In the dog training world, a lack of understanding of a science seems to be a valid enough reason for those to minimize its value and credibility. And I see this not only in the general population and the dog trainer population, but also among folks who have real academic credentials (even PhDs) in other sciences. And that really blows my mind.
Just because I can’t explain the science behind how my television works with precision (something about bouncing waves through space), doesn’t mean that there isn’t a precision behind how it works. My lack of understanding doesn’t make the science behind television any less valid.
Same thing goes with behavior analysis. Just because someone asks a “quadrant” question and most people can’t answer it well, it doesn’t diminish the science. It indicates, to me, that there is a huge deficit in understanding about the science and how it works.
There is precision in the science of behavior analysis. Almost a mathematical precision, as a matter of fact. Applied Behavior Analysis is identified as a valid natural science and has a rigorous body of experimental research with excellent experimental design behind it.
It is absolutely true that many can’t appropriately identify what the consequence is that is maintaining or decreasing a behavior. Is that a problem with the science, or is it a problem with the education of the science? In my opinion, it’s the latter.
Maybe we need to take a look at the education requirements for becoming a dog trainer (oh my — there aren’t any!). Or maybe we need to raise the bar on the certification requirements to ensure that people understand and can apply the knowledge. But to arbitrarily blame the precision of the science because people who haven’t studied that science don’t understand it very well? Is there any science—or for that matter, any area of study—that would survive that criteria?
I’d also personally love to see an end to the behavior analysis vs. ethology “battle.” Just think if in the application of science—medicine—people in the biology camp posted the periodic table and dissed chemistry because not everyone could correctly identify magnesium. “Ah, darn that chemistry, it’s not so cut-and-dried, so let’s not focus on that too much. People who pay too much attention to that are ‘Periodic Table’ queens and close-minded.”
In my opinion, just as medicine is the application of multiple sciences and requires knowledge of all, the same goes for dog training. We need both ethology and behavior analysis, and people who understand both with precision. And since the study of either can take years, and few will be able to go deeply into both, we need collaboration and community between the people who are getting serious educations in these sciences. And “engineers” and “technologists” who can take the pure, experimental science and appropriately apply them to solve real-world problems.