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We Started Thinking Outside Of The Box

Before They Knew What The Box Was

At the heart of our Freedom Method of dog training exists three aspects of Cognitive Science:
Latent Learning, Behavioral Genetics and Evolutionary Psychology.   Unlike all other forms of modern dog training that rely exclusively on Behaviorism to teach wanted behaviours, we believe that the most potent aspects of the mind are not bound to Behaviorism.  When a dog trainer identifies as a "dog behaviourist," they are viewing a dog's mind through the lens of Behaviorism. 

What Is Behaviorism?

Behaviourism supports the idea that all behaviours are learned from the environment and says that innate or inherited factors have little influence on behaviour.  This rigid definition of Behaviorism was broadened by Burrhus Frederic Skinner who believed that the internal workings of the mind also influenced behavior.  Skinner's offshoot of Behaviorism was coined Radical Behaviorism.  Although Skinner did broaden the definition of Behaviorism, he grossly underplayed the role of biology in regulating behaviour, dismissing the fields of behavioural genetics, evolutionary psychology and latent learning.

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Dog trainers are educated in the field of Behaviorism, they rarely use Cognitive Science as their foundation.  Trainers believe that the most important aspects of learning are confined within the "4 quadrants of learning" all of which have to do with punishments and rewards. This thinking stems from the work of Skinner.   While there is a growing movement in the world of dogs to break away from behavioristic thinking, most dog trainers have never been taught how to apply cognitive science in everyday life.  Trainers must rely on what they have been taught by their mentors, which is almost always Behaviorism. 

What Is Cognitive Science?

Cognitive Science is the interdisciplinary, scientific study of the mind and its processes with input from linguistics, psychology, neuroscience and philosophy.  In 1959 Skinner dominated the world of psychology, times have changed.  In 1973 British scholar, Christopher Longuet-Higgins,  coined the term Cognitive Science and by 1982 universities were granting undergraduate degrees in the field.  Today, most scientists that consider matters of the mind realize that using Behaviorism as a sole model of understanding is woefully inadequate. 

Within the scientific community their exists much valid criticism of Behaviorism.  Scientists argue that the reductive nature of Behaviorism is dangerous because it excludes the larger body of science that is needed to prevent suffering.  Cognitive Science exists to provide a comprehensive understanding of living minds, it does not value Behaviorism over other aspects of science. 

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Innate & Latent Learning In Dog Training

Think about a spider and how it learns to spin a web.  The spider is not taught by its mother, nor does it learn from watching other spiders, Behaviorism has nothing to do with a spider's web, the spider's knowledge is innate.  Dogs are also born with innate behaviors,  suckling their mother for milk is the first one we see, followed by a string of others that are all designed to help dog's succeed. 

All dogs are born with a collection of innate behaviors that make them happy pets, this combined with centuries of domestication paves the way for success.  Unfortunately,  when we adopt a fixation with Behaviorism we fall into a few traps: 

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The belief that "good" dog behaviors are unnatural and that we must train our dogs to make them good.  Behaviorism has us believe that what we do in a dog's short life is more valuable than what our dogs have gathered through millennia of natural selection and domestication. 

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Because Behaviorism downplays the importance of  Innate and Latent Learning, it often interferes with a dog's natural grace by replacing natural behaviours with conditioned responses.  Rather than letting a dog use its naturalness to our mutual benefit,  Behaviorism in dog training creates a set of circumstances where the dog's visible behavior becomes more important than the emotions that drive it.  Skinner tried to save Behaviorism from this error with the invention of Radical Behaviorism, but even his work was reductive. 

How does this all applies to our dogs in the real world?

Most puppies are born with a natural desire to follow their mothers, this innate ability to follow is the foundation of a great recall.  We don't have to teach dogs to come when called, they are born with this knowledge.  There are strong, evolutionary, reasons that cause young dogs to naturally follow us. 

Rather than cultivating what is innate,  most trainers implement behavioristic methods and replace innate behaviour with conditioned responses.   Trainers introduce treats and toys prematurely and in doing so they stimulate a host of primal behaviours that interfere with a dog's innate grace.   We stimulate excitement artificially before our dogs have mastered their own sensibilities.  We don't simply let puppies learn through healthy experimentation, we introduce tools that transform natural joy into hypervigilance.  

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Hypervigilance In Dogs

Hypervigilance is one of the most common disorders experienced by dogs, genetics and behavioristic training are largely responsible for this.   Naturally, wildlife deals with Hypervigilance by causing animals to freeze and observe. The freeze prevents animals from acting on impulse and gives them time to make sensible decisions. Dogs are born with the same innate abilities to stop and think, sadly, the way we train them can devalue their natural reserve.  

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Sports And Dogs

In the world of canine sports, and with most forms of trick training, hypervigilance is used to create explosive performances.  We have all seen dogs walking at a 'focused heel', trotting along side their owners with their heads tilted upwards.  This is wanted hypervigilance that results from conditioned training. 

When we manipulate a dog's ability to regulate hypervigilance we create a host of other aberrant behaviours that make dogs difficult to manage in the real world.  What is wanted in the performance ring is not always what we need in domestic reality.  Dog trainers with a background in sports become so accustomed to living with hypervigilant dogs that they fail to recognize how their training produces it.  This becomes a problem because the public is often taught how to train their dogs with some form of Sports/Performance method of training, methods that are always behavioristic. 




NO, OF COURSE NOT,  and it would be foolish to suggest otherwise.  When it comes to teaching conditioned behaviours, (behaviours that are not innate), or complex behaviours, Skinner's ideas on Radical Behaviorism are essential. 

Much of what we teach our dogs would not be possible without a clear understanding of Operant Conditioning,  it is only when we use Behaviorism to subjugate, exaggerate or ignore innate behaviours that dogs become problematic.  Environmental influences can upset innate behaviours.  When dogs experience a clash between what is natural and what we train with force and/or food rewards, we inadvertently create problematic conditions 

Notwithstanding the great differences between our way of thinking, we would like to take a moment to respect EVERYONE who has dedicated their life to helping dogs survive.  In no way do we seek to diminish the work of others.  New teaching methods in dog training often cause philosophical wars that weaken the entire industry. 


The Canine Freedom Center offers valid, scientific, alternatives for people who wish to enhance their knowledge.  We are the world leaders in the practical application Cognitive Training for family pets, and the only dog training school that relies almost exclusively on latent learning, behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology to help dogs thrive.  We are proud of our accomplishments and honor the accomplishments of others.  

The Freedom Method Of Dog Training offers a comprehensive teaching experience for both dogs and their humans.  We help people understand when a behavioristic approach is useful and when it is corroding a dog's nature.  We believe that a cognitive approach is essential when teaching puppies and re-training misguided adult dogs.  After a dog has developed mental clarity with a cognitive approach,  more common forms of dog training can be used if needed for advanced training. 

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A Safe Space For Dogs & The People Who Love Them
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