Inquiry Based Learning for Dogs

We can divide dog training into two distinct philosophies; and no I don’t mean aversive vs rewarding, I’m thinking of those that divide dogs into active learners and those which favor passive learning. Trainers that create opportunities for the dog to find the answer and trainers that give (often by force) the answer.

I thought of this after reading this article on how a misunderstanding of physics remains even after people are told the answer. Telling people the answer doesn’t help them.

The article recounts a situation in which students were asked to think about the forces acting on a ball tossed upwards and caught.The common misconception is to think a moving object is experiencing a force with the force diminishing the object slows down until it stop. It doesn’t; once an object it doesn’t need any force to keep moving. Telling the people the answer does not help them to understand this concept and when asked to explain what is happening they repeat their mistaken idea.

 

Richard Feynman recounts a story highlighting the difference between knowing and understanding in “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman”

I often liked to play tricks on people when I was at MIT. One time, in mechanical drawing class, some joker picked up a French curve (a piece of plastic for drawing smooth curves–a curly, funny-looking thing) and said, “I wonder if the curves on this thing have some special formula?”

I thought for a moment and said, “Sure they do. The curves are very special curves. Lemme show ya,” and I picked up my French curve and began to turn it slowly. “The French curve is made so that at the lowest point on each curve, no matter how you turn it, the tangent is horizontal.”

All the guys in the class were holding their French curve up at different angles, holding their pencil up to it at the lowest point and laying it along, and discovering that, sure enough, the tangent is horizontal. They were all excited by t his “discovery”–even though they had already gone through a certain amount of calculus and had already “learned” that the derivative (tangent) of the minimum (lowest point) of any curve is zero (horizontal).

They didn’t put two and two together. They didn’t even know what they “knew.” I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding; they learn by some other way–by rote, or something. Their knowledge is so fragile! (interactive example of tangents)

In inquiry based learning the teacher act as a facilitator and guide in the student’s progress. I think it applies to dogs as well. We can think of positive reinforcement, specially free-shaping as IBL for dogs, with the teacher facilitating the answer but leaving it to the dog to figure it out.

I think dogs are bit like people and those who are pushed, prodded and jerked into positions don’t really seem to understand what is required of them. A thinking dog is one who figured it out by herself. To develop a thinking dog the dog has to practice thinking and that can’t happen if the trainers is prodding, pushing, jerking and pulling the student at every turn.

Below is a video, see if you can transpose the ideas about IBL for people and parallel them to a dog positive based approach.

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3 thoughts on “Inquiry Based Learning for Dogs

  1. “In inquiry based learning the teacher act as a facilitator and guide in the student’s progress. I think it applies to dogs as well. We can think of positive reinforcement, specially free-shaping as IBL for dogs, with the teacher facilitating the answer but leaving it to the dog to figure it out.

    I think dogs are bit like people and those who are pushed, prodded and jerked into positions don’t really seem to understand what is required of them. A thinking dog is one who figured it out by herself. To develop a thinking dog the dog has to practice thinking and that can’t happen if the trainers is prodding, pushing, jerking and pulling the student at every turn.”

    I totally agree, however many training classes miss out the vital bit about;

    “with the teacher facilitating the answer but leaving it to the dog to figure it out.”

    I love shaping. I am not a fan of free shaping, unless it’s used for exercises such as 101 things to do with a box, which does give dogs confidence to try something new and there is no end goal, so the dog isn’t wrong. I prefer to lure then shape the final behaviour. Then the dog at leasts has a clue and doesn’t get frustrated, as the teacher has facilitated the answer.

    I have been to classes where free shaping a dog to go to mat can take 20 mins longer than simply placing a treat on a mat in the first place. It’s a bit like expecting pupils to guess what experiments are going to be done today, with new equipment and no prior theory.

    Sorry I can’t give find any references but have read articles for and against whether a dog remembers better when Free Shaped or Lured and Shaped. My dogs are lured and shaped and will remember (within a few clicks) a trick I began 6 months or so ago and never completed.

    Love your blog, glad I found it.

  2. This is such an interesting article. In my experience, the downside of lure and reward training is that the dog is not given an opportunity to figure things out for himself and because it is so successful in getting the dog to do what the trainer wants is very reinforcing for the trainer. The result of this is that the trainer (especially the inexperienced ones) tend to delay removing the lure and end up stuck with a dog that becomes helpless until told exactly what to do. I love fast tracking behaviours using a lure, but am very careful to remove the lure and minimize the hand signal as soon as I can see that the dog has an understanding of what I want so that I can continue the process with shaping. So passive learners can also be created by trainers using positive reinforcement.

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