Reaching The Animal Mind
Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals – Karen Pryor
Not just for animals!
I feel the need to stress, up front, that while this book would appear to be a book about training animals, it has fundamental applications for anyone wishing to change or shape behaviour.
You may have heard of Karen Pryor because of her now famous book, Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training. It was purchased by many dog lovers who then discovered it wasn’t necessarily about training dogs!
Reaching The Animal Mind
Karen Pryor’s book is based on BF Skinner’s research with operant conditioning. The clicker is basically a metal tongue in a plastic housing that makes a click sound when pressed and is used to ‘mark’ quite specifically the desired behaviour. There is hard scientific evidence to back up her work. Pryor, however, avoids the usual boring academic style of writing in favour of a lighthearted approach that makes it fun and humorous to read.
Pryor began training dolphins at Sea Life Park in Hawaii in 1961. Remember that very little was known about dolphins in 1961. Her main qualification for getting the job was that she was married to the Director of the park.
The other trainers were having only limited success with training the wild caught dolphins. This book follows Pryor’s journey as she trains creatures as diverse as wolves, dolphins, horses, elephants, fish and dogs. She even trained a hermit crab to ring a bell.
Have an open mind
This book should be read with an open mind and the many step-by-step examples make it easy to understand why clicker training can be used to train ANY animal (including the human animal). There are many short videos on her web site showing how clickers are used with animals and people to achieve amazingly quick and often stunning results.
When used with humans, clicker training is renamed TAG training (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance). Although it’s exactly the same, some objected to the term ‘clicker training’ being used with people because it’s become associated with animal training.
Improve sports performance
Golfers, gymnasts and other sports people have all improved their performance with TAG training and children are able to TAG each other as peers. Autistic or disabled children have been taught ways to improve their behaviour. A group of fishermen were also trained to improve their performance despite language barriers. There’s a description of how a group of young girls were taught to do a Fosbury Flop over a high jump in just 15 minutes of TAG training. You can watch the excellent video that goes with it on the Reaching the Animal Mind web site.
The impact on the brain
Karen proves that you can train any animal to do anything that it’s physically and mentally capable of doing. The thing that I’ve found the most fun is exploring just how far those mental and physical capabilities extend.
One of the most fascinating things about this book is that the ‘click’ sound the clicker makes has a direct impact on the amygdala, the reptilian part of the brain. It registers the click as ‘new information’ and all brains are wired to search out new information.
Absolutely fascinating reading and recommended for those who have an interest in how people and animals learn and how behaviour can be shaped using only positive reinforcement.