Beyond Quantum

Learning theory is incredibly valuable to dog training, but since it was largely developed in a laboratory, there are limits to it’s applicability. We can learn a lot from experiments in which computers trained animals using quantum binary feedback, but that’s not how we, as humans, should train.  We couldn’t if we tried, and by embracing our human nature we can be much more effective trainers.  As people we can make instantaneous qualitative judgments and provide non-aversive, instructive, continuous, differential binary feedback that transcends anything a computer can do in a laboratory.  All we have to do is talk to our dogs.

This is just an hors d'oeurve of what's on the menu of my latest seminar series, check out my 2010/2011 appearance schedule if you'd like to take a bigger bite!

Products from Dr. Ian Dunbar


Like Morten Egtvedt, I train with binary information  click or no-click - and am pleased with my results. I also teach others to do so. It's unfair to a dog to expect him to sort out all of our human chatter while training in order to find the kernel of information that is relevant. By being silent while training, we increase the speed of learning. I do this as an experiment with students who are prone to having a running stream of commentary when training. I have them train a few reps their way, then train a few reps with silence. They are always amazed to learn how much our stream of human vocalizations slows down the learning!

My motto: Let your clicker do the talking!

Dr. Dunbar uses an example of training using 10 repetitions, five of which are above average in performance and five below average and claims that "quantum" training would have someone reinforcing all 10 of those reps. This is just not how it's done!

With clicker training we set a specific criterion - I will click for: front feet lined up when the dog sits. That's the ONLY thing we will cilck for!  To click something that does not meet criterion is the route to confusing our dogs. If the dog did not meet criterion three times in a row, we would stop, evaluate the expectations, reduce our criterion (break it down into smaller bits) or change the setup so that the dog can succeed. It's all about success not schedules.

I teach others to use their voice, their praise, their movement, toys, chattering, cheerleading, whatever as part of the reinforcement process (which takes it out of the realm of the information process). It's MUCH more effective as part of the reinforcement process! It builds relationship and passion for the task. To add those elements into the actual information would make them part of the antecedent process and often leads to dependency, ie. dog will not respond to the "sit" cue UNLESS it's accompanied by patter.

The cleaner and the more consistent we can keep the information part of the process (click, no-click), the quicker learning takes place and it's very easy to test this for oneself. has a wealth of library articles that describe good clicker training practices.

Helix Fairweather

Hearts and Paws, Diana Smith CPDT

Dear Ian,

I have followed your teachings for 20 years and your blog on Quantum resonated with me as a pet dog trainer for over 30 years.  Your initial introduction of the science of learning greatly influenced my approach to class curriculum and teaching. Your information and instruction on puppy socialization was such an eye opener for a compulsive trainer who though dogs should not be trained until 6 months.  I personally use clickers for marking more highly specialized tasks in agility or tricks when I or the owner is interested in precision as well as compliance.  I have competed in obedience, agility , Working Trials and Rally. I have also used clickers in training tracking in Texas where fire ants quickly force you to non food markers.  I have seen and experienced the dangers of relying on lures rather than encouraging owners to move beyond the first reward stage of learning to the intermittent/variable reward schedule sans treats.  With that thought I have found it much easier to add the voice/toys/touch as a more salient reward for better performance than the click as a marker for almost all my pet dog owners.  Clickers when I am teaching a family with children ranging from 5-12 years old are of little practical use in daily life at home.  Many trainers of note I have talked to reveal that in the beginner basic classes they do not emphasize the clicker.  How many harried moms who are a huge portion of our clients have a clicker bracelet attached to their wrist during every interaction with their dogs?  How many have their voice?  How easy it is to get a 5 yr. old to say "yes" rather than remember to use the clicker?

In my experience, the excitement and fascination of "catching a behavior" is beyond the practical interest of the average family owning a pet dog.  Most of them are looking for rapid results. Compulsion in training can often bring the illusion of compliance (on leash) creating a reaction to punishment rather than a relationship of mutual benefit.  The compulsion method requires an extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation.  Without the baggage of our differing species it seems science is showing that the canine species IS more attuned to our body language,( including facial movements) and vocal communication than most other species.  My primary drive as a trainer is to arrest the killing of adolescent dogs with poor socialization/lack of training that are surrendered by owners in the hundreds of thousands every year.  As pet dog trainers, I believe we should look for the most user friendly effective methods to convey reward based training to the masses to stop the needless slaughter of so many dogs.  As we as trainers increase our knowledge of how dogs AND people learn let us focus on the actual connection and results we bring to our clients.  If this is done by others by the use and introduction of clickers so be it.  For others the method may vary BUT the results are still based on a system that encourages responses based on rewards rather than punishment.  


Diana Smith CPDT-KA


I am a binary trainer too.  The video left me with more questions than answers. I had them listed and then realized that it was a futal attempt. I agree with Diana's last sentence about "encouraging responses based on rewards rather than punishment for the average dog owner". This is what our aim should be instead of the constant needling. This video among a list of other things I have watched from you have left me wondering.

How animals learn is an interesting topic and one I would like discussed in an open venue with all the leading trainers of our time. Maybe someday you would allow this type of discussion be a part of your seminars where everyone can see other trainers perspectives from the people themselves.

I have worked with far to many dog owners who have poisened their cues with all the added drama. I agree we are not machines nor perfect. While this is your reason for adding the extra modulation, this is the reason why we don't need the extras that send mixed messages to our lovable dogs, we aren't machines nor perfect.

I wish you many happy days of training ahead of you. Good day

David Thatcher