When Baseball Fandom Meets Being a Pet Professional
Clicker training and positive reinforcement is the Moneyball of the animal training world. I've come to understand this in the last few days because I've had the same phrases and disputes thrown at me when I talk about positive reinforcement, operant conditioning, and marker based training. It is also important to note that operant conditioning is not a philosophy of dog training in the way the aversion or punishment based training is or that dominance or pack leader training is. Operant conditioning is the explanation for learning. Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment are all part of learning and are therefore all part of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is part of the science of psychology and you will find that a good dog trainer has more in common with a human psychologist than they do a dog trainer employing one of the other methods.
That's just the way it's done is a phrase uttered by both dog trainers employing an archaic method and baseball fans employing archaic stats. Certainly a pitchers win meant a great deal when the same pitcher both started and finished a game and did so on nearly a daily basis, but there is a very good reason Cy Young's record for wins will never be eclipsed and that is because not only has the game changed but we've learned more about measuring individual performance. We have applied reasoning and logic to the sport of baseball and there are newer and better stats that tell us how good an individual pitcher is at preventing runs and suppressing the opposing teams offensive efforts. Just as we now have a better understand of how an animal's mind works and the more effective ways to teach it. Just because something has been done for a long time doesn't mean it is the best way to do something.
The Oakland A's front office as described in Moneyball couldn't rely on the old techniques of identifying players because they didn't have the budget to do so. Everyone understands that a batter than hits .330 with 40 homeruns helps a team, but at the time Moneyball was written not many people understood that a baseball player that got on base 40% of the time and hit 60 doubles could be just as valuable as the former player. What Moneyball and positive reinforcement training have in common is they challenge norms. How long has dog training been about punishing bad behavior vs. rewarding good behavior? Baseball has been around for over a hundred years but dog training has been around for thousands. Moneyball is about the 2002 Oakland A's but Karen Pryor (who is credited for inventing clicker training) published her book Don't Shoot the Dog in 1999. Moneyball and positive reinforcement training have existed for just about the same amount of time and face much the same opposition from traditionalist.
It simply doesn't work is another phrase I've started to hear often in conversations with dog trainers that employee other methods. They ask what if a dog doesn't like treats or don't you want the dog to behave without the need to always have treats? There are easy and simply answers to both questions. Positive reinforcement doesn't have to be treats. Just yesterday at a meet and greet I trained a dog to stop jumping on me and sit on cue with no treats at all. Now as a pet sitter/dog walker there for an entirely different reason I mostly run into people apologizing for their dog's behavior or trying to hold the dog off of me or even locking them in another room. All I did to get the dog to stop jumping on me was I didn't reward it with any attention and turned my body away. Most dogs can't maintain balance and will just fall off. As soon as four feet are on the floor reward them but as you do or slightly before you do use a marker such as the phrase, "Good boy." Offer this praise and attention whenever the dog has all four feet on the floor and ignore the jumping and he or she will learn very quickly. I then used the same marker after giving the sit command to reward the sit. Doing this took me five minutes or less and I never had the need for any treats because attention and praise was enough for this dog.
While true that the Oakland A's never won a World Series it wasn't due to their use of advanced stats. In fact the only reason that Jeremy Giambi not sliding even matters at all is because the Oakland A's used advanced stats, and with players like Daniel Murphy now crediting advanced stats for their own career improvements and every single front office having an analytics department can we even say anymore that the statistical analysis method is wrong? The same can even be said in the dog training world with the AKC recommending positive reinforcement training methods.
The final parallel I will draw is look at the people that still argue against advanced stats. It's former players turned broadcasters (not ones that made it into a front office), older fans that have a strong belief in tradition, and loud mouth sports talk hosts that think raising their voices helps them get their point across. The same personality types are going to be the ones that argue against positive reinforcement training and will tell you it simply doesn't work when they won't even take a minute to try and understand what it is.