Note from Karen Pryor: This paper reveals a fascinating piece of scientific detective work by Gail Peterson, Ph.D., a professor of behavior analysis at the University of Minnesota. During World War II, Skinner and some of his graduate students conducted classified research on pigeon-controlled guidance systems, at a secret laboratory in Minneapolis. One day, while waiting for government approval on their next steps, they decided to pass the time by trying to train a pigeon to "bowl."
I've recently begun using the technique of backchaining in my daily flute practice routine. What I have found is an efficient, stress-free, and satisfying way to learn music, which also makes it more enjoyable to perform, as many of the elements that cause performance anxiety are no longer present when a piece is prepared this way.
If the learning is sufficiently shaped and reinforced to the best it can be, and reliability is achieved at this level; and if, then, this standard is attached to a new "performance cue", then there is no reason for the dog to give a reduced quality or reliability in show circumstances unless the stress level has gone beyond the dog's self management. Even then asking the dog for a strong, favourite behavior can reduce the stress significantly.
People interested in clicker training often ask how we might fit this approach into the school system: not the clicker per se, but the whole technology. Actually the behavioral scientists have been working on this for a long time. An exchange on the topic appeared on the ARF listserv, run by graduate students of the Department of Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas. Here are some highlights.
About a year ago I gave a talk to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers about advances in clicker training, in which I discussed the possible relationship between clicking and the amygdala, a structure in the limbic system or oldest part of the brain. Many people have emailed me to find out more, so I thought I would give you a recap and an update.