Motivation

February 12, 2010 at 12:16 pm 21 comments

Daniel Pink via TED.

Watch the whole thing. Pink’s thesis is that treats, financial incentives and other extrinsic rewards are demotivating in tasks that require even rudimentary conceptual effort.  In the video he says “Too many organizations are making their decisions and policies about talent and people using assumptions that are outdated, unexamined and rooted more in folklore than in science.”

I agree with Pink that a broad paradigm shift about ideas on motivation is needed in our homes, schools and workplaces. The world of dog training has been at least as widely afflicted as the human world, but sadly, I don’t think that popular dog trainers who publicize their methods as fact-based and scientific will be jumping on this particular bandwagon…

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21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob McMillin  |  February 12, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    As a general rule, one of the things I find fascinating about this business of dog training is that

    1) There are a lot of people willing to claim what they’re doing is scientifically based, but
    2) based on a paucity of footnotes.

    Or as they say on Wikipedia, [needs citation].

  • 2. SmartDogs  |  February 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Sometimes I feel sorry for the people that think they have all the answers. Once you convince yourself that you know it all – the chase ends and the magic goes away.

  • 3. Linda Kaim  |  February 12, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    The implications are endless.

    I walked away from a 6 figure job to train dogs full time. In retrospect, it was the most brilliant thing I have ever done.

    I thought long and hard about what the real motivation was before I took the leap and just did it.

    He took far fewer words.

    Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.

    It makes perfect sense why a certain culture of dog trainers may not embrace this.

  • 4. Tammy  |  February 12, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Here’s the reward based dog training application – many dogs can’t handle working for that higher value reward. When they know you have some spectacular reward like their favorite ball or a hot dog, all they can think about is how do I get it, how do I get it and you end up getting all kinds of junk or a dog that is so hyperfocused on the reward it becomes paralyzed. Instead, a lower value reward ends up getting the job done. Sometimes that high value reward just gets in the way.

  • 5. H. Houlahan  |  February 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Alfie Kohn — Punished By Rewards. Great hundred page book going over much of the same territory. Sadly, Mr. Kohn went on for about 300 pages. But still — well worth reading.

    SAR work is one of those extremely high-cognition, creative tasks — for both humans and dogs.

    I bang my head against the wall every day trying to convince handlers to stop micromanaging their partners with a constant stream of intrusive external rewards. A good SAR dog is working for the joy of the work. The reward is just what we do to tell him it’s time to stop. Indeed, if you screw up the reward in your training program, the problem you will face with a good dog is that the dog will neglect to tell you he’s found, and continue hunting.

    Same thing with stockwork. Ever watch a dog hobbyist try to “teach” her dog to herd? Owww. As soon as the dog gets a good thing going, he gets interrupted with oppressive praise.

  • 6. Christina  |  February 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I wonder what my dog’s last obedience class teacher would think about this.

  • 7. SmartDogs  |  February 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I’ve read Alfie Kohn. Pink’s book provides a better explanation with mo-better scientific backup – and he does it in only 250 pages. Well worth the read.

    And – I think that intrinsic motivation applies to a lot more than stockwork and SAR. Maybe Audie’s a freak, but he thrives on informational input and goes brain-dead when the treats come out. I see this in a lot of my student’s dogs too, but getting the students to see can be a whole different story…

  • 8. Pooch Professor  |  February 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    sadly, I don’t think that popular dog trainers who publicize their methods as fact-based and scientific will be jumping on this particular bandwagon…

    I agree. And though many in that camp love their anecdotes (particularly about how punishment ruins dogs), you know what the’ll say if this is presented to them?

    “He’s talking about humans. Dogs aren’t human.” They will, in effect, say that his research cannot be extrapolated to humans, although many of them do just that constantly when talking about how punishment works.

    Basically, the position is: dogs and people are a lot alike in the ways they learn, as long as their point (reinforcement is good and punishment is bad) is being proven. When it is brought up that not all dogs work well for extrinsic motivators, or punishment doesn’t affect all dogs the same way, suddenly, “dogs are not human.”

    And yes, I know this, because I have brought it up time and again and the irony of it is lost by most.

    I am looking forward to reading Pink’s book, more for the fact that I am intrigued on how to motivate people than how it extrapolates to dogs, or doesn’t.

  • 9. H. Houlahan  |  February 12, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Yeah, I forgot to mention that the thing that frustrated me most about Kohn was that he’d lay out a slam-dunk argument, with a pile of evidence, about why some behaviorist paradigm just did not work on schoolchildren or workers or citizens, and then pop in the aside about not believing it “just because it works on animals.”

    He was willing to take behaviorism at its word about animals.

    Meaning, I guess, that humans aren’t animals.

    I suspect that no one who really knows animals, or any given species of higher animal, ever told him otherwise.

  • 10. H. Houlahan  |  February 12, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    The fugly blog has a wonderful example of a horse working for the intrinsic reward today:

    http://www.fuglyblog.com/2010/how-you-know-that-you-have-chosen-the-right-discipline-for-your-horse/

    The first time I saw a cutting horse, everything I thought I knew for sure about predator and prey species flew out the window.

    This horse shows that what I was seeing wasn’t an illusion.

  • 11. SmartDogs  |  February 12, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Well, [sigh] apparently we should probably put Pink in the same bucket. In a post on his webpage/blog he says “Stop treating people like horses and start treating them like human beings”

  • 12. Pooch Professor  |  February 12, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    The first time I saw a cutting horse, everything I thought I knew for sure about predator and prey species flew out the window.

    No shit. Thanks for that link. Pretty cool.

  • 13. Viatecio  |  February 12, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    …sadly, I don’t think that popular dog trainers who publicize their methods as fact-based and scientific will be jumping on this particular bandwagon…

    As an afterthought, I find that quality, well-rounded balanced trainers have no need to use such words as “dog-friendly,” “humane,” or “on the cutting edge of science” (among others) in their advertising. Their wonderful, reliable results are their advertisements, and we all know dogs don’t carry sandwich boards. (Well, as of yet, at least! Someone’ll hop on that advertising bandwagon sometime soon, I’m sure.)

    And no thanks to everyone here, I have yet MORE books on my to-read list…

    Tammy: …all they can think about is how do I get it, how do I get it and you end up getting all kinds of junk or a dog that is so hyperfocused on the reward it becomes paralyzed.

    I see this all too often at the school kennels, where the dogs do not care about a command unless a cookie is present. (And yes, I do understand that food treats can be done correctly, just that this isn’t the case here!) I do not want a dog “throwing” behaviors for me like I hear a lot of newbie trainers talking about, especially those who have only been training for 5 minutes. I want a dog who waits for me to ask it to do what I want it to do. Throwing or offering behaviors seems to me more like an act of desperation and frantic uncontrolled energy (like you said “How do I get it, how do I get it, what should I do, what about this or this or this” etc) than a calm, alert dog waiting for direction.

  • 14. Laura, Lance, and Vito  |  February 12, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    very interesting video, thanks for sharing. I am in camp that most people would say this video goes against. Here are my thoughts,

    In his examples the reward was known upfront and would be more like luring or bribing rather then shaping. I agree that dogs aren’t doing too much thinking when following a lure.

    I would also say that the sight of something up front can make learning harder for dogs since they are too excited to think. My toller goes nuts for his tennis ball and we are slowly working on tricks he can do easily for treats but can’t think at all for the ball. The promise of the reward is just too much for him to focus.

    Intrinsic reinforcement is something we should all shoot for with our dogs. But the problem becomes HOW do we make heel work self reinforcing. the only way I know is to make it all a fun game and not drill. But I also think classical conditioning can help out as the dog associates heel work with the reward of tugging.

    I personally like shaping since I think it lets a dog be creative. the dog is encouraged to problem solve. And no my dog doesn’t frantically throw behaviors when we’re not playing shaping games. I’m not sure how shaping fits in with his theory though since while the dog is not being shown the reward, or may not even know what the reward is, but from history the dog knows they get a reward for their effort during a shaping session.

  • 15. Eleanor  |  February 13, 2010 at 9:52 am

    “But the problem becomes HOW do we make heel work self reinforcing. the only way I know is to make it all a fun game and not drill.”

    I could write a whole book about this, but I’m sure I wouldn’t do as good a job as a couple that’ve already been done: The Koehler Method of Dog Training, by William Koehler, and TriTronic’s Understanding Electronic Dog Training, by Daniel Tortora. Unfortunately, they don’t spell it out for you. You gotta pick it out yourself.

  • 16. mkeeffer  |  February 13, 2010 at 11:45 am

    And so the world of dog trainers is not that different from the world of corporate executives…very interesting.

  • 17. Ed  |  February 14, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Bit late to the game, but H. Houlahan, why prey-predator? That looks a lot the business pushy mares give all day long in the pasture. (And mean biddy hens in the field.)

    Great link, though.

    In my own mind, when someone one starts talking about “high value reward,” I start thinking about the role beer plays in Barney Gumble’s life. Not really interested in asking an animal to think while presenting an opportunity for hopped-up gluttony. (Although I do use “high value” rewards to make myself feel better about limiting the dogs to quick walks when I can’t stand the weather.)

  • 18. Rob McMillin  |  February 15, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Well, [sigh] apparently we should probably put Pink in the same bucket. In a post on his webpage/blog he says “Stop treating people like horses and start treating them like human beings”

    What are you saying here? Are you agreeing with Heather’s comment upthread about Kohn being frustrating because he builds up an argument but then drops a “but that works on horses/humans and can’t possibly be true for humans/horses”?

    I’m confused. Isn’t one of the key tenets of dog training the exact idea that dogs are not people, and shouldn’t be treated as such? The basic principles of learning may not differ, but specific approaches to engaging that learning will necessarily change, no?

  • 19. H. Houlahan  |  February 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    It’s the frustration that people with the intellect to see that the behaviorist paradigm simply does not work in the real world with real people are so uninterested in the complex minds of animals that they simply accept the behaviorists’ word that it covers all the bases in all other species of animals.

    Yes, all species are unique, and will behave in unique ways shaped by their respective environments of evolutionary adaptation — and in the case of domestic species, by their artificial selection history.

    And yes, some principles apply to all animals.

    I like to see the commonality AND the exceptionalism for every species, (and even breed, and of course individual) without denying either.

    As for Pink and horses — ironic, for horse people are the least likely to fall prey to the behaviorist paradigm, and most likely to train their animals in species-specific ways developed over millenia.

  • 20. Mandolina Moon  |  February 18, 2010 at 11:26 am

    >> hyperfocused on the reward it becomes paralyzed.

    It is not a reward if the dog is focused on it. — It is a lure.

    The problem is most people don’t know what is really rewarding to the dog.

  • [...] dog is focused so much on getting a yummy treat that it's mind is not even on the actual tasks. http://smartdogs.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/motivation/ If you watch this amazing video (I know it is long), it will change your whole perspective on [...]

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