Guinea Pig Camp

Welcome to Guinea Pig Camp!

So you like detection work and agility tricks, you are fascinated by the Hero Rats detecting landmines and you’d like to learn some tricks that could make you a better dog trainer. I’m not going to teach you to train a police detection dog or a landmine-detecting rat—that is reserved for the professionals in those areas—but I will instruct you how to train a guinea pig to detect tobacco and gunpowder, and to perform agility tricks.

Police guinea pig

Police guinea pig? Not just yet, but who knows. You could be the trainer of the first tobacco and gunpowder detecting guinea pig.

Why should dog trainers train guinea pigs?

Training dogs is easy compared to training other species due to the special relationship between humans and dogs. Dogs tend to overlook most of our mistakes and give us a second chance. Animals that don’t have such a close relationship with humans are far less forgiving so it is a high priority to be precise, to plan your training, to develop your observation skills and to have a plan B available. Training guinea pigs will help make you a better, more observant dog trainer; more attentive to detail and more receptive to the feedback your dog gives you.

Another advantage of training guinea pigs is that you won’t have a strong bond with the guinea pig you train and you will therefore be more objective than in your dog training. You will not have developed any bad habits, as training guinea pigs will be novel to you. You won’t identify with the guinea pig you train in the same way dog owners identify with their dogs, so you will not feel embarrassed if your guinea pig makes a mistake.

Training a guinea pig will improve your theoretical knowledge as well as your mechanical skills. You will be amazed at how much you can teach a guinea pig in just four days!

Guinea Pig, Cavia porcellus, also called Cavies.

Guinea pigs, Cavia porcellus, also called cavies, are social rodents. Their sight is not as good as that of humans, but they have well-developed senses of hearing, smell and touch.

The Guinea Pigs

Each team of three students will have a guinea pig to train, a training box, agility obstacles, food treats and a whistle (or clicker). Each student within a team will take turns to be trainer, observer and camera operator. The trainer trains, the observer registers the session and ensures it follows the previously designed POA (Plan Of Action), and the camera operator films the session. Since all three will follow a carefully designed plan, there is no problem in taking turns at training the same guinea pig. The team’s training will be mostly consistent but, should small variations occur, we will regard them as a bonus and an opportunity to compare factors that may influence training. That’s why all the sessions are filmed.

A day at camp

A day starts at 9am and ends at 5pm. Lunch will be between 12pm and 1pm. Teams decide when to take a break.

About 60% of the coursework comprises of hands-on training and 40% of theoretical issues such as designing POAs, reviewing training sessions, studying videos, briefing and debriefing teams.

The maximum number of students is thirty (ten teams).


You must have read “The 20 Principles that All Animal Trainers Must Know.” Click the link (available soon, also in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian) to access the free manual.

Guinea Pig: vocalization is their primary means of communication.

Vocalization is the guinea pig’s primary means of communication. At Guinea Pig Camp, you’ll learn the differences between a wheek, purring, rumbling, whining, chattering, squealing and chirping.


As we want to offer everyone the opportunity to attend a Guinea Pig Camp, we keep the fees low: EUR 395 (in Europe, except Portugal EUR 295), USD 495 (in the USA), AUS 495 (in Australia), CND 495 (in Canada) and JPY 44,500 (in Japan). This fee does not include accommodation, transportation and meals.

Event organizers may need to adjust these fees slightly to accommodate particular local conditions (please see their individual websites).

Dates, locations and registration

To register, please use the contact details below.

See you soon

Our Guinea Pig Camp is something you’ll have to experience. It’s amazing how much these cute, little creatures can learn and how much they can teach us. Don’t worry if you fall in love with your guinea pig—you can take it home after the workshop, that is, if your teammates allow you.

Guinea Pig Camps are about learning, enjoying teamwork and having fun!

Roger Abrantes 


Dog Training—Let Reason Prevail Over Force!

Roger Abrantes and Boxer doing retrieve

“Whether you (or I) follow a particular line of morality is not a necessary consequence of any model of social behavior. Moral stances are solely your (or my) decision” (Picture by Lisa J. Bains).

The dog trainers’ dispute about training methods blazes on unabated, with the erroneous and emotive use of terms such as dominance, punishment and leadership only adding fuel to the fire. There is no rational argumentation between the two main factions, one of which advocates a “naturalistic” approach and the other a “moralistic” stance. The term ‘dominance’ generates particular controversy and is often misinterpreted. We can detect, in the line of arguing about this topic, the same fundamental mistakes committed in many other discussions. By taking the controversy over dominant behavior as my example, I shall attempt to put an end to the feud by proving that neither side is right and by presenting a solution to the problem. Plus ratio quam vis—let reason prevail over force!

I shall demonstrate that the dispute is caused by:

(1) Blurring the boundaries between science and ethics. While ethics and morality deal with normative statements, science deals with factual, descriptive statements. Scientific statements are not morally right or wrong, good or bad.

(2) Unclear definitions. We cannot have a rational discussion without clear definitions of the terms used. Both sides in the dispute use unclear, incomplete definitions or none at all.

(3) Logical fallacies. The opposing sides commit either the ‘naturalistic fallacy,’ ‘the moralistic fallacy,’ or both. We cannot glean normative statements from descriptive premises, nor can we deduce facts from norms. The fact that something is does not imply that it ought to be; conversely, just because something ought to be does not mean that it is.

(4) Social conditioning and emotional load. As a result of inevitable social conditioning and emotional load, some terms develop connotations that can affect whether we like or dislike, accept or reject them, independent of their true meaning.

(5) Unclear grammar. The term dominance (an abstract noun) leads us to believe it is a characteristic of certain individuals, not an attribute of behavior. The correct use of the term in the behavioral sciences is as an adjective to describe a behavior, hence dominant behavior.

Bottom line: We need to define terms clearly and use them consistently; otherwise rational discussion is not possible. We must separate descriptive and normative statements, as we cannot derive what is from what ought to be or vice versa. Therefore, we cannot use the scientific concept of dominant behavior (or any descriptive statement) to validate an ethical principle. Our morality, what we think is right or wrong, is a personal choice; what is, or is not, is independent of our beliefs and wishes (we don’t have a choice).

Solution to the problem: The present dispute focuses on whether we believe it is right or wrong to dominate others (as in, totally control, have mastery over, command). It is a discussion of how to achieve a particular goal, about means and ends. It is a moral dispute, not a scientific quest. If both sides have similar goals in training their dogs, one way of settling the dispute is to prove that one strategy is more efficient than the other. If they are equally efficient, the dispute concerns the acceptability of the means. However, if either side has different goals, it is impossible to compare strategies.

My own solution of the problem: I cannot argue with people who believe it is right to dominate others (including non-human animals) as, even though I can illustrate how dominating others does not lead to harmony, I can’t make anyone choose harmony or define it in a particular way. I cannot argue with people who think it acceptable to hurt others in order to achieve their goals because such means are inadmissible to me. I cannot argue with people who deny or affirm a particular matter of fact as a means of justifying their moral conduct, because my mind rejects invalid, unsound arguments. With time, the rational principles that govern my mind and the moral principles that regulate my conduct may prove to be the fittest. Meanwhile, as a result of genetic pre-programming, social conditioning and evolutionary biology, I do enjoy being kind to other animals, respecting them for what they are and interacting with them on equal terms; I don’t believe it is right to subjugate them to my will, to command them, to change them; and I don’t need a rational justification as to why that’s right for me*.

Roger Abrantes and Bulldog

“I do enjoy being kind to other animals, respecting them for what they are and interacting with them on equal premises; I don’t find it right to subjugate them to my will and dispositions, to command them, to change them; and I don’t need a rational justification for why that’s right for me” (Picture by Lisa J. Bain).


1 Science and ethics are not the same

Science is a collection of coherent, useful and probable predictions. All science is reductionist and visionary in a sense, but that does not mean that all reductionism is equally useful or that all visions are equally valuable or that one far-out idea is as acceptable as any other. Greedy reductionism is bound to fail because it attempts to explain too much with too little, classifying processes too crudely, overlooking relevant detail and missing pertinent evidence. Science sets up rational, reasonable, credible, useful and usable explanations based on empirical evidence, which is not connected per se. Any connections are made via our scientific models, ultimately allowing us to make reliable and educated predictions. A scientist needs to have an imaginative mind in order to think the unthinkable, discover the unknown and formulate initially far-fetched but verifiable hypotheses that may provide new and unique insights; as Kierkegaard writes, “This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.”

There are five legitimate criteria when evaluating a scientific theory or model: (1) evidence, (2) logic, (3) compatibility, (4) progression, and (5) flexibility.

(1)  Evidence: a scientific theory or model must be based on credible and objective evidence. If there is credible evidence against it, we dismiss it. It must be testable and falsifiable.

(2)  Logic: If a theory or model is based on logically invalid arguments or its conclusion are logically unsound, e.g. drawing valid conclusions from false premises, we must also dismiss it.

(3)  Compatibility:  If a theory or model shows crucial incompatibility with the whole body of science, then it is probably incorrect. If it is incompatible with another model, then we have a paradox. Paradoxes are not to be discarded, instead worked on and solved (or not solved as the case may be). Since “Paradoxes do not exist in reality, only in our current models of reality,  […] they point the way to flaws in our current models. They therefore also point the way to further research to improve those models, fix errors, or fill in missing pieces.” In short, “scientists love paradoxes,” in the words of Novella.

(4)  Progression: A scientific theory or model must explain everything that has already been explained by earlier theories, whilst adding new information, or explaining it in simpler terms.

(5)  Flexibility: A theory or model must be able to accept new data and be corrected. If it doesn’t, then it is a dogma, not a scientific theory. A dogma is a belief accepted by a group as incontrovertibly true.

Science provides facts and uncovers important relationships between these facts. Science does not tell us how we should behave or what we ought to do. Science is descriptive, not normative. In other words: we decide what is right or wrong, good or bad, not necessarily depending on what science tells us.

Morality and science are two separate disciplines. I may not like the conclusions and implications of some scientific studies, I may even find their application immoral; yet, my job as a scientist is to report my findings objectively. Reporting facts does not oblige me to adopt any particular moral stance. The way I feel about a fact is not constrained by what science tells me. I may be influenced by it but, ultimately, my moral decision is independent of scientific fact. Science tells me men and women are biologically different in some aspects, but it does not tell me whether or not they should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Science tells me that evolution is based on the algorithm “the survival of the fittest,” not whether or not I should help those that find it difficult to fit into their environment. Science informs me of the pros and cons of eating animal products, but it does not tell me whether it is right or wrong to be a vegetarian.

Ethologists study behavior on a biological and evolutionary basis, define the terms they use, find causal relationships, construct models for the understanding of behavior and report their findings. Ethologists are not concerned with morality. They simply inform us that the function of x behavior is y. They don’t tell us that because animal x does y, then y is right or wrong, good or bad, or that we ought or ought not do y.

The model I present in “Dominance—Making Sense of the Nonsense” is a scientific model that complies with all five of the requirements listed above.

(1)  It is based on overwhelming data, i.e. given my definition of ‘dominant behavior,’ one cannot argue that it does not exist.

(2)  The conclusions are logically consistent with the premises.

(3)  It is consistent with our body of knowledge, particularly in the fields of biology and evolutionary theory.

(4)  It explains what has been explained before and in more carefully defined terms.

(5)  It accepts new data, adjustments and corrections (the current version is an updated version of my original from 1986). The model tells us nothing about morality. No single passage suggests that we should classify any particular relationship with our dogs as morally right or wrong. You will have to decide that for yourself. As an ethologist, I’m not concerned with what ought to be, only with what is. Echoing Satoshi Kanazawa, if I conclude something that is not supported by evidence, I commit a logical fallacy, which I must correct, and that’s my problem, but if my conclusion offends your beliefs, then that’s your problem.

Therefore, whether you (or I) follow a particular line of morality is not a consequence of any model of social behavior. Moral stances are solely your (or my) decision. It is not correct to draw normative judgments from descriptive claims. If you do so, you either commit the ‘naturalistic fallacy,’ the ‘moralistic fallacy’ or both, as I shall explain below (see point 3).

2 Unclear definitions

Having just pointed out the rigors of science, I must concede that the scientific community does bear some responsibility for the present dispute in as much as definitions and use of terms have sometimes been sloppy. Some researchers use particular terms (in this case ‘dominance’) without defining them properly and with slightly different implications from paper to paper.

Wikipedia writes: “Dominance (ethology) can be defined as an ‘individual’s preferential access to resources over another’ (Bland 2002). Dominance in the context of biology and anthropology is the state of having high social status relative to one or more other individuals, who react submissively to dominant individuals. This enables the dominant individual to obtain access to resources such as food or access to potential mates, at the expense of the submissive individual, without active aggression. The opposite of dominance is submissiveness. […] In animal societies, dominance is typically variable across time, […] across space […] or across resources. Even with these factors held constant, perfect dominant hierarchies are rarely found in groups of any size” (Rowell 1974 and Lorenz 1963).

It explains a dominance hierarchy as follows: “Individuals with greater hierarchical status tend to displace those ranked lower from access to space, to food and to mating opportunities. […] These hierarchies are not fixed and depend on any number of changing factors, among them are age, gender, body size, intelligence, and aggressiveness.”

Firstly, defining ‘dominance’ instead of ‘dominant behavior’ seems somewhat imprudent for a science that is intrinsically based on observational facts. It suggests we are dealing with an abstract quality when in fact we are referring to observable behavior (see point 5 below). Secondly, it implicitly equates ‘dominance’ with hierarchy (social status), which is misleading because some hierarchies may be supported by conditions other than dominant behavior. The use of the term ‘dominance hierarchy’ creates a false belief. Clearly, the terms dominance and dominant behavior are attributed with varying meanings, a highly unadvisable practice, particularly in stringently scientific matters.

As John Locke wrote in 1690 (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding),  “The multiplication and obstinacy of disputes, which have so laid waste the intellectual world, is owing to nothing more than to this ill use of words. For though it be generally believed that there is great diversity of opinions in the volumes and variety of controversies the world is distracted with; yet the most I can find that the contending learned men of different parties do, in their arguings one with another, is, that they speak different languages. ”This has contributed […] to perplex the signification of words, more than to discover the knowledge and truth of things.”

To remedy this, I propose in “Dominance—Making Sense of the Nonsense” a set of carefully constructed definitions that are compatible with behavioral science and evolutionary theory, whilst paying special attention to the logical validity and consistency of the arguments. I’m convinced that we would avoid many pointless disputes if all those dealing with the behavioral sciences were to adopt such definitions.

Roughly speaking, there are currently two main schools of thought in dog training. For our present purpose, we shall call them ‘Naturalistic Dog Training’ and ‘Moralistic Dog Training.’ Of course, there are various other stances in between these two extremes, including a significantly large group of bewildered dog owners who do not adhere to any particular ideology, not knowing which way to turn.

Naturalistic Dog Training (aka the old school) claims their training echoes the dog’s natural behavior. They don’t provide a proper definition of dominance, but use it with connotations of ‘leader,’ ‘boss,’ ‘rank,’ implying that dominance is a characteristic of an individual, not of a behavior. In their eyes, some dogs are born dominant, others submissive, but all dogs need to be dominated because their very nature is to dominate or be dominated. They use this belief to justify their training methods that often involve punishment, flooding, coercion, and even shock collars, if deemed necessary, by the more extreme factions. For them, a social hierarchy is based on (assertive) dominance and (calm) submission, the leader being the most dominant. Their willingness to accept the existence of dominant behavior is motivated by their desire to validate their training theories, but their interpretation of the term is far from what ethologists understand by it.

Moralistic Dog Training (aka positive reinforcement training) distances itself from punishment, dominance, and leadership. They don’t define ‘dominance’ properly either, but use it with connotations of ‘punishment,’  ‘aggression,’  ‘coercion,’  ‘imposition.’ They claim dominance does not exist and regard it as a mere construct of philosophers and ethologists aimed at justifying the human tendency to dominate others. Their view is that we should nurture our dogs as if they were part of our family and should not dominate them. Therefore, they also distance themselves from using and condoning the use of terms like ‘alpha,’  ‘leader’ and ‘pack.’ The more extreme factions claim to refrain from using any aversive or signal that might be slightly connected with an aversive (like the word ‘no’) and deny their using of punishers (which, given the consensually accepted scientific definition of punishment, is a logical impossibility). Their refusal to accept the existence of dominant behavior is motivated by their desire to validate their training morality, but their interpretation of the term is again far from what ethologists understand by it.

An ethological definition of ‘dominant behavior’ is (as I suggest in “Dominance—Making Sense of the Nonsense”): “Dominant behavior is a quantitative and quantifiable behavior displayed by an individual with the function of gaining or maintaining temporary access to a particular resource on a particular occasion, versus a particular opponent, without either party incurring injury. If any of the parties incur injury, then the behavior is aggressive and not dominant. Its quantitative characteristics range from slightly self-confident to overtly assertive.”

This is a descriptive statement, a classification of a class of behaviors, so we can distinguish it from other classes of behaviors, based on the observable function of behavior (according to evolutionary theory). It is clearly distinguishable from the statements of both opposing mainstream dog-training groups in that it does not include any normative guidance.

3 Logical fallacies

logical fallacy is unsound reasoning with untrue premises or an illogical conclusion. Logical fallacies are inherent in the logic structure or argumentation strategy and suit irrational desires rather than actual matters of fact.

An argument can be valid or invalid; and valid arguments can be sound or unsound. A deductive argument is valid if, and only if, the conclusion is entailed by the premises (it is a logical consequence of the premises). An argument is sound if, and only if, (1) the argument is valid and (2) all of its premises are true. The pure hypothetical syllogism is only valid if it has the following forms:

If P ⇒ Q and Q ⇒ R, then P ⇒ R

If P ⇒ ~R and ~R ⇒ ~Q, then P ⇒ ~Q

This mixed hypothetical syllogism has two valid forms, affirming the antecedent or “modus ponens” and denying the consequent or “modus tollens”:

If P ⇒ Q and P, then Q (modus ponens)

If P ⇒ Q and ~Q, then ~P (modus tollens)

It has two invalid forms (affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent).

The naturalistic fallacy is the mistake of identifying what is good with a natural property. In this fallacy, something considered natural is usually considered to be good, and something considered unnatural is regarded as bad. The structure of the argument is “P is natural, therefore P is moral” or “P is natural and non-P is unnatural, natural things are moral and unnatural things immoral, therefore P is moral and non-P immoral.” G. E. Moore coined the term naturalistic fallacy in 1903 in “Principia Ethica.” It is related to the ‘is-ought problem,’ also called ‘Hume’s Law’ or ‘Hume’s Guillotine,’ described for the first time by David Hume in 1739 in “A Treatise of Human Nature.” The ‘is-ought fallacy’ consists of deriving an ought conclusion from an is premise. The structure of the argument is “P is, what is ought to be, therefore P ought to be.”

The moralistic fallacy is the reverse of the naturalistic fallacy. It presumes that what ought to be preferable is what is, or what naturally occurs. In other words: what things should be is the way they are. E. C. Moore used the term for the first time in 1957 in “The Moralistic Fallacy.” The structure of the argument is, “P ought to be, therefore P is.”

Roger Abrantes and Shakira

“There is no evidence that dogs attempt to dominate others or that they don’t. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that dogs (as most animals) use different strategies depending on conditions including costs and benefits. Sometimes they display dominant behavior, other times they display submissive behavior, and yet other times they display some other behavior” Picture by (L’Art Au Poil École).

The line of argumentation of Naturalistic Dog Training is: Dogs naturally attempt to dominate others; therefore, we ought to dominate them. We can transcribe this argument in two ways (argument 1a and 1b):

Argument 1a

(A) If the nature of dogs is to attempt to dominate others, then I ought to train dogs according to their nature. (P⇒Q)

(B) It is the nature of dogs to attempt to dominate others. (P)

Therefore: I ought to train dogs by attempting to dominate them. (Q)

Argument 1b

(A) If dogs dominate others, then it’s right to dominate others. (P⇒Q)

(B) If it’s right to dominate others, then I have to do the same to be right. (Q⇒R)

Therefore: If dogs dominate others, then I have to do the same to be right. (P⇒R)

We cannot derive ‘ought’ from ‘is.’ Arguments 1a and 1b commit the ‘naturalistic fallacy.’ Both arguments seem formally valid, except that they derive a norm from a fact. There is no logical contradiction in stating, “I ought not to train dogs according to their nature.” They are also unsound (the conclusions are not correct) because premises P are not true.

There is no evidence that dogs attempt to dominate others or that they don’t. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that dogs (like most animals) use different strategies depending on conditions, which include costs and benefits. Sometimes they display dominant behavior, other times they display submissive behavior, and other times they display other behavior. Even when particular dogs are more prone to use one strategy rather than another, we are not entitled to conclude that this is the nature of dogs.

Conclusion: whether science proves that dogs display or don’t display dominant behavior has nothing to do with whether or not it is morally right for us to dominate our dogs.

The line of argumentation of Moralistic Dog Training is: We ought not to attempt to dominate our dogs; therefore, dogs do not attempt to dominate us. We can transcribe this argument in two ways (argument 2a and 2b):

Argument 2a

(A) Dominance is bad. (P⇒Q)

(B) Dogs are not bad. (R⇒~Q)

Therefore: Dogs do not dominate. (R⇒~P)

Argument 2b

(A) If [dominance exists], it is . (P⇒Q)

(B) If it is , [dogs don’t do it]. (Q⇒R)

Therefore: if [dominance exists], [dogs don’t do it]. (P⇒R)

We cannot derive ‘is’ from ‘ought.’ Arguments 2a and 2b commit the ‘moralistic fallacy.’ Argument 2a is formally invalid even if the premises were true because the conclusion is not entailed in the premises (it is the same as saying red is a color, blood is not a color, so blood is not red). Argument 2b sounds a bit odd (in this form), but it is the only way I have found of formulating a valid argument from the moralistic trainers’ argument. It is formally valid but it is unsound because it commits the moralistic fallacy: in its second line, it derives a fact from a norm. It assumes that nature doesn’t do wrong (or what is good is natural), but there is no contradiction in assuming the opposite.

Conclusion: the fact we believe it is morally wrong to dominate our dogs does not mean that dogs do not display dominant behavior. We are entitled to hold such a view, but it does not change the fact that dogs display dominant behavior.

4 Social conditioning and emotional load

The choice of word by ethologists to coin the behavior in English, i.e. ‘dominant,’ also contributes to the dispute. Curiously enough, the problem does not exist in German where dominant and submissive behaviors are ‘überlegenes verhalten’ and ‘unterlegenes verhalten.’

All words we use have connotations due to accidental social conditioning and emotional load. A scientist knows he** cannot afford his judgment to be clouded by his own accidental social conditioning or emotions. A defined term means that and only that. It’s not good, not bad, not right, not wrong, and the issue of whether he likes it or not does not even enter the equation. As an individual he may have his own personal opinion and moral viewpoint, but he does not allow them to affect his scientific work. As individuals, we all have our own likes and dislikes because we are constantly being conditioned by our environment. Culture, trends, movements, environments, relationships and moods, all bias our attitudes towards particular terms. Nowadays, for reasons I will leave to historians and sociologists to analyze, the words ‘dominance’ and ‘submission’ have negative connotations for many people. When people, all of whom are subject to social conditioning, fail to distinguish between the scientific meaning of the words and their everyday connotations, they repudiate them, which is understandable.

Conclusion: a class of behavior that animals use to solve conflicts without harming one another is what ethologists call dominant and submissive behavior. This behavior, in the way I describe and define, exists (see above). You may not like the terms or indeed the behaviors, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. ‘Red’ is a characteristic of an object that provides particular information to our eyes as a result of the way it reflects or emits light. We can argue (and we do) about the definition of ‘red,’ what is red, what is not, when it becomes orange, but we do not deny that red exists. You may object to the name ‘red’ but objects will continue to reflect or emit light in a particular way that produces what we call red (or whatever we choose to call it). A ‘red flower’ (or a display of ‘dominant behavior’) is not an abstract concept, but a real, detectable thing, whilst the concept of ‘redness’ is an abstract notion, as are the concepts of ‘dominance,’  ‘height,’  ‘weight,’  ‘strength,’ etc…

5 Unclear grammar

Another problem is that we use the word dominance as a noun (an abstract noun in contrast to a concrete noun) when in this case it is (or should be) a ‘disguised adjective.’ Adjectives don’t make sense without nouns (except for adjectival nouns). Dominance is an abstract noun, something that by definition does not exist (otherwise it wouldn’t be abstract), except as an abstract notion of ‘showing dominant behavior’ and as in ‘dominant allele,’  ‘dominant trait,’  ‘dominant ideology,’ ‘dominant eye,’ etc. However, the behavior of alleles, traits, ideologies and eyes, which we call dominant or classify as dominant, exists. For example, the question “Do dogs show dominance towards humans?” uses the abstract noun ‘dominance’ as an adjectival noun instead of the more correct ‘dominant behavior’. This can be confusing for some as it suggests that dominance is an intrinsic quality of the individual, not the behavior. Therefore, I suggest that, in the behavioral sciences, we henceforth drop the adjectival noun and only use the term as an adjective to behavior. This is a very important point and a source of many misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding the character of behavior.

Behavior is dynamic and changeable. An individual displays one behavior at one given moment and another a while later. The popular view maintains the notion of a ‘dominant individual’ as the one that always shows dominant behavior and the ‘submissive individual’ as the one that always shows submissive behavior, which is not true. Dominant and submissive (dominance and submission) are characteristics of behavior, not individuals. Individuals may and do change strategies according to a particular set of conditions, although they may exhibit a preference for one strategy rather than another.

It is the ability to adopt the most beneficial strategy in the prevailing conditions that ultimately sorts the fittest from the less fit—moral strategies included.

Have a great day,



* This is my normative judgment and as such no one can contest it.

** The most correct form would be ‘he/she,’ or ‘he or she,’ but since I find it extremely ugly from a linguistic point of view (my normative judgment) to use this expression repeatedly, I chose to write, ‘he’ though not by any means neglecting the invaluable and indisputable contribution of my female colleagues.


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  • Rowell, T. E. 1974. The Concept of Social Dominance. Behavioral Biology, 11, 131-154.
  • Ruse, M. 1986. Taking Darwin seriously: a naturalistic approach to philosophy. Prometheus Books.

Thanks to Anabela Pinto-Poulton (PhD, Biology), Simon Gadbois (PhD, Biology), Stéphane Frevent (PhD, Philosophy), Victor Ross (Graduate Animal Trainer EIC), Parichart Abrantes (MBA), and Anna Holloway (editor) for their suggestions to improve this article. The remaining flaws are mine, not theirs.

16 cosas que debería dejar de hacer para tener una vida más feliz con tu perro

Roger Abrantes in 1986 howling with husky.

Foto de la portada del libro del autor de 1986 “Hunden, vor ven” (“El Perro, Nuestro Amigo”) (foto de Ole Suszkievicz). 

16 Things You Should Stop Doing In Order To Be Happy With Your Dog” traducido del Inglés por Victor Ros.

Aquí tienes una lista de 16 cosas que debería dejar de hacer para tener una vida con tu perro más feliz y una relación más fuerte. ¿Difícil? Para nada. Sólo necesitas querer hacerlo y, a continuación, simplemente hacerlo. Puede comenzar tan pronto como termines de leer esto.

1. Deja de ser quisquilloso—No te preocupes y sé feliz (don’t worry, be happy)

Como la mayor parte de cosas en la vida, ser un perfeccionista tiene sus ventajas y desventajas. Cuando posees un perro, tiendes a vivir según la Ley de Murphy. Cualquier cosa que puede ir mal irá mal. Hay tantos variables que las cosas rara vez van 100% la manera esperada. Puedes y debes planear y entrenar, pero tienes que estar preparado para aceptar todo tipo de variaciónes, improvisaciones y pequeños percances a lo largo del camino, siempre que nadie se haga daño, por supuesto. ¿Después de todo, en la mayor parte de situaciones, menos que perfecto es mejor que bueno, entonces, por qué la preocupación sobre la perfección, un concepto que sólo existe en tu cabeza y no hace a nadie feliz, ni a ti, ni a tu perro?

2. Deja de ser demasiado serioRíete (have a laugh)

Si no tienes buen sentido del humor, no vivas con un perro. Ser propietario de perro da ocasión a contratiempos donde la risa es la mejor salida. Los contratiempos sólo son embarazosas en nuestras mentes. Tu perro no sabe siquiera lo que quiere decir verguenza, deberias seguir su ejemplo. Mientras nadie se haga daño, riete de los errores que cometeis tu y tu perro.

3. Deten tu deseo de controlarlo todo—Tomarlo como viene (take it as it comes)

Cuando la vida con un perro es a menudo dictada por la ley de Murphy, si intenta controlar cada movimiento de tu perro, acabara con una úlcera o caeras en una depresión. Renuncie tu necesidad de control. Por supuesto, debe tener un control razonable sobre tu perro por razones de seguridad, pero debe dejar ir todo aquello que no es una cuestión de vida o muerte. Reglas razonables sirven un propósito, pero el control total es innecesaria y contraproducente. Tomarlo como viene y seguir sonriendo!

4. Deja de imputar la culpa—Avanzar (move on)

Cuando las cosas van mal, y lo harán, les aseguro, no pierda el tiempo repartiendo culpas. ¿Fue tu culpa, culpa del perro, o culpa del gato del vecino? ¿A quién le importa? Sigue adelante aunque toda la escena te produjo tristeza, intenta prever una situación similar en el futuro y como evitarlo. Si no ha sido gran cosa, olvidate del asunto.

5. Deja de creer en los cuentos de vieja crítico (be critical)

El mundo está lleno de cuentos de viejas, irracionales y sin fundamento. Hoy día, el Internet nos proporciona rápido y fácil acceso a mucha información valiosay tambien un montón de basura: malos argumentos, malas definiciones, reclamaciones infundadas, falacias, estados emocionales, pseudociencia, promociones de ventas, agendas políticas ocultas, predicaciónes religiosos, etc… Por supuesto, en nombre de la libertad de expresión, creo todos deberían poder publicar cualquierles gusta, incluso la bazofia más pura y más refinada, pero tanto yo como tu también tenemos el derecho a no creernoslo, haciendo caso omiso de ello. Utilice tu pensamiento crítico. No deje de preguntar “¿Cómo puede ser?” y “¿Cómo llegó a esa conclusión?” Suspende el juicio y la acción hasta que hayas tenido tiempo para reflexionar, si es necesario, busca una segunda o tercera opinión. Si el argumento es sólido y le gusta, entonces hágalo. Si el argumento es sólido pero no te gusta, no hacerlo y pensar más sobre ello. Si el argumento es poco sólido, rechazalo y no pienses más sobre ello. Convencete a ti mismo y haz lo que piensas es correcto.

6. Deja de preocuparte por etiquetas—Sé libre (be free)

Estamos sobre-inundados por las etiquetas porque las etiquetas venden, pero sólo venden si los compramos. ¿Deberias ser positivo, ultra-positivo, R+, R++, R+ P-, equilibrado, naturalista, moralista, conservador, realista, progresivo, o dueño clickeriano o autoritario del perro? Deje de preocuparte sobre qué etiqueta debe portar. Cuando disfrutas de un gran momento con tu perro, la etiqueta que llevas es irrelevante. Una etiqueta es una carga; te restringe y te quita tu libertad. Las etiquetas son para personas inseguras que necesitan esconderse detrás de una imagen. Cree en ti mismo, sea el tipo de propietario de perro que quieres ser y no necesitará etiquetas.

7. Deja de preocuparte sobre lo que piensan los demás—Vive tu vida (live your life)

Pasas muy poco tiempo con la mayoría de la gente que conoces, significativamente más con la familia y amigos cercanos, pero vives toda la vida contigo mismo. Así que, ¿qué importa lo que otras personas piensan acerca de su habilidad como propietario de perro, o del comportamiento de tu perro, cuando es probable que no les veas de nuevo o sólo les veremos esporádicamente? Si les gusta tu y tu perro, bien. Si no, realmente no es tu problema.

8. Deja de quejarte—No pierdas tu tiempo (don’t waste your time)

Sólo tienes un problema cuando hay una discrepancia entre la forma en que las cosas son y lo que esperas que sean. Si tus expectativas son realistas, probar de hacer algo para alcanzarlas. Si no lo son, deja de quejarte, es un desperdicio de tiempo y energía. Si puede hacer algo al respecto, hazlo. Si no puedes, sigue adelante. Punto.

9. Deja de pedir disculpas—Sé tu mismo (be yourself)

No tienes que pedir disculpas ni por ti ni por tu perro por la forma en que sois. Mientras no molesteis a nadie, podeis hacer lo que querais y ser quien quereis ser. No tienes que ser bueno en nada, como Obedience, Agility, Musical Free Style, Heel Work to Music, Flyball, Frisbee Dog, Earth Dog, Ski-Joring, Bike-Joring, Earthdog, Rally-O, Weight Pulling, Carting, Schutzhund, Herding, Nose Work, Therapy, Field Trials, Dock Dogs, Dog Diving, Disc Dogs, Ultimate Air Dogs, Super Retriever, Splash Dogs, Hang Time, Lure Course Racing, Sled Dog Racing or Treibball; y no necesitas excusarte por ello. No hay que escusarse tampoco si tu perro no sabe sentar bien. Cambia lo que quieras y puedas cambiar y no pierdas tiempo y energia pensando sobre lo que no quieres, no necesitas o no puedas cambiar. Haz lo que tu y tu perro os gusta, como querais hacerlo, asi los dos resultais contentos. Es tan simple como eso!

10. Deja de sentirte mal—Actua ahora (act now)

Si no estás conforme con algún aspecto de tu vida con tu perro, haz algo para cambiarlo. Identifique el problema y establezca un objetivo, haz un plan e implementalo. Sentirse mal y culpable no ayuda a nadie—esto no te ayudara ni a ti, ni a tu perro, o los que mas quieres y con quienes compartes tu vida.

11. Pare tu impulso de poseer—Sé un compañero (be a mate)

La propiedad de los seres vivos es esclavitud; y afortunadamente la esclavitud ha sido abolido No te consideres como el dueño de tu perro. Piensa en tu perro como un compañero del cual eres responsable. No posees a tus hijos, tu pareja y tampoco tus amigos.

12. Detener la dependencia—Desatate (untie your self)

Amor nada tiene que ver con la dependencia, obsesión y el deseo, sino todo lo contrario. Ame su perro, pero no creas una dependencia mutua. Tenga vida propia y dé a su perro algún espacio. Tu perro y tu sois dos individuos independientes. Disfrute de vivir juntos como personas independientes, no siendo enviciado el uno al otro. Deje de proyectarse en su perro.

13. Deja de convertir tu perro en un sustituto—Muestra respeto  (show respect)

Un perro es un perro y en efecto es un notable ser vivo. Ámelo, disfrute de su compañía, pero no le haga un sustituto para un compañero humano, un amigo, un hijo o un cónyuge. Esperar que cualquiera pueda ser un sustituto es el mayor desrespeto que pueda cometer tanto hacia otro humano como hacia cualquier animal no humano, y a ti mismo. Dejarle cesar al perro en seguirte tu guion y comienza a amarlo como el perro que es.

14. Deja de racionalizar—Sé sincero (be truthful)

Todas las relaciones son intercambios: das y tomas. No hay nada malo con esto mientras hay equilibrio. Tienes que ser honesto contigo mismo: Que te da tu perro y que le das a tu perro? Si ves que uno de los dos es mayoritariamente uno que da o recibe, piensalo y reestablece el equilibrio. Tu perro te necesita tanto como tu a el, y no hay nada malo en ello, mientras los dos daís y recibís. No teneis el perro solo para salvar el pobre, pequeña criatura. Tienes el perro para que ambos podais gozar de una relacion solida y fructifera.

15. Deja de querer lo que no puede tenerSé feliz con lo que tiene (be happy with what you’ve got)

Esto es una característica humana muy común: siempre quiere lo que no tiene y es ciego a todo el bien que realmente tiene. Tu perro ya te da muchisimo y los dos podeis ser absolutamente felices juntos, aun cuando tu perro no es particularmente bueno en algo. Es asombroso como los dueños de perros suelen decir que ellos aman sus perros y aún asi pasan la mayor parte del tiempo tratando de cambiar su comportamiento. Concéntrese en lo que tiene, no en lo que no, aprécielo y agradezelo.

16. Deja de luchar contratigo mismo—Siga tu corazon (follow your heart)

Hay muchas maneras de ser un buen propietario de perro y el tuyo es unico y diferente a todos los demás. Es tu vida. Mientras que no perjudique a nadie, viva en la forma que te siente bien. Escuche a expertos, reflexione sobre su consejo, pero, al final de día, haga lo que siente es correcto para tí, siga tu corazón.

La vida es grande!


Artículos Relacionados

16 Things You Should Stop Doing In Order To Be Happy With Your Dog

Roger Abrantes in 1986 howling with husky.

Cover photo from the author’s book from 1986 “Hunden, vor ven” (The Dog, Our Friend) (photo by Ole Suszkievicz).

Here is a list of 16 things you should stop doing in order to make life with your dog happier and your relationship stronger. Difficult? Not at all. You just need to want to do it and then simply do it. You can begin as soon as you finish reading this.

1. Stop being fussy—don’t worry, be happy

Like most things in life, being a perfectionist has its advantages and disadvantages. When you own a dog, you tend to live by Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. There are so many variables that things seldom go 100% the way you expect. You can and should plan and train, but be prepared to accept all kinds of variations, improvisations and minor mishaps along the way as long as no one is injured, of course. After all, in most situations less than perfect is better than good, so why worry about perfection, a concept that only exists in your head and doesn’t make anyone happy, neither you nor your dog?

2. Stop being too serious—have a laugh

If you don’t have a good sense of humor, don’t live with a dog. Dog ownership gives rise to many mishaps where laughter is the best way out. Mishaps are only embarrassing in our minds. Your dog doesn’t even know what embarrassment is and you should follow its example. As long as no one gets hurt, just laugh at you and your dog’s mistakes.

3. Stop your desire to control everything—take it as it comes

When life with a dog is often dictated by Murphy’s Law, if you attempt to control your dog’s every move, you’ll end up with an ulcer or fall into a depression. Give up your need to control. Of course, you should have reasonable control over your dog for safety’s sake, but you should let go of anything that is not a matter of life or death. Reasonable rules serve a purpose, but total control is unnecessary and self-defeating. Take it as it comes and keep smiling!

4. Stop apportioning blame—move on

When things go wrong, and they will, I assure you, don’t waste your time apportioning blame. Was it your fault, the dog’s fault, or the neighbor’s cat’s fault? Who cares? Move on and, if you found the scenario all rather upsetting, try to foresee a similar situation in the future and avoid it. If it was no big deal, forget about it.

5. Stop believing in old wives’ tales—be critical

The world is full of irrational, unfounded old wives’ tales. These days, the Internet provides us with quick and easy access to a lot of valuable information—and a lot of junk as well: bad arguments, bad definitions, unsubstantiated claims, fallacies, emotional statements, pseudo-science, sales promotions, hidden political agendas, religious preaching, etc. Of course, in the name of freedom of expression, I believe everyone should be allowed to post whatever they like, even the purest and most refined crap—but both you and I also have the right not to believe it, to disregard it. Use your critical thinking. Don’t stop asking yourself  “How can that be?” and “How did he/she come to that conclusion?” Suspend judgment and action until you have had time to ponder on it and, if necessary, seek a second and third opinion. If the argument is sound and you like it, then do it. If the argument is sound but you don’t like it, don’t do it and think more about it. If the argument is unsound, reject it and think no more about it. Make up your own mind and do what you think is right.

6. Stop caring about labels—be free

We are over swamped by labels because labels sell, but they only sell if you buy them. Should you be a positive, ultra-positive, R+, R++, R+P-, balanced, naturalistic, moralistic, conservative, realistic, progressive, clickerian or authoritarian dog owner? Stop caring about what label you should bear. When you enjoy a great moment with your dog, the label you bear is irrelevant. A label is a burden; it restricts you and takes away your freedom. Labels are for insecure people that need to hide behind an image. Believe in yourself, be the type of dog owner you want to be and you won’t need labels.

7. Stop caring about what others think—live your life

You spend very little time with most of the people you meet, significantly more with family and close friends, but you live your whole life with yourself. So, why care about what other people think about your ability as a dog owner or your dog’s behavior, when you probably won’t see them again or will only ever see them sporadically? If they like you and your dog, fine. If they don’t, it’s really not your problem.

8. Stop complaining—don’t waste your time

You only have a problem when there is a discrepancy between the way things are and the way you expect them to be. If your expectations are realistic, try and do something about achieving them. If they’re not, stop complaining, it’s a waste of time and energy. If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, move on. Period.

9. Stop excusing yourself—be yourself

You don’t have to excuse yourself or your dog for the way you are. As long as you don’t bother anyone, you are both entitled to do what you like and be the way you are. You don’t need to be good at anything, whether it be Obedience, Agility, Musical Free Style, Heel Work to Music, Flyball, Frisbee Dog, Earth Dog, Ski-Joring, Bike-Joring, Earthdog, Rally-O, Weight Pulling, Carting, Schutzhund, Herding, Nose Work, Therapy, Field Trials, Dock Dogs, Dog Diving, Disc Dogs, Ultimate Air Dogs, Super Retriever, Splash Dogs, Hang Time, Lure Course Racing, Sled Dog Racing or Treibball; and you don’t need excuses as to why not. You don’t even need to excuse the fact that your dog can’t sit properly. Change what you want to change and can change; and don’t waste time and energy thinking about what you don’t want to, don’t need to or can’t change. Do whatever you and your dog enjoy, however you like, so that both you and your dog are happy. It’s as simple as that!

10. Stop feeling bad—act now

If you’re unhappy with any particular aspect of your life with your dog, do something to change it. Identify the problem, set a goal, make a plan and implement it. Feeling bad and guilty doesn’t help anyone—it doesn’t help you, your dog, or the cherished ones you share your life with.

11. Stop your urge to own—be a mate

The ownership of living beings is slavery; and thankfully slavery was abolished. Don’t regard yourself as the owner of your dog. Think of your dog as a mate you are responsible for. You don’t own your children, your partner or your friends either.

12. Stop dependency—untie your self

Love has nothing to do with dependency, obsession and craving, quite the contrary. Love your dog but don’t create mutual dependency. Have a life of your own and give your dog some space. You and your dog are two independent individuals. Enjoy living together as free agents, not being addicted each other. Stop projecting yourself onto your dog.

13. Stop turning your dog into a substitute—show respect

A dog is a dog and it is indeed a remarkable living being. Love it, enjoy its company, but don’t make it a substitute for a human partner, a friend, a child or a spouse. To expect anyone to be a substitute is the greatest disrespect you can show to a human as well as non-human animal—and to yourself. Stop letting your dog play a role for you and begin to love your dog as a dog.

14. Stop rationalizing—be truthful

All relationships are trades: you give and you take. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as there is balance. Be honest with yourself: what does your dog give you and what do you give your dog? If you find that one of you is almost solely a giver or a taker, think about it and redress the balance. Your dog needs you, just as you need your dog and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you both are givers and takers. You didn’t get your dog just to save the poor, little creature. You got your dog so you could both enjoy a solid and fruitful partnership.

15. Stop wanting what you can’t have—be happy with what you’ve got

This is a very common human characteristic: you always want what you haven’t got and you are blind to all the good you do have. Your dog already gives you a great deal and the two of you can be perfectly happy together, even if your dog is not particularly good at anything. It’s amazing how dog owners say they love their dogs and yet they spend most of the time trying to change their behavior. Focus on what you do have, not on what you don’t, appreciate it and be grateful for it.

16. Stop fighting yourself—follow your heart

There are many different ways of being a good dog owner and yours is your own and different to everyone else’s. It’s your life. As long as you don’t harm anyone, live it the way that feels good for you. Listen to experts, ponder on their advice, but, at the end of the day, do what you feel is right for you, follow your heart. Be yourself.

Life is great!


Related articles

Handler Beliefs Do Not Affect Police Dog Detection Outcomes

GNR Officer and Police Dog

GNR officer and police dog (image by Roger Abrantes)

This is a scientific study, which is relevant to law enforcement, police dog handlers and anyone concerned with scent detection and particularly canine scent detection.

This study was conducted in 2011 at the GNR in Portugal by Roger Abrantes (PhD in Evolutionary Biology and Ethology, Ethology Institute Cambridge and special advisor to the GNR), Marco Costa Pinto (Major, Company Commander, GNR) Miguel Rodrigues (Captain, GNR) and Tiago Costa Pinto (Captain, GNR). The GNR (Guarda Nacional Republicana) is the Portuguese Military Academy trained Police.

Summary (abstract)

Our goal in this study was to evaluate how handler beliefs and other environmental stimuli influenced the indications given by police detection dogs.

We tested 16 teams: eight specialists in narcotics and eight specialists in explosives. The handlers were told that two conditions indicated with a paper marker could contain the target scent. Two of the search conditions contained decoy scents (food/toy) in order to test whether they would produce indications from the dogs. The search conditions were as follows: (1) no scent, (2) paper marker (red tape), (3) decoy scent, (4) paper marker at decoy scent, (5) target scent. The last condition was our way of controlling that the dogs were adequately trained and able to detect and indicate the desired target scents.

The dogs gave 59 incorrect indications. There were more clean runs in unmarked areas. In contrast, the distribution of clean runs did not differ between runs with or without decoy scents. No difference proved statistically significant.

Our conclusion is, therefore, that the dogs indicated the target scents independently of handler beliefs and decoy scents. Handler beliefs do seem to increase the number of false positives, but not in a statistically significant way. Decoy scents do not influence the number of indications given by the dogs.

In the condition containing a target scent, only one dog failed to detect or indicate it (the youngest, a one year old Labrador). This condition produced 10 false positives. These results are statistically significant, showing that the dogs do detect and indicate target scents and the handlers make the right calls.

You can read more about the parameters and conclusions of this study here.

Click the full-screen view icon for better reading. Zoom in and out as you please.

Odie The Pekinese: Awaiting On Death Row


Odie, an ugly duckling of a Pekinese, was awaiting his turn on death row. A twist of fate meant Odie survived his death sentence and, one year later, he had turned into a beautiful wolf.

Odie came to me on an odd day, one of those rainy, grey days, when the only thing you want to do is stay at home, listen to good music, watch the fire roaring in the fireplace, hold a hot cup of punch in your hands and feel sorry for yourself. Odie, an ugly duckling of a Pekinese, was awaiting his turn on death row. A twist of fate meant Odie survived his death sentence and, one year later, he had turned into a beautiful wolf.

I was sitting in my office at my desk, gazing absent-mindedly at a blank piece of paper lodged in my typewriter, which, unfortunately had been stuck there for far too long. I was suddenly wrenched from my thoughts when our vet knocked at the door. “Have you got a minute? ” she asked. I debated saying “No,” but overcame the temptation. She came in, accompanied by Odie’s owners, and explained the situation. Odie’s owners wanted to euthanize him, because they were sick of a particularly annoying behavior of his. He urinated all over the house and, when one day they found him cocking his leg up the impeccable flower arrangement they had proudly positioned in the middle of their much cherished, antique mahogany dining table, that was the last straw.

“Right on top of the table?” I asked them and they nodded solemnly.

I glanced down at Odie with newfound respect for it was no mean feat for an eight inch (20 cm) tall Pekinese to climb on top of a dining table in order to accomplish a vital mission. So I asked them if I could keep the dog instead of them euthanizing him. I would try to solve his problem and find a good home for him. They were overjoyed at my proposal and I thus found myself being the improbable owner of a Pekinese for the first, and no doubt last, time in my life.

I was on a very tight deadline to write an article. After giving Odie a quick once over, I turned back to my typewriter and the embarrassingly blank sheet of paper. I remember thinking “Gee, you’re a really ugly little fellow, I understand why they wanted to get rid of you.” Odie grunted once in return. I think he could take a bit of humor. I would take care of Odie later. My first priority was to fill that all too white sheet of paper with some wise words.

Once deeply submerged in writing my article (or not writing it as the case may be), it was then I heard an almost imperceptible sound that took a couple of seconds to register and identify. I spun round to the source of the sound and, to my astonishment, my suspicion was confirmed. Odie was peeing on my books on my bookshelf.

I am a peaceful person and it takes a lot to upset me. Being a child of the sixties, I accept everyone and almost everything; all is good as long as it doesn’t restrict my freedom. However, one thing I must confess I can’t take is having someone peeing on my beloved books. I don’t discriminate: nobody urinates on my books, period! My reaction was therefore pure reflex. I reached for the first thing I had at hand, ironically enough it was my first book about dog training and behavior “Psychology Rather Than Power” and, before I knew it, I had thrown it at Odie.

The book, a good quality hardback, landed with a smack right behind Odie. Taken by surprise, he yelped, performed a beautiful pirouette in the air and stood there looking baffled and bewildered, staring at my book. For my part, I remained quiet as a mouse, holding my breath. After a few seconds, Odie managed to compose himself. He approached the book, sniffed at it in a noisy, Pekinese manner, then sniffed at the books on my book shelf, before returning to my book on the floor, giving it another long and even noisier sniff and then, smacking his lips, he decided to lie down right next to the book. I returned to my tauntingly clean sheet of paper whilst keeping one eye on Odie.

Odie fell asleep, or so it seemed, and I finally began filling the blank sheet of paper with some meaningful words. A little later, whilst searching for something on my desk, I happened to knock a pencil over the edge and it fell on the floor, between the desk and that same book shelf, a source of so much knowledge and inspiration for me. Odie opened his big, bulging eyes, one looking right and the other looking left, and approached the pencil. I couldn’t see him or the pencil, but could hear him clearly, grunting, snuffling, puffing and panting. A few seconds later, maybe 15, he came around the desk directly towards me. He was holding the pencil in his mouth, each eye still looking in a different direction, one as wet as the other, dribble all over his face, with his head covered in balls of dust and fluff, reminding me that my office needed a good hoovering.

I stretched out my hand to him and automatically said “tak” (which means “thanks” in the Scandinavian languages and was my sound signal for “release”). Odie, with a grunt, promptly dropped the slimy pencil into my hand. I was impressed. Was that a “retrieval”? Did he really retrieve that pencil for me?

I was so baffled and curious that I proceeded to do something that fellow pencil lovers regard as the ultimate sin towards pencils. You never drop a pencil as it is highly likely you’ll break the lead inside, rendering it useless once sharpened a couple of times. I tossed the pencil so it fell in the same place between my desk and the book shelf; and once again, Odie ran (I think he was running, but don’t know for sure as I couldn’t see his short legs for all the fur), he grunted, snuffled, puffed and panted, rubbing one eye then the other along the floor in an effort to pick up the pencil and, in doing so, collected even more dust fluff. He wouldn’t give up, finally managed to take the pencil in his mouth and promptly returned it to me just as he had done before.

“Hallelujah!” I exclaimed despite my lack of religious conviction, “We have a retriever!” Joy filled my heart. The misery and self-pity the dull, grey day had imposed upon me ever since I had got out of bed that morning were gone like magic. Of all the activities I have undertaken with dogs, the one that has most amused me, and my dogs too it would seem, is without a shadow of doubt search and retrieve.

Odie never again urinated indoors, a fact we have discussed at some length. We are convinced it was the book incident that did it, due to the optimal coincidence of a series of conditions. Firstly, he was caught in the act (perfect timing), secondly, he did not associate the book falling behind him with me (instead with his own behavior), thirdly, the smack of the book falling on the floor had the right intensity to startle him (not too much, not too little), and fourthly, he associated the book aversive with his urinating behavior and nothing else (it happened when he urinated, it stopped when he stopped). No bad feelings towards books and (of course) no bad feelings from books towards him. Of course, the moral of this story is not that you should throw books at your dog. Let me say this loudly and clearly so no one gets it wrong: I do not recommend people throw books at their dogs. It worked in this case because of the coincidence of the many necessary conditions for it to work (as I explained) and that’s it.

I kept Odie and we all trained him. Sit, stand and, down were no problem at all, only difficult to observe for all the fur and short legs. We used treats as unconditioned reinforcers and my “dygtig” (as a semi-conditioned reinforcer), but he would do anything as long as we held a pencil in our hands (this was his reinforcer of choice). He would take the treats only because he was hungry. We put him on a program where he had to work for all his food and he worked a lot: no free food at all. Odie became very popular. His odd looks combined with his skills were an improbable combination in most people’s eyes. The staff at the Ethology Institute sometimes asked if they could take him home to show visiting friends. Odie never disappointed.

At the time, I was living in one of those enormous, old European mansions, like small castles, with three floors and endless of rooms. One particularly cold winter when the fields were covered by snow and ice, our cellar (basement) became a refuge for mice. This is very normal and we all know how to deal with the problem, except that I thought at the time it was more dignified for a mouse to die in battle than to be trapped or poisoned. Therefore, I introduced a hunting session every night at 8 pm after having read my son Daniel his bedtime story.

The nightly hunting session began with the troops, Petrine, Elanor (English Cocker Spaniels) and myself, assembling at the door to the cellar. Petrine and Elanor were skilled hunters so this was a good opportunity to stimulate them. Every evening we enacted the age-old game of predator and prey in the cellar of that big, old mansion house. Odie was always very keen to join us on our mission and, one evening, I decided to let him give it a go. Odie experienced his first hunt.

Odie quickly learned the rules of the game, although learn is perhaps the wrong term as it looked like he had always known and just had to be reminded. The first time, he went under a couch to chase a mouse, he took a long time. All I could hear was his usual grunting, snuffling, puffing, panting and the occasional high-pitched squeak from a mouse. I guess the mice were terrified of Odie’s looks combined with the spluttering, snorting and grunting. He came to me carrying his first mouse by a hind leg, the mouse completely stiff and wet, but very much alive. Odie became an efficient mouse hunter. He was quick and could squeeze into confined spaces for which the cockers were too big. Every evening, he was the first to reach our rendezvous point. He was there from around seven onwards, waiting patiently. He insisted on being the first to reach the bottom of the stairs to the cellar which was quite a spectacle for the steps were too steep for his all too short legs. He somehow managed to overtake the cockers on the way down, not running, but tumbling down amidst a cloud of dust and much snorting and grunting. The cockers just looked at him bemused. Up until then, our mission had been a well-planned military operation. Stealth, discipline, training, dedication and precise timing were our weapons. After Odie joined us, it all looked more like Asterix and Obelix against the Romans.

The days passed, one year passed, and Odie grew older and more experienced. I bet he could have won all kinds of competitions, but we never subjected him to that. By then he had become a great hunter, only limited by his physical characteristics, the ones us humans have bestowed upon him through selective breeding.

It was bound to happen sooner or later: one day someone came along that wanted to keep Odie. It was love at first sight when they saw his antics. When they asked me about his original problem, I couldn’t even remember what it was. I had completely forgotten, as had we all. After that first “attack” by my book, he had never again urinated indoors. Odie found a good home, one year after he had entered our lives.

I was sad to see him go. We all were. We often spoke fondly of him and made each other laugh by telling Odie stories. Odie had taught us invaluable lessons. First, that we should never judge anyone by their appearance. He was a little dog, short-legged, furry, flat-faced and cross-eyed, but he was a dog at heart like any other. None of us thought he was ugly, despite my initial horror. He was further evidence that many dogs develop problems because they are not treated as dogs; they are understimulated and their excess energy causes them to engage in any kind of activity, be it desirable or undesirable for the owners. He was a quick learner and an impeccable hunter with an enormous joy for life. Without words, he told us: “Respect and you shall be respected. I’m not a toy, not a thing, not a little human. I’m Odie, a Pekinese dog.”

14 years later, I went to give a talk in a town about 50 km from where I lived. During the break, a couple approached me and asked me if I remembered them. It took me a while, but I did recognize them. They were the new owners we had found for Odie. He was still alive, they informed me, but very old and tired by then. He no longer had any front teeth, as his love for retrieving hard objects had not waned over the years. They said they were getting ready for the day they would have to say goodbye to Odie and I saw their eyes well up.

Thinking of him, my eyes welled up too, Odie, the ugly duckling of a Pekinese that had turned into a beautiful wolf in my eyes and in the eyes of all those who had the privilege to know him. Thanks, Odie, my friend!

Be happy!


PS—I know that metamorphosis does not occur in canids and that a dog cannot turn into a wolf. I also know that a dog is a dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and not a wolf (Canis lupus lupus). Since this is a story with a point written for a blog, not a scientific article, I allow myself some artistic license when I write “Odie turned into a beautiful wolf.”

Dogs And Children

Dogs And ChildrenDogs And Children

Children and dogs in the same household equals many moments of joy for the whole family, dogs included. There are a few considerations that parents should bear in mind and a few rules that children and dogs must learn. These rules are simple and easy to learn.

This book contains sound advice for parents and dog owners.

This little book was published in Danish by Borgen Publishers in 1986 as one in a series of five booklets that dealt with the most common questions asked by dog owners and the problems they ran into. It was never reprinted after the first edition of 25,000 copies sold out. It became since then a bit of a collector’s item.

“Dogs and Children” was published in Danish, Norwegian and Italian, and never translated into English until now. I have often been asked to write about dogs and children and I have done so occasionally in short articles and blogs, but the advice has never been published as a book, except for this booklet. The other day, whilst dusting off my books, I came across the five booklets and thought it would be a good idea to translate the original “Hund og Barn” into English. I have kept the original photos and layout and it is now available free of charge as a flip-page E-book.

The intention of this little book was to provide dog owners with sound advice that would help them prevent accidents from happening and, as such, I believe that it can still perform the same role today as it did 26 years ago.

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Sorry, this book is no longer available here. Please, visit Ethology Institute’s Online Bookstore.


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A Dog’s Self-Respect

Petrine retrieving bird.

Petrine, the English Cocker Spaniel, compelled me to ask: are intelligence, reasoning and self-respect only human features?

Did she cheat me? Did she manipulate me? Or was it a proof that my English Cocker Spaniel had a sense of self-respect; that dogs behave intelligently?

It happened long ago, but I still think about it, trying to find a plausible and scientifically correct explanation. My dogs have always been fun dogs, independent and skillful, but manipulative and naughty at the same time. It’s my fault. I’ve brought them up to be that way. I trained them because at the time (the beginning of the 1980s) I was keen on demonstrating that there were other ways of training dogs than the traditional, mostly compulsory and often forceful methods of the old school. Since I believed (and still do) that the best way to have someone change is not by forcing, persuading or convincing, but rather by showing attractive results, I trained my dogs to help me in this quest, and none more than Petrine, my female, red English Cocker Spaniel did so.

At the time, there was a very popular dog training series on TV called “No Bad Dogs the Woodhouse Way” with the unforgettable Barbara Woodhouse.  Those of a certain age will chuckle nostalgically when they hear inimitable “walkies.” Mrs. Woodhouse, born in 1910, was a charming, efficient lady who loved animals. She herself was not mean; it was just her methods that were forceful to say the least. Does this sound familiar? History repeats itself, as we well know! Instead of attacking her and her methods personally, or trying to argue for ways I thought were better, I found a better strategy: to channel the interest in dog training that Mrs. Woodhouse generated and present my own way as an alternative. Of course, I had to show results, I had to be able to teach the dogs the same things Mrs. Woodhouse so efficiently taught them. If I was successful and my methods were not only as efficient but more attractive, they would win the public’s favor. If I couldn’t achieve the same results she did, my way would not win. I went for it, confident that I could make dogs as “obedient” as Mrs. Woodhouse did, but using my own methods. To allow for an obvious comparison, I even used the terminology of the time, which I later felt entitled to change when my first book came out in 1984: from there on a “command” became a “signal,” “obedience” became “cooperation,” and “praise” became a “reinforcer.”

So, Petrine and I did a lot of “obedience” training together, even if we weren’t too keen on the fastidiousness of the process. We trained using motivation, treats, facial expressions as reinforcers, the word “dygtig,” later to be called a semi-conditioned verbal reinforcer and sometimes a whistle as a conditioned positive reinforcer (the precursor of the clicker); and together we won several obedience competitions.

At the time you didn’t see many Cockers competing and our victories did help to prove my point, but our achievements weren’t exactly a big surprise.  They were more like appetizers. What really did it was when we won a hunting-dog competition. That caused quite some stir in the dog-training community of that time because we beat all the smart, greenclad hunters with their pointers and the like. At the time, it was unthinkable that an English Cocker Spaniel (not only red, but female too!) and a longhaired, bearded, young fellow (in worn-out Levi’s and clogs just to top it off) could beat the establishment. Well, we did! That day of fame and infamy set me on a career path I could never have imagined.  Training in a new way, the “psychology rather than power” way rather than the Woodhouse way, we made it into newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, and to be on TV was a big thing at the time. Inevitably, we were heroes for some and villains for others, but my message had been conveyed as the first edition of my first book, entitled (of course) “Psychology Rather Than Power” which showed a completely different way of training dogs based on ethology and the scientific principles of animal learning, sold out in three months. It was a victory for psychology rather than power in more than one way, as it also proved my point that showing results works better than arguing, persuading, convincing or forcing.

Petrine was indeed an amazing dog. She taught me most of the important things I know about dogs, but she also taught me about life, respect and affection. As I said before, I trained her because it was necessary, but I must confess that I never liked the training as much as the interaction. Training was definitely secondary to having a good relationship. Therefore, I always encouraged and reinforced any behavior that showed initiative, independence, and her resolving problems her own way. This was (and is) my philosophy of education for any species. I think of my job as an educator as like being a travel guide, providing my students with opportunities to develop, to learn how to deal with their environment, to stand out from the crowd and not be just a self-denigrating face, but to make of themselves whatever they choose. If my dogs found ways to circumvent the rules and succeeded (that is what I call good canine argumentation and reasoning), I would reinforce that even at my own cost. In other words: I have always reinforced sound argumentation and conclusions consistent with their premises, even though they might have gone against my own wishes and, as the good sportsman my father educated me to be, when a better opponent on a better day beats me, I accept defeat gracefully. I applied the same philosophy to the education of my son.

When Daniel was little, we travelled a lot together. I always thought traveling, experiencing other ways of thinking and having other stances on life were good antidotes to narrow-mindedness and all that comes with it. On one occasion, we arrived at a guesthouse after a long journey and Daniel, by then about 9 or 10 years old and already an experienced traveler, quickly assessed the situation.

“OK, we have only one little bed,” he said.

“Yes, so I see,” I replied, whilst removing my heavy backpack, trying not to lose the car keys or spill our cokes.

“I have 50% of your genes and when I have kids, they’ll have 25% of your genes, right?” he asked rhetorically.

“For sure,” I said, amazed at what a kid could learn just by accompanying his daddy to talks and seminars whilst quietly drawing pictures at the back of the room.

“So if you want me to pass 25% of your silly genes to my kids, you have to take good care of me, right?” again a rhetorical question.

“Yes, absolutely,” I answered.

“OK, so I take the bed and you sleep on the floor,” he concluded.

I slept on the floor.

Petrine, the red, female English Cocker Spaniel was indeed one of a kind. I remember one day I had decided to invite guests for dinner and prepared a roastbeef to serve them. It was no mean feat considering my extremely limited culinary skills. I was in the living room surveying the table when I glanced towards the kitchen and my eyes registered a sight that caused instant paralysis of every muscle in my body, including my jaw, which gaped open as I recollect.

Next to the kitchen table, where I had placed the fruit of my hard labor, the once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece, my roastbeef, stood Petrine. That in itself is not reason enough to make me stop breathing and incite a serious and irreversible heart-attack you may think and you’re right, but add to that Petrine holding my roastbeef in her mouth and I think you will begin to understand the cause of my instant, full body paralysis. For a moment that seemed interminable, we stood there looking at one another, me, drop-jawed and paralyzed from head to toe, and Petrine with her deep brown eyes staring at me intensely, roastbeef in mouth.

If I was paralyzed, Petrine certainly was not.  She began to walk towards me with a swift, self confident, elegant pace, not once averting her gaze from mine. I merely stared in disbelief at her approach with the roast beef.  Without stopping, she trotted around me in a perfectly calculated circle  and sat right next to my left leg, lifting her head and the roastbeef towards me, her eyes still fixed on mine.

I think I took longer to react than I normally would on this type of occasion but I managed to bend down, take hold of the dummy (read roast-beef) and give the signal “Tak” (read release). I know I managed it because I remember trying to wipe away Petrine’s teeth marks from the roastbeef and placing it on a plate on the table ready to serve to my guests. I also remember that, even though my paralysis had only been momentary, my brain was still not fully functioning, as the next thing I heard was a barely perceptible whine from Petrine. I looked down to find her gazing up at me, wagging her tail and all lower body as cockers do. She was right and it was good of her to remind me. I was failing in my duties. “Free,” I said and, as swiftly, as elegantly and as self confidently as she had brought the roast-beef to me, she went off to perform some other of her daily chores. It had all been just another episode among the many life presents us with. No more, no less— or so it seemed to her.

It was only once the guests had gone, the kitchen tidy and Daniel in bed that, sitting on my porch and enjoying a well-deserved glass of Portuguese “vinho verde,” I cast my mind back to the Petrine episode. What had been going on?

As I told you, my philosophy of education encourages determination and reasoning and Petrine was good at that. She realized that she had been caught in the act. She had several options: one, to drop the roast beef and show submissive behavior (active and/or passive), which would have been accompanied by a “Phooey” from me, an ugly face and a very assertive tone of voice; two, to scoff as much of the roast beef as she could before I caught her, which wouldn’t have taken long considering I was no more than 6 meters (20 feet) away; three, to run away with the roast beef, which she could have done but I would inevitably have caught up with her. And, of course, she also had the option that she chose, which is not one I would have thought of myself. Why did she choose that option? All things considered, I believe it was the best option open to her, but what went through her head when she chose to do so, I would pay a handsome fee to know for sure.

None of my (attempted) scientific explanations succeed in convincing me fully. Having been caught would produce the “phooey” and ugly face, she knew perfectly well. Being the self-confident individual she was, I have no doubt she hated any “phooey.” That I could see clearly from her expression on the few occasions I had had to use it. She had been brought up to think for herself, to be imaginative and creative, and to believe in herself, not to be a pitiful dog waiting for her master’s voice before daring to blink.

If Petrine had rejected “phooey” as “an unacceptable means” of solving the conundrum, the only way to come out of it without losing face was to do what she did. She actually controlled the situation. If it is true that I could trigger her retrieving behavior (and that, combined with searching, was our best game in the whole wide world), by just assuming any position that remotely resembled “the game,” so too could she trigger my behavior, my part in the game. That, she did indeed. She showed me a perfect retrieve and put me in my role in the game. “Your line, now” she said to me, clearly and emphatically without even the need of words. Like an experienced actor playing a Shakespearian part, I reacted promptly to my cue.

If a behavior repeated often with fairly predictable consequences creates moods (Pavlovian conditioning) in all of us, independently of species, which seems to be the case, I have no doubt that she associated the retrieve game with the most pleasure she could have in life. When in trouble, we have a tendency to perform behaviors that previously have brought us success, pleasure. This is a reassuring procedure, the basis even for stereotyped behaviors according to some. It is an organism’s attempt to re-establish emotional (neurophysiologic) homeostasis. If this is the case, Petrine’s solution was a good one, an intelligent one (as we would say of ourselves) and entirely compatible with our body of knowledge. It may seem improbable at first, but it becomes more reasonable the more we think about it.

Some of you will still think I am anthropomorphizing and you have every right to do so. Pre-Petrine era, I would have thought the same. I would never have conceived of such an explanation. However, post-Petrine, a little dog that helped me discover many facets of life on Earth, I’m no longer so sure of the boundaries of anthropomorphism. Are intelligence, reasoning and self-respect only human features? In my opinion as an evolutionary biologist, it is unlikely. Maybe language is misleading us once again. As Carl Sagan wrote, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” After all, why should “we” be so radically different from “them”?

Whilst I wouldn’t dare to rely on the unobservable self-respect on a scientific study, I wouldn’t dare either not to rely on it at a personal level on any one-on-one relationship independently of species involved. Unobservable and un-measurable, it may be, yet it remains for me a solid guideline reminding me that I am but one among many.

Life is great!



Bongo Home Alone

The Misadventures of Bongo

Bongo Home Alone

Bongo Home Alone

In 1994, I created Bongo to illustrate the various situations dog owners and dogs get into and how to get out of them the best possible way. My objective was to explain and illustrate that many dog problems (maybe most) were the result of misunderstandings between us and them and that if we spoke a better “Doguese,” we could certainly avoid the worst troubles. I paired up with Henriette Westh, a brilliant Danish illustrator, and she gave Bongo more than a form; she gave him a character of his own as well.

Bongo is a nice, friendly and naughty English Cocker Spaniel (orange roan, the original drawings were in color) with his own mind. He’s a good dog and loves his family very much, but he gets often in trouble, mostly because of misunderstandings as you can see in “Bongo Home Alone.”

“Bongo Home Alone” was first published in 1994 in my book “Hunden, ulven ved din side”. The book was coincidentally edited by none other than Henriette’s brother, Poul Henrik Westh, for Borgen Publishers. The book never appeared in English, but Bongo did.

Enjoy this bit of history and nostalgia and have a good laugh!


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Should We Reinforce the Effort or the Results?

Dog using its nose to search a target scent (photo from

If you ask, “should we reinforce effort or the results?” you are liable to get as many answers supporting one idea as the other. Supporters of reinforcing effort sustain that reinforcing results creates emotional problems when one doesn’t succeed and decreases the rate of even trying. Supporters of reinforcing results maintain that reinforcing effort encourages sloppiness and cheating.

I shall proceed to argue for and against both theories and prove that it is not a question of either/or, rather of defining our criteria, processes and goals clearly.

I shall compare the learning of some skills in dogs and humans because the principles are the same. The difference between them and us is one “of degree, not of kind,” in the words of Darwin.

I will use SMAF to accurately describe some of the processes whenever I consider it advantageous. If you are not proficient in SMAF, you can read the free SMAF manual at

The main difficulty in some learning processes is reinforcing the right behavior at the right time, which bad teachers, bad parents and bad trainers do not master (here bad means inefficient, it is not a moral judgment).

Much of my personal work with dogs (and rats) is and has been detection work, mainly of narcotics and explosives, but also of people tobacco and other items. One of the first signals I teach the animals is a disguised reinforcer.

With dogs, I use the sound ‘Yes’ (the English word) and with rats a ‘bip….bip….bip’ sound produced on their backpacks and triggered by me.The signal part of this signal/reinforcer means “continue what you’re doing” and the reinforcer part “we’re OK, mate, doing well, keep up.” This is a signal that becomes a reinforcer: Continue,sound(yes) that becomes a “!+sound”(yes).

The difference between the most used “!±sound”(good-job) and “!+sound”(yes) is that the former is associated and maintained with “!-treat”(small food treat) and “!-body(friendly body language) and the latter with a behavior that will eventually produce “!-treat”. The searching behavior does not produce a treat, but continuing searching does, eventually (find or no find). This is why “!+sound”(yes) is a disguised Continue,sound(yes), or the other way around.

Why do I need this interbreeding between a signal and a reinforcer?

Because the signal ‘Search’ (Search,sound) does not mean ‘Find the thing.’ Sometimes (most of the time) there’s nothing to find, which is a relief for all of us (airports and the likes are not that full of drugs and explosives).

So, what does Search,sound mean? What am I reinforcing? The effort?

No, I’m not. We have to be careful because if we focus on reinforcing the effort, we may end up reinforcing the behavior of the animal just strolling around, or any other accidental and/or coincidental behavior.

I am still reinforcing the result. ‘Search’ means, “Go and find out whether there is a thing out there.” ‘Thing’ is everything that I have taught the dog to search and locate for me, e.g. cocaine, hash, TNT, C4.

“Go and find out whether there is a thing out there” leaves us with two options that are equally successful: ‘here’ and ‘clear.’ When there is a thing present, the dog answers ‘here’ by sitting as close to it as possible, or pointing to it (I have taught it those behaviors). When there is no thing, I want the animal to tell me exactly that: the dog answers ‘clear’ by coming back to me (again because I have taught it to do that). We have two signals and two behaviors:

Thing,scent => dog sits (‘here’ behavior).

∅Thing,scent => dog comes back to me (‘clear’ behavior).

The signals are part of the environment, they are not given by me, which does not matter: a signal (SD) is a signal*. An SD is a stimulus associated with a particular behavior and a particular consequence or class of consequences. When we have two of them, we expect two different behaviors and when there is none, we expect no behavior. What fools us here is that in detection work we always have one and only one SD, either a scent or the absence of one. It is not possible to have none. Either we have a scent or we don’t, which means that either we have Thing,scent or we have ∅Thing,scent, each requiring two different behaviors as per usual. The one SD is the absence of the other.

Traditionally, we don’t reinforce a search that doesn’t produce a find. To avoid extinguishing the behavior, we use ‘controlled finds’ (a drug or an explosive, we know it is there because we have placed it there to give the animal a possibility to obtain a reinforcer).

This solution is correct, except that it teaches the dog that the criterion for success is ‘to find’ and not ‘not to find,’ which is not true. ‘Not to find’ (because there is no thing out there) is as good as ‘to find.’ The tricky part is, therefore, to reinforce the ‘clear’ and how to do it to avoid sloppiness (strolling around) and cheating.

Let us analyze the problem systematically.

The following process does not give us any problems:

{Search,sound ⇒ b1(dog searches) => “!+sound”(yes) or Continue,sound(yes) ⇒ b1(dog searches) ⇒ dog finds thing (Thing,scent) ⇒ b2(dog sits=’here’ behavior) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};

No problem, but what about when there is no thing (∅Thing,scent)? If I don’t reinforce the searching behavior, I might extinguish it. Then, I reinforce the searching with “!+sound”(yes):

{“Search,sound” ⇒ b1(dog searches) => “!+sound”(yes) ⇒ b1(dog searches) => ∅Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me=’clear’ behavior) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};

It all looks good, but it poses us some compelling questions:

How do I know the dog is searching versus strolling around (sloppiness)?

How do I know I am reinforcing the searching behavior?

If I reinforce the dog coming back to me, then next time I risk the dog having a quick sniff round and coming straight back to me. That’s the problem. I want the dog to come back to me only when it finds nothing (as in it didn’t find anything).


Reinforcing the searching behavior.

Identifying the searching behavior versus strolling around (sloppiness). How can I make sure that the dog always searches and never just strolls around?


Reinforcing the searching behavior with “!+sound”(yes) works. OK.

Remaining problem:

I have to reinforce the ‘clear’ behavior (coming back to me), but how can I ensure the dog always searches and never just strolls around (avoid sloppiness)?

How can I make sure the dog has no interest in being sloppy or cheating me?


To teach the dog that reinforcers are only available if and only if:

1. the dog finds the thing. {Thing,scent ⇒ b2(dog sits) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};

2. the dog does not ever miss a thing. {∅Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};


I gradually teach the dog to find things until I reach a predetermined low concentration of scent (my goal). In this phase of training, there is always one thing to find. After 10 consecutive successful finds (my criterion and quality control measure), all producing reinforcers for both the searching (“!+sound”(yes)) and the finding (“!+sound” + “!-treat”), I set up a situation with no thing present (∅Thing,scent). The dog searches and doesn’t find anything. I reinforce the searching and the finding (no-thing) as previously. Next set-up: I make sure there is a thing to find and I reinforce both searching and finding.

I never reinforce not-finding a thing that is there, nor finding a thing that is not there.

Consequence: the only undesirable situations for a dog is

(1) not-finding a thing that is there (the dog did not indicate Thing,scent), or (2) indicating a thing that is not there (the dog indicates ∅Thing,scent).

(1) {Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me=‘clear’ behavior) => [?+sound] + [?-treat]};


(2) {∅Thing,scent ⇒ b2(dog sits=‘here’ behavior) => [?+sound] + [?-treat]};

This is (negatively) inhibiting negligence, but since it proves to increase the intensity of the searching, we cannot qualify it as an inhibitor (earlier punisher). Therefore, we call it a non-reinforcer: “∅+sound”, “∅-treat”.

In the first case: Thing,scent => Dog comes back to me => [?+sound] + [?-treat].


Thing,scent => Dog comes back to me => “∅+sound”, “∅-treat”.


{Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me) => “∅+sound”, “∅-treat” ⇒ b1(dog searches–more intensively) => Thing,scent ⇒ b2(dog sits=‘here’ behavior) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};

In the second case, I have to be absolutely sure that there is indeed no thing. The training area must be free from any scent remotely similar to the scent we are training (Thing,scent). This is an imperative, especially in the first phases of the training process, and the trainer that misses this point is committing major negligence.

Nevertheless, should the dog, show ‘here’ for ∅Thing,scent, then we can use the same procedure as above:

{∅Thing,scent ⇒ b2(dog shows ‘here’ behavior) => “∅+sound”, “∅-treat” ⇒ b1(dog searches–more intensively) => ∅Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me=‘clear’ behavior) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”}.

What if later the dog doesn’t find a thing that is there in a lower concentration than the one I used for training, or is masked by other scents?

That’s no problem, it’s not the dog’s fault. I didn’t train for it. The dog doesn’t know that it is making a mistake by giving me a wrong ‘clear.’ As far as the dog is concerned, the room is clear: {∅Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me => “!+sound” + “!-treat”}; The dog was not strolling around and is not cheating me.

A human example:

I reinforce the child trying to solve a math problem. ‘Well done, but you got it wrong because…” The solution is wrong, but the method was correct. Therefore, it is all a question of training. The ‘wrong’ will be eliminated with more or better training, or maybe it was caused by an excessive increase in the difficulty curve of the problem (the teacher’s problem). We are not reinforcing trying; we are reinforcing the correct use of a method.

Why reinforce the process?

We must reinforce the process because of its emotional and motivational consequences. The dog and the child must accept the challenge, must want to be challenged, and be able to give their best in solving the problem. The exercise in itself will eventually end up being self-reinforcing.

Are we reinforcing the effort rather than the success?

No, we are not. Reinforcing the effort rather than the result can even lead to false positives. The animal indicates something that it is not there because it associates the reinforcer with the behavior, not the thing. Children give us three-four quick, consecutive, wrong answers if we reinforce the trying, not the process (thinking before answering).

We reinforce result (success) only.

When the dog doesn’t find because there’s nothing to find, that is success. When the dog doesn’t find because the concentration was too low, that is also success because ‘too low’ is here equal to ‘no thing.’ When the child gets it wrong, it is because the exercise exceeded the capacity of the child (he or she has not been taught to that level).

We are still reinforcing success and exactly what we trained the dog and the child to do. We don’t say to the child, “Well, you tried hard enough, good.”

We say, ” Well done, you did everything correctly, you just didn’t get it right because you didn’t know that x=2y-z and there was no way of you knowing.”

Next time, the child gets it right because she now knows it; and if not, it is because x=2y-z exceeds the capacity of that particular child in which case there’s nothing you can do about it.

The same goes for the dog: the dog doesn’t indicate 0.01g of cocaine because I trained it to indicate as low as 0.1g. When I reinforce the dog’s ‘clear,’ I say, “Well done, you did everything correctly, you just didn’t get it right because you didn’t know that 0.01g cocaine is still the thing.”

Now, I train the dog that ‘thing’ means ‘as low as 0.01g cocaine’ and either the dog can do it or it cannot. If it can, good; if it cannot, there’s nothing you or I, the dog or the child can do about it.


We reinforce result, success, not the effort, not the trying. We must identify success, have clear criteria for success, plan a successive approach to our goal and gradually increase difficulty. We must be able to recognize limits and limitations in ourselves, in the species we work with, in the individuals we tutor, in the particular skill we teach. We must know when we cannot improve a skill any further and when an individual cannot give us more than what we are getting; and be satisfied with that.

Have a great day!


Footnote: * Strictly speaking, the scent that the detection dog searches is not a signal, but a cue, because it is not intentional. In this context, however, it is and SD because we have conditioned it to be so and, therefore, we can call it a signal. Please, see “Signal and Cue—What is the Difference?” at