Thursday, November 13, 2008

Light bulb moments

image: stock.xchng
We just started a new set of dog obedience classes, and it's really quite interesting to see what dogs will be there. There is always a vast variety--even the little puppies have developed their own personalities. There are the very social butterflies who think each and every dog should be their playmate, the bold, assertive dogs who don't worry about anyone in their way (much of the time, these are the small dogs who think they are ten feet tall and bullet proof), the shy, anxious wall flower dogs who do not want to leave their owners at all, the fearful dogs who want to just defend themselves (that's usually with barking and using their teeth), and the dogs who already come in with some form of "baggage" (many tend to be rescues but not all). The remarkable thing is that a good number of these dogs will have what we call "light bulb" moments. These are the moments when you see their little wheels turning in their heads, and the dog really thinks, "so this is what got me the reward!." It's such a fun and astonishing thing to watch.

In Tuesday's class, this point was made very relevant. There was a Boxer mix who apparently was a bit fearful after some occurrences at the dog park. One of the exercises in the class was "touch." We taught her to touch to our fingers, then to an object, specifically a cone. At first, she had no idea what she was getting rewarded for. But after several "clicks" (a click marks the behavior that that is what we want the dog to do), she was beginning to get the idea. Soon after, we changed the criteria so that she only got clicked for touching the top of the cone. Again, she was getting it.

We removed the cone, and then presented it later to see if she would remember. Again, she kind of looked at it, trying to figure out what got her the reward, and then, suddenly, there was the "light bulb," the aha moment, and she touched the top of the cone. The look on the dog's face was almost giddy-like. She was just so proud of herself for figuring it out. The owners too were very impressed with her learning, but really all dogs do have their light bulb moments.

So, this reminded me of several things. One, how I wish we had light bulb moments that came so easily like a dog's. Two, why even if we do have these light bulb moments, we still don't necessarily "get" it. Three, can we have different variabilities of the light bulb? Four, what makes some of us realize the light bulb moments while others of us take longer.

But then again, maybe we're all waiting too long for the light bulb moment? Maybe it's already there, but just needs to be turned on or some of us just have it dimly lit? I don't know if this will make sense to people, but it's something interesting to think about nonetheless.

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