Click on the link below. Go ahead. Click it. Oh wait, before you do, make sure that you have the sound up so you can hear it (the audio is important) and make sure you don’t have any children in the room with you. It’s not porn or anything inappropriate, I promise, but really, don’t click on it with kids in the room. Okay, now go ahead.
Wait for it…ah…yes. Do you feel better? Even though your day was crappy (mine was!) do you feel a little more relaxed? Does the stress ulcer go away? What happy thoughts, right? Nostalgic thoughts of childhood innocence and the simpler things in life.
You know, in neighborhoods all around the country, this music is being banned. I know, shocking, right? In a society where people can use just about any profanity they want on the radio and where songs can espouse the ideologies of masochism, sadism, sexism and racism, and where we are constantly being barraged by the mainstream ideals of anorexia, drug use and prostitution, this is the music people are trying to ban.
Don’t believe me? Click on this link. Go ahead.
Now do you believe me? I know. I was as shocked as you are. I heard this on the radio the other morning and was so outraged that I had to tell everyone in the office about it before I even sat down.
So what does this have to do with dog training you say? Well, funny you should ask that, because when I first heard this report on the radio, I actually didn’t think it had anything to do with dog training. I had a lot of thoughts about my childhood and how even though things could be rough for me at times, my parents always made sure that I had money to run out to the ice cream man. I remember grabbing a dollar bill and bolting out barefoot in the hot sun and dancing on my feet while they burned on the asphalt, waiting expectantly for my tasty treat. I remember sitting on the front porch while the ice cream melted all over my hands and just being content, even for a moment. Even now, hearing this music makes me smile.
When I went home, I set down my purse and started to tell Joe about my day. In the course of me talking, I told him about what I’d heard on the radio. While I was talking, Shelby jumped up on me. I told her “off” and she got down, and I clicked and treated her without really looking at her. Then I stopped and looked again. There she was, sitting by my feet, her tail thumping happily, looking up with me with that selfsame, childish look I know I must have worn after a visit from the ice cream man.
“It’s a marker.”
“It’s a marker.”
Joe nodded, “Uh…the click? Yeah, of course it is, isn’t that what we do now? Is there something new about this? Are you drunk?”
“No, no, the ice cream man music is a marker. It’s a marker for children. And we all remember it, and it makes us happy, even now, even when it isn’t followed by the treat. Just the sound of the music brings back memories of that ice cream and that moment, and it makes us happy, without having any reward but the marker itself.”
Joe shook his head. I think I lost him, but I was so excited about this novel new thought that I immediately set about writing this post.
The way you feel about the ice cream man music is the way your dog should feel about your marker, be it a click or a whistle or a “yes”. Eventually, after so many rewarding experiences being associated with that marker, the marker itself becomes rewarding, without you even having to reward. Just like Pavlov’s dogs and the bell. The bell rings, the food comes, the dogs drool. Eventually, the bell rings, the dogs drool, the food comes. And then eventually, the bell rings, the dogs drool even if the food doesn’t come.
Same with the ice cream man music. And, even though I haven’t had ice cream from an ice cream truck in ages, it still makes me happy. It makes me happy enough that I’m angry when I hear about people wanting to take it away from other generations of children. That, my friends, is a powerful, powerful tool.
Think that positive reinforcement doesn’t work? Okay. That’s fine. This is America, and I’m always open to suggestions and other opinions. But think about this – if the ice cream man music makes you even the slightest bit happy, without any ice cream at all, then you’re proving to yourself that a marker system works. Not only that, but you’re proving the opposite of the very famous “You’re bribing your dogs with treats, and you will have to rely on treats for the duration of the dog’s life” argument. Because, as you see with our ice cream man music example, that’s not the case. The happy feeling becomes reward enough, with enough repetition. Your dog is not actually doing anything to please you; he or she is doing something to please him or herself, and in the long run, isn’t that sort of vastly more rewarding? You’ve taught your dog how to please you, please him or herself and not jump on strangers all in one fell swoop. Everybody wins.
Interesting side note though – while positive reinforcement is becoming more and more in vogue for dogs, more and more popular, and while it is proven to work so well and is on the rise, why is it that markers are being taken away from children? Is it because they cry when they don’t get the ice cream that they so desire? Perhaps, just perhaps, we should consider this – instead of saying no and banning the ice cream man, maybe we should just use the marker to our advantage and tell our children “yes” a little more often. But then again, I’m not a parent; I just have very well trained dogs.