Those were the days—yours truly in 1985 with Silas, the wolf cub. Notice the whistle hanging around my neck. I used it as a conditioned positive reinforcer (yes, the precursor of the clicker). Silas preferred, though, my own verbal reinforcer (“dygtig”)* because I always associated it with a friendly body language and facial expression. It meant acceptance. For wolves, more sensitive to social situations than dogs, being accepted is the ultimate social reinforcer; for the cubs, it is vital.
These were the first observations that led me to suspect that the verbal and the mechanic conditioned positive reinforcers were not the same. Since parts of the verbal reinforcer (the body language and facial expression) were untaught, I later coined the term, “semi-conditioned reinforcer” and classified it as such.
If you ask me, today, I’ll answer you without hesitating that the most powerful tool you have when working with animals is yourself. If you control yourself, your body language, your facial expressions and the little that you say, you’ll achieve what you pretend and more.
After all, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Interacting with someone is not merely a question of conditioning a series of behaviors—it is, mainly, creating a relationship.
You can see me illustrating this in the DVD “The 20 Principles All Animal Trainers Must Know” shot by the Tawzers in Montana at a seminar I gave. Watch the trailer here. You will also find other short movies demonstrating the same, various places on this site. Feel free to browse as you please, watch the movies and read the free articles.
Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism by Roger Abrantes.
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