Ever since that great video featuring Tyson the skateboarding bulldog hit it big on YouTube, skateboarding has become a standard dog trick that owners attempt to train. Most owners start by using some basic method of luring the dog onto the skateboard with a treat or pointing to the skateboard and hoping the dog will get on. If he does, then they praise and pet him like they would a child who has finally managed to ride a bike without the training wheels. They may even give the dog a treat.
Every year, when badly behaved dogs become the object of media focus someone asks me, ” Do you think pit bulls should be banned as pets?” To which I usually answer, “No, but some owners should be banned from owning pit bulls… or for that matter, Jack Russell Terriers, Basenji’s, Border terriers, Bengal cats and even Budgies”. In fact, some people shouldn’t have pets at all.
Scenes from a Saturday morning cartoon? A twisted scheme of some sort? Neither of the above. It’s the assigned mission at the August 2000 Advanced Operant Conditioning Workshop (a.k.a. chicken training camp), taught by Bob Bailey and psychologist Marian Breland-Bailey. Nine animal trainers from the U.S. and Canada, including myself, are here to meet the challenge. We have five days. Sounds like a joke, but it’s serious business. We’re here not just to train chickens. We’re here to learn the intricacies of a universal mechanism of learning called operant conditioning.
“The client, an elderly couple, had a 6-year-old male, neutered Rhodesian Ridgeback that was aggressive to dogs” describes Dr. Jennie Jamtgaard, an applied animal behavior consultant and behavior instructor at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “They had watched Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan and seen Millan place aggressive dogs in with his group of dogs and then hold them down on their sides or back if they were aggressive. So they brought their dog to the dog park and basically flooded him [immersed him in the aggression-inducing situation].”