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Dog Training – The Clever Hans Effect
In the late 1800s, a German high school math instructor named Wilhelm Von Osten began parading around his horse, “Clever Hans”.
You see, Clever Hans was no ordinary horse. Clever Hans could add, subtract, multiply, divide, work with fractions, tell the time, follow the calendar, differentiate musical tones, read, spell, and understand German.
Clever Hans was asked a question and he tapped his hoof on the ground until he found the right answer.
People came from all over to see Clever Hans give the answers to very difficult math questions. But some people weren’t impressed with Clever Hans. They thought it was all some kind of trick.
The German school board agreed and appointed a commission to investigate Hans.
Did Hans really add, subtract, multiply, divide, work with fractions, tell the time, follow the calendar, differentiate musical tones and read, spell and understand German?
The quick answer… NO.
Hans didn’t know how to do any of the things his owner claimed. Hans was not a mathematician
What they learned was that Hans was an expert at reading body language.
Investigators found that when Hans was asked a question, he began to tap his hoof until he found the correct answer. He knew the correct answer by watching the clues given by the person asking the questions. The interrogator’s posture and facial expressions changed in a way that corresponded to an increase in tension, which was released when the horse made the last “correct” tap.
This provided a signal that Hans could use to know when to stop typing.
In other words, Clever Hans was an expert at reading body language and knew when to stop tapping thanks to the subtle cues given by the person asking Hans a question. Quite interesting. Clever Hans was really smart, but not in the way we thought.
Anyone who lives with a dog should know this, as it has led to what is now called the “clever Hans effect”.
Social animals, like horses and dogs, become experts in reading our body language. This is important to understand when living with a dog. Not so long ago I was working with a very nice couple who had issues with their dog.
They said their dog knew the sound of their car, got restless before leaving the house and could become very withdrawn when one of them got angry. I explained the Clever Hans effect and that many animals have been found to be sensitive to these signals from the humans they live with.
Their dog was so “listening” to them that he knew when they were getting ready to leave, were happy,
upset and a host of other things which in turn affected his behavior. Today, the term “Clever Hans Effect” is used to describe the influence of a questioner’s subtle, involuntary cues on his subjects, both in humans and animals.
For example, when drug-sniffing dogs are trained, none of those present know which containers contain drugs; otherwise, their body language could give away the location and render the exercise useless.
So why am I writing about Clever Hans?
Because your dog is an expert at reading your body language, many times some of the behavioral issues you’re having are reinforced by unintended signals you’ve given.
JUMPING – How many of you reading this have a jumping problem with your dog? I’d bet a good number of your dogs are jumpers. How can I know?
Am I psychic?
No, I just know that after 18+ years of working with dogs, jumping is at the top of the list when it comes to behavioral issues and the number one reason it’s such a problem is because The Clever Hans Effect is running at full speed. when it comes to jumping. It’s important to remember that training is more than a clicker, a choke collar, or a pat on the head.
Your dog is constantly watching you for some kind of cue that might indicate it’s time to go for a walk, dinner, or jump on you. If your dog engages in a behavior you don’t like, pay attention to your signals and see if you do anything to reinforce the behavior.
When it comes to dog training, the dog is often blamed for bad behavior, but sometimes we have to be careful what we are unwittingly teaching our dogs.
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