Despite advocating a philosophy that "understanding is the key to communication and compassion with your dog," they endorsed confrontational punishments which were later shown to elicit dangerously aggressive responses in many dogs.
In the 1980s veterinarian and animal behaviourist Ian Dunbar discovered that despite evidence on the peak learning periods in animals, few dog trainers worked with puppies before they were six months old. Dunbar founded Sirius Dog Training, the first off-leash training program specifically for puppies, which emphasizes the importance of teaching bite inhibition, sociality, and other basic household manners, to dogs under six months of age. Dunbar has written numerous books, and is known for his international seminar presentations and award-winning videos on puppy and dog behavior and training.
Prior to the 1980s, Karen Pryor was a marine mammal trainer who used Skinner’s operant conditioning principles to teach dolphins and develop marine mammal shows. In 1984, she published her book Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training, a popular press explanation of operant procedures for the general public. In the book Pryor explains why punishment as a way to get people to change often fails, and describes specific positive methods for changing the behaviour of husbands, children and pets. Pryor’s dog training materials and seminars showed how operant procedures can be used to provide training based on positive reinforcement of good behavior. Pryor and Gary Wilkes introduced clicker training to dog trainers with a series of seminars in 1992 and 1993. Wilkes used aversives as well as rewards, and the philosophical differences soon ended the partnership.
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