Dog owners seem pleased when they meet me because they can talk about their dog with someone who is truly interested. Sometimes they share intricate descriptions about something interesting that their dog does (often followed with the question, “Why does she do that?”), and other times, owners have a question like, “How do I get my dog to stop doing (fill in the blank)?”

When it’s a learning or training question, I don’t just say “Yeah, that’s hard.” As well-matched as dogs are for living alongside humans, that doesn’t mean dogs just get our social rules and “innately” play along. Dogs don’t just know that certain guests are not to be jumped on and that the new shoes are not for chewing but the new toy is.

When faced with owner questions about how to decrease a dog’s behavior, I direct owners to particular resources and information on what science has taught us about learning and training, and not only for dogs, but across species. Jason Goldman has written excellent posts on how operant conditioning explains how dogs can drive a car and why classical conditioning matters. I find myself describing these methods to owners and explaining why they are useful and, when used in particular ways, they can help decrease behaviors we don't want and increase behaviors we do. Sometimes owners will offer, “Oh thanks. We’ve trained many dogs before.”

And maybe that’s true. But that doesn’t mean the conversation about learning and training is over. And it doesn't mean that what you did with another dog will work with the next. On the contrary, the scientific study of learning and training is not a closed book. We continue to learn about how dogs learn and how to use methods that enhance and strengthen dog-human relationships and don’t throw a wedge in between.

Along with my Do You Believe in Dog? colleague, Mia Cobb, we’ve been hosting #SPARCS2014 for the last 2 days, a Free Live Streaming Canine Science Conference bringing applied science to anyone in the world. The conference is being held in Newport, RI and is live streaming all day (June 22, 2014) .

Today is the final day of the conference, and all the talks address questions about Science in Training.


Below is today's talk schedule (in Eastern time). If you miss any of the talks, you can get access with a SPARCS membership and watch later. You can also donate to the initiative.

For anyone who wants more information from the conference speakers, DogWise Publishing is offering 25% all books associated with #SPARCS2014 speakers.

Enjoy Canine Science For All!

Images: SPARCS & dog watching computer by Charlotte Ethology. Permission granted.