iPod + Earphones = Going To The Barn! (Conditioning)

photoWhere you confused by the title of this post? I
would be. This equation may seem odd to you, but to my dog Ben it’s as simple
as 2 + 2 = 4. Yes that’s right my dog can do math! Can’t yours??

But I digress…

Conditioning is a term psychologists use, to describe a phenomenon of
association. Adding a new stimuli before one that already gains a certain
reaction, to start that reaction sooner. (Think Pavlov’s dogs)



As an animal trainer I have seen this many a time. It’s amazing to be able to
teach animals (and people) new things using this technique. Even helping others
over come fears or bad habits is made much easier if you understand the basics
of conditioning.

To further explain the purposes of conditioning, and just how easily it can be
accomplished I need only look down now to see my ever loyal dog Ben. I have
owned Ben for almost 4 years now, but he has been devoted to me from the very
start. I move.

He moves. Ben is always on the look-out for potential threats to
‘his’ human, and never hesitates to step between me and danger. (Be it a
squirrel or mail carrier)

No matter where I am in the house I can be sure to
look down and see him, if I jump up he is right there ready to run. Ben is
always watching me, learning my routines. Kind of creepy sounding, but this is
where I see my best example of conditioning created by means of observation on
the animal’s part.

Every morning when I go to feed the horses, Ben comes down with me to the barn.
In addition to being my body guard, he is also the self appointed horse chaser,
and rat hunter… and occasionally compost eater. (Sneaky little thing, he is.)
Ben loves his job, and is beside himself every morning with anticipation for
the start of a new work day.

So when I pick up my earphones he is up and barking, feet flying down the stairs and he starts what I call his
“hot plat dance.” (Prancing around at the door, where he jumps and
stamps his feet. So funny!)

The really interesting thing about this is picking up just my iPod does next to
nothing. I use my iPod for many things such as email, Facebook and taking
pictures. My earphones on the other hand have only one use. Listening to music,
and in Ben’s mind the means we are going to the barn.

I don’t even have to stand up from the breakfast table before Ben is at the door, sometimes I don’t
even know I’ve picked the earphones up. I will be halfway through a
conversation, and absently picked up my earphones, not even thinking, but Ben
is so in tune he knows we are headed outside before I do.

I like this example because it’s not often you can find an example for
conditioning animals that doesn’t involve food. My other examples include when
eggs are made in the morning, the bowl that they are whisked in is given to the
cat to clean off. No matter where he is in the house Squirt will come running
top speed when he hears the sizzle of the eggs hitting the pan and the fork
scraping the bowl.

Our other dog Fergie will come when a can is opened because she knows there is
a pretty good chance it will yield tuna juice. Likewise the horses come when I
whistle because they have been conditioned to know that when I whistle food or
treats are on their way.

Sometimes conditioning just happens on it’s own. Of course this can always be
turned against us as most things can. That’s how some bad habits are formed.
The interesting thing is if conditioning is inadvertently used for evil, it can
be just as easily reversed using the exact same methods!

Ben is great proof that animals are not always solely driven by the thought of food.
In Ben’s case all he wants is to please people, most of all me. Why he has such
an attachment to me I have no idea. He is the kind of dog that latches on to
one person in the “pack” and it happened to be me. Maybe I remind him
of someone from his past, maybe I have good leader qualities in his eye. Who
knows? It’s just one of those (numerous) times where I wish my pets could

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