The following article is something I hope all dog lovers and especially trainers will read with an open heart and mind for this is the truth. Are we really working WITH our dogs and teaching them or are we just conditioning them to respond to stimuli?
Conditioning is not Learning
Posted with permission of the author: Francesco De Giorgio
of Learning Animals
When people talk about learning, they refer to elements as: becoming informed, or the acquiring of knowledge or skills by studying, or gaining a skill or understanding by experience. They usually do not refer to: ‘Getting conditioned by an external stimulus in order to express a specific behavior, ignoring inner states, ignoring intrinsic motivation, and ignoring the processing of information, but having oneself programmed to execute a behavior’ .
Conditioning is conditioning, learning is learning. There is however a very common belief and deception in the application of operant conditioning.
In today’s society people tend to believe that the application of operant conditioning, and the interpretation of the behaviorist paradigm to which it refers, is a synonym for learning in animals. Nothing more wrong and misinterpreted. Animal learning can not take place, when an animal is transferred into nothing more than a mere mediator between environment and behavior. This role of passivity arising from the behavioristic beliefs has an impact on what the current society believes is learning. The mechanical and repetitive execution of automatic responses induced by stimuli is misleading as a model of interpretation of the meaning of learning, in addition to being reductive as interpretive model of behavior.
The rejection of mental processes, that comes out of the behaviorist theory of learning, invalidates itself and its ability to explain animal learning, animal behavior and animal cognition. Learning is a dialogue with the environment, where the animal raises questions to the world, and not automatically replies in response to it. Learning implies a proactive possession of the content, in every phase, through which the animal becomes owner of his own learning experience, subjective in its uniqueness and unique in that moment. In the operant conditioning dimension, what often becomes visible and measurable, is what the animal doesn’t learn, but what he or she automates.
In the dimension that is interested in the facilitation process of learning instead, it is often invisible and not measurable, what an animal learns. And for the world of perception and cognition of an animal, the ‘invisible’ is much more important of the visible.