CH:4 How Pet Learn

Where It Begins!

On July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered for the for the Francis Crick Memorial Conference at the University of Cambridge in England to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. This resulted in the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (Low, 2012). While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of nonhuman animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate, “the declaration concludes that ‘nonhuman animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.’” (Bekoff, 2012).

Abuse such as deprivation, restricting a pet’s access to food, water, play, freedom and reduction of choice protocols, and executing maximum control over a pet, are also increasingly being considered as inhumane, and the growing body of evidence as presented by Ziv (2017) argues for efficient, humane training that empowers the pet and offers choices.

States Ramirez (2016): “The end goal of training should be animal welfare. The primary goal of training is something that directly benefits the individual animal such as physical exercise, mental stimulation and cooperative behavior. We put the animal’s needs first. Choice is a huge reinforcer for animals. If you use force, then choice is pretty much off the table.”

Empowerment training provides an environment where the pet feels safe to be creative, persistent, and industrious, and helps promote behavioral well-being. Choice in dog training means providing “more than one scenario for a pet to choose from. Giving pets and humans choices empowers them to choose to comply rather than forcing them to comply which sets them up for more ideal learning that is less stressful and more fun. Empowerment training keeps the emphasis on the emotional state of the pet, reinforcing behaviors consistent with fun, joy and play (O’Heare, 2011).


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