Why Theory Is Not As Effective As Practise

Why theory is not as effective as practise in canine behaviour and training

The study of theories pertaining to dog behaviour and training offers a compelling perspective within this field. Nonetheless, individuals who have recently completed courses in dog behaviour often tend to place significant reliance on these theoretical constructs. This inclination can be attributed to their stage of career development, where they may lack the practical experience, skills, or knowledge to critically assess and challenge the theories they have acquired.

Consequently, it becomes imperative for those seeking to gain knowledge in dog behaviour, training, and the broader realm of canine welfare to seek guidance from individuals who possess quantitative insights gained from extensive real-world involvement, as opposed to those solely rooted in academic frameworks. While certain academic programs explicitly declare their theoretical nature, there is a tendency to omit the fact that the information provided largely comprises theories and perspectives borrowed from published works, without direct application in the instructor’s own experiences.

Hence, it is crucial to emphasize that at the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training, our team of instructors possesses a minimum of a decade’s worth of hands-on experience, having addressed hundreds, if not thousands, of dog behaviour and training cases on the frontline. This practical exposure forms the foundation for our teaching methodology, ensuring that our guidance is firmly rooted in reality, experience, and the skills honed through personal practice. While we do incorporate theoretical concepts and alternative viewpoints from external sources into our curriculum, we do so from the vantage point of practitioners who have first-hand knowledge of what it takes to effectively educate in this field.

In the subsequent discourse, we will explore some of the strengths and limitations inherent in the utilization of theory as compared to practical fieldwork in the context of dog behaviour and training.

  1. “Theory provides a solid foundation, but practice reveals the nuances and complexities that theory cannot predict.”
  2. “In practice, real-world constraints often necessitate compromises that theoretical models do not or cannot account for.”
  3. “Theoretical knowledge is valuable, but practical experience is essential for translating that knowledge into real-world solutions.”
  4. “Theory may offer idealised solutions, but practical situations require adaptability and the ability to address unexpected challenges.”
  5. “Theoretical frameworks lack the individuality and variability that practical situations demand, especially in personalized fields like healthcare and education.”
  6. “Practice often involves a trial-and-error process, which allows for the refinement of methods and strategies that theory alone cannot provide.”
  7. “Theory tends to oversimplify complex real-world scenarios, while practical experience highlights the multifaceted nature of problems and solutions.”
  8. “In many cases, ethical and moral considerations come into play in practice, which may not be adequately addressed in theoretical models.”
  9. “While theory provides a roadmap, it is in practice that we discover the potholes, detours, and alternate routes to success.”
  10. “The gap between theory and practice underscores the importance of learning from experience, as real-world application reveals the limitations and shortcomings of theory.”

These statements emphasize the limitations of theory in various fields and highlight the importance of practical experience in addressing the complexities of real-life situations.

Theory versus breed reality

In theory, if you desire to teach your dog the recall command, which instructs the dog to return when called, theory alone may not adequately consider the surrounding circumstances, location, canine population density, the dog’s previous history, or any negative behaviours it may have acquired, unless it is a young puppy.

Advising individuals to reward their dog upon its return seems plausible in theory and makes logical sense. When instructing a highly adaptable puppy or a youthful adolescent dog, in a tranquil setting like your own garden, the expected results are often achieved. Most dog trainers have intuitively employed such methods long before the theory of operant conditioning, which offers a scientific rationale for its effectiveness, was elucidated. Operant conditioning did not originate these training practices; rather, it provided a systematic explanation for their efficacy.

However, when dealing with breeds that were not specifically bred for establishing eye contact with humans or forming strong bonds due to their historical roles in serving human masters, the application of theory can become less effective. Breeds such as basset hounds, foxhounds, and beagles, which have been bred to enhance their olfactory capabilities and to lead rather than seek guidance from humans, can pose challenges when teaching recall. Attempting to teach them to return using treats or similar rewards can prove to be a formidable task.

Conversely, instructing breeds like border collies or herding breeds such as German shepherds or Malinois, which exhibit a greater predisposition to focus on human interaction, tends to be far more successful. These breeds have been cultivated for their ability to communicate with their handlers, and their intelligence is tailored toward human engagement. When approached correctly in their early development, motivating them with toys, food, or the allure of being in your company and receiving praise yields more favourable results.

This underscores the significance of ensuring that those imparting knowledge have substantial field experience encompassing diverse dog breeds in various settings, and have effectively handled numerous dogs with pre-existing training issues or ingrained behavioural problems. To rectify these deeply rooted habits, one necessitates the expertise of a highly skilled trainer and or behaviourist with the requisite practical experience. Terriers bred for combative pugnaciousness or toy breeds, which are primarily bred for companionship, come to mind in this context as more challenging and simply do not bend to theories in training.

In conclusion, it is essential to recognize that theory serves as a foundational framework, while practical application, bolstered by hands-on experience, is the crux of successful dog behaviour and training.

By: Colin Tennant MA. FCFBA

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