su-per-sti-tious learn-ing: Formation of beliefs about cause and effect based on observation without knowledge. Often happens when correlation is confused with cause and effect. Appears to be accompanied by a tendency to ignore variation, to interpret each result as if it came from a single cause and to ignore delays between actions and effects.
A few years back we had a canine behaviorist come to the house for a one-on-one session with our special needs dog Cosmo. It was not cheap. However, this specialist (really difficult not to put quote marks around that) soon shifted her focus from the student we hired her to apply her vast expertise for, to Farley the younger, better looking, aussie/border collie mix. Because the boys were so bonded, we didn’t dare separate them while the visitor was in the house.
After a few exercises with Cosmo where Farley subsequently mirrored everything that was asked, the paid guest could not remove her focus from Farley. She gave Farley a few commands and after watching him repeat his response the exact same way each time, she blurted out “He’s a superstitious learner!”.
My husband and I looked at each other with that knowing look. We were frustrated. Cosmo wasn’t getting the attention he needed. We weren’t getting the answers we needed and we were again left on our own with our special needs dog.
But Farley! He’s great. Everybody loves Farley. Sigh.
Farley has been an extraordinary experience after having Cosmo. Farley learned everything faster, more exact, and with more vigor than any other dog I’ve known. But what in the world is a superstitious learning dog? We were baffled. The lovely ladies’ explanation was that once Farley had been taught something, he did it the exact same way every time. Every. Time. Since I’ve learned this about him, I’ve tried to re-teach him things. It doesn’t work. If I want him to stand 4 steps behind me on a “wait” I have to teach the 4 step version with a new command name. If he hears “back” he takes exactly three steps every time. Ok. I want 5 steps now. Now the command is “all the way back”. Now I get the 5 steps I’m looking for.
The take-away, of course, is that I need to be on my game when I’m training. Farley has forced me to be a better trainer. I’m still wonky and lax, but he keeps me in line. If I am not exact, he’s going to give me exactly what he thinks I want. If I am precise, Farley is going to perform. He’s very patient with me. The best running partner and the most amazing friend. I love him for his silly, sloppy kisses and for how much he loves me.
Thank you to Heather from Flying Ace Puppy School for all the amazing classes.
The said behavioral specialist will remain unnamed.
Doggie Mommy of Three
Little Nellie “Nels Bells” Bear
Cosmonaut “Cosmo” , the blind, kooky, special needs guy with a huge heart