EDUCAN and Dognition, towards a new technology of behavior. Cognitive technology, of course!

As dog trainers we are behavior technologists. Hence, we need to have a technology that translates the raw knowledge acquired by basic scientists into tools which are applicable to the education of our canine learners on a daily basis.

However, the technology available in the dog world was developed within a dated framework which is now under strain and needs to be overcome. Despite being effective it precludes us from exploiting the new discoveries and from offering services of a higher quality.

The science of behavior has changed its focus in recent years. It used to be limited to observable conducts whereas now it pays prominent attention to the study of the cognitive processes underlying such behaviors.

A further change concerns the fact that behavior analysis used to focus on general learning processes, those which are common to a majority of animal species. In contrast it has now started paying attention to the learning capacities peculiar to each species and even to each individual within a given species.

Finally, since dogs had not awaken the interest of researchers focusing on behavior, their way of acting used to be inferred on the basis of comparisons with other species, either rats and pigeons studied in laboratories or wolves observed in a natural environment. Nevertheless, in recent years dogs have been exhaustively studied with regard to their cognitive skills, both individual and social, as well as in relation to their communicative abilities and their way of interacting with humans.

At the end of the 1990’s EDUCAN started to develop a new technology of behavior designing protocols and intervention guidelines that took advantage of this wealth of new scientific knowledge available. Since then we have being making a sustained effort and, of course, my new book , “Your Dog Thinks and Loves You” further progresses in the same direction.

At that time those scientists working in the field were changing the way we understood dogs but did not show too much interest regarding the practical application of their discoveries. Today this has changed too and Dognition is the stepping stone in this line of research.

Dognition is a website cofounded by Brian Hare who is the author of “The Genius of Dogs” and the Director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center. Within its panel of experts Dognition counts with some of the leading researchers on canine cognition. Its objective is to offer owners custom results about their dog’s cognition. This is done by proposing games that owners can play with their dogs in the comfort of their own homes.

Dognition is thus developing technology for cognitive assessment, an effort that dovetails nicely with EDUCAN’s mission: the development of technology that allows the provision of cognitive training and education.

To better understand the importance of Dognition’s technological contributions, consider the example below. My colleague Javier Moral, Dean of Studies at EDUCAN, and I teach our training courses. However, our way to prepare the materials for the class differs widely. Javier’s intelligence, on the one hand, is very visual and so there are plenty of colors, arrows, overall views and other graphic representations in his notes. On the other hand, mine are totally different because I focus on words to learn. Thus, I summarize, create overviews and phrase the contents that I have to explain to students in alternative ways. Doubtless, if one of us had to prepare for the class with the notes of the other, it would be an ordeal and our performance would certainly be inferior. However, neither of us is more intelligent than the other. Simply put, our cognitive skills are different and, here is the bottom line, the working methodology needs to be in consonance with such peculiarities to make the utmost of the cognitive capacities of each one of us.

Likewise, we are aware that our children do not learn in the same manner. Hence in order to help them develop their full potential we identify activities where they excel and wisely combine them with others that contribute to develop weaker areas. We should do the same with our dogs.

However, the currently available training technology only offers (offered ) resources that serve to exploit general cognitive skills, those which are common to many species. Such strategy may provide quality tools when we want to teach circus skills or merely mechanical and repetitive routines. However, such tools are barely sufficient to provide an integral education for our dogs and at any rate they are suboptimal. This is particularly evident with regard to individuals belonging to breeds that diverge from the average standard on one side or the other. Good trainers are capable of deviating from the general rules to adjust to the needs of each individual learner. However, when they engage in this process trainers lack any technical criterion or, for that matter, any objective tools for the assessment of progress. In sum, they are solely relying on their talent which is clearly unsatisfactory.

This is the reason why Dognition and EDUCAN have come together in a project that fills both parties with hope. Its aim is to develop a new behavior technology that, in the first place, evaluates objectively and clearly how each dog learns, and then, to propose protocols and technical tools that suit each custom assessment.

And, since I know my followers well and I feel that you are about to ask it, I will tell you before you do. Yes, we are working on the translation of our websites and the rest of the information to the other party’s language.

This will not only lead to a new understanding of how to train dogs but it will also change our mind frame with regard to how we live together with dogs. Through training we will be able to help dogs blossom, live full and integrated lives, thus ultimately becoming happier.

A new and brighter era is dawning in the training and education of dogs world.