“Six-Week-Old Girl Dies After Mauled By Family Dog” the headlines blared. The LA County Sheriff’s Department reported the familiar scenario. A family member had left the baby unattended on a bed for a few minutes and returned to find her head encased in the dog’s mouth.
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.