I had an interesting argument with Dr. Ian Dunbar last week. I highly respect Dr. Dunbar, but I disagreed with several statements in his latest videoblog and posted my comments on his Facebook page. Thought you might find it interesting. Please watch the video first.


Morten Egtvedt: Hi Ian! I respect you highly, but on this subject I disagree strongly with you. I train much like a computer, and I´m proud of it :-)


Dr. Ian Dunbar: @Morten I'm not saying that we shouldn't compute. I objectively quantify response-reliability more than any other trainer that I have met. I just said that the average person could not compute an ongoing VI and train dog at the same time. Try this ... let's consider a VI5 - give me ten numbers that average out to 5. I do this in every lecture, but the only problem is that I have to concentrate and couldn't train a dog at the same time.

However, I ruthlessly count number of commands given to each correct response and then calculate the Response Reliability % = # of correct responses divided by number of verbal and signal commands given times 100. Walk in a straight line and every three steps, stop and ask you dog to "Down" (no handsignals and definitely no food) for a total of 10 Downs and then calculate your Response reliability %. The results will blow you mind.

I try to work people (and dogs) up to 95% reliability on rewards and motivation alone before introducing non-aversive instructive reprimands.


Morten Egtvedt: Hi Ian! Well, I´m not talking about schedules, really. I like to keep it simple and usually only do continuous reinforcement until the behavior is really fluent.

When you say "like a computer" I think in terms of how much we talk to the dog during training. And generally I like to keep it quiet. I might talk to and praise the dog while playing with it, but before the click (or the treat) I keep my mouth shut and let the dog do the job. BTW, I´m a capturing/shaping-nazi, but I guess you already know that.

These are my comments to your vlog. Please excuse my English, hope you still understand most of it:

1. The vlog was an "attack" on clicker trainers. Of course you mentioned training with electric shocks too, but come on... You were really thinking about clicker trainers. I mean, traditional trainers do not have a binary training style - they talk to their dogs all the time when they are not jerking the chain! In my experience, clicker trainers are the only trainers that sometimes have a binary training style. So if you actually weren´t referring to clicker trainers, I don´t really see why you should make this vlog in the first place.

Personally, I think most clicker trainers could do a much better job being even more "binary", but that´s another discussion.

2. I disagree with you in that we should explain the dog what to do like we´re doing to other (human) friends. Dogs do not understand English. I believe that dog training is about reinforcement - not explainations. We just need to focus on our timing and our criteria. I mean, it´s really quite simple, as long as we keep it simple.

3. I don´t think it´s important that our voice should give the dog information about how much we enjoyed that behavior. I think the job of a reward marker (click or our voice) is to mark the behavior precisely. Period. After the click or "good boy!" we can adjust the quality of reinforcement with the way we play with our dog or with how many (and what kind of) treats it gets . Again, it´s about reinforcement - not explainations. "Understanding" is not a part of the concept. It´s about increasing probability of behavior. Actually, I wrote an (Norwegian) article about this topic a few years ago

4. I disagree that you have to train perfectly to be successful. I see imperfect trainers every day (both traditional trainers, lure/reward trainers and clicker trainers) who gets impressive results with their dogs even though their training is far from perfect! What can I say - dogs are smart! I use to say that evolution clearly has selected dogs that are resistant to lousy training :-)

5. Even though we agree that people are not perfect as computers, I don´t think the solution is going back to using stone tablets. I think it makes more sense to improve our training skills as much as possible. And I think keeping our mouth shut unless we have anything important to say (that is: cues, markers or praise) is an important mechanical skill. If that is binary, OK. I think it´s about giving the dog clear information (that is: precise reinforcement)

BTW, I disagree with those who say that you shouldn´t waste your time arguing with other positive trainers. I think you definitely should waste much more time doing just that! :-) Saying that lure/reward training is more effective than capturing is a fair opinion, and a great starting point for a debate!

We should be able to do two things at the same time: fighting punishment based trainers in the morning, and discussing training details with other positive trainers in the evening. That´s what brings us forward! I mean, how much do we evolve arguing with traditional trainers...?

I criticize other clicker trainers on a daily basis :-) And ironically, what I usually criticize is that they are NOT training like computers - they talk to much, explain too much, help the dog to much etc - instead of giving the dog clear information.

Looking forward to your next vlog!


I have not got any response to my latest answer yet, so I guess we agree on disagreeing on this particular topic. Fair enough :-)

You can read more about our style of clicker training in "Clickertraining: The 4 Secrets of Becoming a Supertrainer".

Morten Egtvedt

(Chief Instructor, Canis Clickertraining Academy)

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