(This is not a political blog. Please bear with me for a few paragraphs. It will get to dog training, I promise. Also please note I am drawing parallells not commenting on policy. This is a dog training blog, not a blog about politics, (human) education, or race relations. Save it for Facebook!)
The news in New York City has been dominated the past few weeks with the mayoral race. (Now that the primaries are over, we’ve got a brief respite, but it’s sure to heat up again in October.) It’s been an entertaining season, partially because more than one of the candidates are more sideshow than serious politician and partly because of the spectacle of candidates trying to figure out how to walk the line on Bloomberg policies that seem both effective and morally and/or ethically compromised.
Like all New York City Mayors, Michael Bloomberg has been a polarizing figure. I have found some of the controversies particularly interesting because he comes from the same corporate and technological culture I do, and this often seems to drive his policy decisions.
On Wall Street (as well as technology companies like Google and Apple) data is king. Business decisions are made based on measurable results. This is often an effective strategy, especially when you are in the business of selling data (which is how Bloomberg became a millionaire) or selling widgets. What can be more effective than measuring results and then adjusting tactics based on them?
But this very practice is what has gotten Bloomberg in trouble more than once. The two examples that come immediately to mind are his school testing policies and the New York Police Department’s infamous “stop and frisk” practices, which Bloomberg has staunchly defended.
In the case of school testing Bloomberg is following the national trend of administering copious amount of standardized tests in order to measure school results. From a data-driven perspective this makes perfect sense. However educators and parents insist that is leads to “teaching to the test” and unnecessary stress for the children.
In the case of “stop and frisk” data analysis led to Ray Kelly’s ill-advised statement about how “African-Americans are being under-stopped.” Here again numbers and measurable results, examined in a vacuum, led to Kelly’s assertion. The broader picture however, might lead some to disagree. (The more I read Kelly’s and Bloomberg’s defense of stop and frisk, the more I think of the engineer and the balloon.)
So what does all this have to do with dog training?
In the ABCs I spend a lot of digital ink laying out a formula for problem solving. It’s an approach to solving behavior problems that anyone from Bloomberg’s world would embrace. And we can learn a few things from Bloomberg’s successes and failures that apply to using the ABCs too.
Before you can solve a problem you need to define it. This may seem obvious, but it’s not.
What do you think is the problem with education? Basic skills, dropout rates, or college admissions? Which one you pick will have a tremendous impact on your approach.
What do you think is the underlying cause of crime? Poverty? Recidivism? Illegal weapons? Drug use? Again, how you define the problem will have a tremendous impact on your solutions.
In the animal behavior training world the obstacle to defining the problem is often one of using labels and classifications over behaviors. Is “my dog is jealous” a problem? How about “my dog is dominant” or even “my dog is fearful?” Is your definition of “fearful” the same as mine? Roger Abrantes has written about the issues behind defining what dominance really is and for many, including myself, he highlights a conflict that has made the word at least temporarily useless.
Properly defining problems is critical to the solving it because if you can’t measure it you can’t say you solved it. Can you measure dominance? Or jealousy? Or fear? No, you can’t. You can measure barking, lunging, growling, pulling on leash, and fleeing. These things might be part of a “package” we call jealousy, dominance, or fearfulness, but we need to agree on the actual measurable actions first and chances if we do that well the labels are unnecessary.
With Bloomberg & Co. the case could be made that part of their problem is a lack of agreement on the defining the issues and the desired results. “Better schools” is something everyone can agree on…until it’s time to agree on what a better school actually is and then take steps to achieve it.
Similarly “less crime” wins elections, but if your tactics land you in trouble with the public, press, and even the courts, than there is an obvious disconnect between you and the people. The NYPD and the City Administration are measuring a result that does not seem important enough to others given what (they claim) it took to get that result.
I wrote earlier about defining what you want instead of what you don’t want. A critical part of that definition is making sure that what you want is specific and measurable. I’ll be writing more about this in the next few weeks.
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What Can Mayor Bloomberg Teach You About Dog Training? is a post written by Eric Goebelbecker . You can see the actual post at Dog Training in Bergen County New Jersey
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