The contributions from the science of behaviorism to the dog behavior profession cannot be overstated. Without a comprehensive understanding of the principles and mechanisms of learning theory, it is difficult for trainers to accurately understand or influence behavioral goals and challenges in pet dogs. Behaviorism must undoubtedly maintain a consistent seat at the table in the dog behavior and training industry, as it continues to facilitate creative innovations and inform best practices in approach and methodology in countless ways.
There are, however, current problems in our profession that have resulted from a more rigid operational interpretation of, and ideology around, behaviorism – fostering an unnecessary separation from (and even delegitimization of) some of the other natural sciences. This common disconnect can have profound implications for the dogs and families served by professionals if certain critical elements of behavior are accidentally ignored in assessment and practice in the interest of strict adherence to the singular lens of behaviorism.
Beyond these more extreme examples of ideological conflict between disciplines and approaches, many imagined differences between the behavioral sciences persist simply because of varying language and perspectives on the subject matter. Discipline-specific terminology and emphasis can seem exclusionary, inhibiting fluid understanding and complimentary integration between the relevant sciences, even when they are fundamentally validating and supporting each other’s work. Indeed, this has historically been the case for the erroneous polarization between the fields of ethology and behaviorism in our industry – at great cost to dog behavior professionals, dogs and families.
We need to vastly improve our translation between the sciences, and resolve the injurious friction that arises from useless distinctions. Behaviorism principles are intrinsically, even elementally, compatible with those of ethology (and many other sciences) as it directly pertains to our comprehensive understanding and mediation in dog behavior work.
In this seminar, attendees will learn about the natural intersection between behaviorism and ethology as it relates to dog training and consulting in the modern age, as the great scope of the “Antecedent Iceberg” in the ABC’s of the operant model is examined beyond the surface of observable behavior. Bridging the ethological and behaviorism approaches to behavioral analysis enables us to consider both the more operational immediate proximate antecedents as well as the more distant ultimate antecedents that together comprise the massive iceberg of facilitating conditions of behavior. Furthermore, the principles and concepts of classical and operant conditioning can be viewed within the magnificent greater context of evolution as the mechanisms for adaptation of all life on earth to ever-changing circumstances. The stage-setting influence of an animal’s more invisible phenotypical elements must be fully appreciated and accounted for as part of any truly comprehensive functional analysis – even if these factors complicate the equation and challenge our ability to operationalize. The L.E.G.S.® (Learning, Environment, Genetics, and Self) model of integrated canine science offers a promising solution for us moving forward in this regard as an ideal starting point for our endeavor.