Dog behaviorists, as the name suggests, closely study the behavior of dogs. For pet owners, a behaviorist can unlock secrets and answer questions that will enhance the relationship between man and pooch. They can also help solve problems, such as fear, aggression and disobedience.
Theory and Methodologies
Modern dog behaviorism aims to promote kindness and minimize the use of aversive stimuli. An aversive stimuli, such as an electric shock or a kick in the butt, may be an effective means of modifying behavior, but it is cruel. Concepts such as operant conditioning; where the dog learns that every action outcome has a consequence, positive reinforcement; where the trainer uses positive stimuli to reward good behavior; counter-conditioning, where the behaviorist uses positive stimuli to build positive associations with fear triggers and desensitization; where a dog is exposed to a fear trigger regularly until he learns to accept it are crucial to dog behaviorism, as they enable owners and behaviorists to study and alter a dog's behavior, without causing him distress or anxiety.
B.F Skinner was a pioneer of behaviorism and he used dogs to prove some of theories. One of his major successes was proving the relationship and importance of stimulus and response. Skinner asserted that if a dog performed an action and was given a toy, he'd be more likely to repeat the action, but if the same action was met with a kick, he'd be less likely to repeat it.
Elements of dog behaviorism are put to practical use every day, often by people who don't realize that they're doing it. When you pet your dog or give him a treat for walking to heel, you're using positive reinforcement. When you ignore his whines when the thunder claps outside, you're using counter-conditioning. When you let him sniff and explore the grooming tools so he's not scared when you come to trim his fur, you're using desensitization.
One of the most important benefits of dog behaviorism is the study's capacity to rehabilitate dogs with behavior problems so they can function harmoniously in a human household. Dogs that have been neglected or abused, for example, may display a variety of behavioral problems once they are rehomed by a new owner. A behaviorist can work with the owner to identify the causes of the behavior problems and to implement practical solutions. Some behaviorists will work with abused and neglected dogs before they are rehomed, to make them suitable as pets.
Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Behaviorism
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Canine Behavior Counsellor
International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants: About IAABC
Patricia McConnell: Classical Counter Conditioning
Northern Illinois University: BF Skinner
About the Author
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.