Why do some people still believe in theories about dogs and dog training that have largely been disproved by science? It turns out that it may have something to do with how children learn. I hope that my readers will take a moment to read this article by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bloom07/bloom07_index.html.
In a nutshell, this statement synopsises the article: “In sum, the developmental data suggest that resistance to science will arise in children when scientific claims clash with early emerging, intuitive expectations. This resistance will persist through adulthood if the scientific claims are contested within a society, and will be especially strong if there is a non-scientific alternative that is rooted in common sense and championed by people who are taken as reliable and trustworthy. This is the current situation in the United States with regard to the central tenets of neuroscience and of evolutionary biology. These clash with intuitive beliefs about the immaterial nature of the soul and the purposeful design of humans and other animals — and, in the United States, these intuitive beliefs are particularly likely to be endorsed and transmitted by trusted religious and political authorities. Hence these are among the domains where Americans’ resistance to science is the strongest.”
Could this be why people persist in notions about “pack theory” despite new research that shows dog don’t live in rigid packs? Could this be why people persist in thinking that punishing dogs is crucial to their training? It’s “common sense” after all to punish those who misbehave. Or, is it? What if it isn’t the right thing to do? What if positive reinforcement does work, scientifically and without the fallout of punishment? Why can’t we get people to believe it, even if it’s true? This is one of the most frustrating things about being a force free trainer. The almost constant question we get is, “How do I get my dog to stop ___?” Rather, we would want people to ask, “How do I get my dog to (name the skill)?”
To make matters worse, just when we were making at least some headway in convincing people to move toward positive training (which is supported by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior), Oprah Winfrey unleashed Cesar Millan on the public, and his regressive, dominance-based methods took on a charismatic, if archaic, life of their own. The masses, who think that “I got spanked and it never hurt me,” had no ability to think rationally about whether it DID hurt them or not. One, because they have no idea how they would have turned out had they not been spanked, and two, because criticizing one’s own parents and their beliefs is often considered disrespectful, both Biblically and in our society.
If religiosity and politics can influence the rejection of science, refreshingly, it can also uphold the tenets of science. I urge my readers to grab a copy of Kathy Sdao’s new book, “Plenty in Life is Free,” in which she outlines her personal spiritual journey, and its alignment with her scientific knowledge of dogs and behavior, in a wonderfully written little tome that may make people rethink their rejection of science in favor of an acceptance of it as the great gift that it is on our way to better understanding of ourselves and our dogs.