Monday, September 06, 2010

Defining biddability....

Sometimes I am reminded how much of "dog" language is unique to the world of dogs - and more specifically the world of performance and show dogs. Coming from the horse world a lot of terms are the same - the concept of an honest dog (or horse), the usage of "drive" to qualify work ethic. The word "biddable" and "Biddability" doesn't translate for horse folks. How might we (I) define biddability in relation to a dog and dog sport?

A google search of the word "biddability' brought up The Free Dictionary site with the following definition:
bid·da·ble  (bd-bl)  adj
1. Games Strong enough to be bid. Used of a hand of cards.
2. Following directions or obeying commands; docile.

And the following thesaurus entry:
Adj.1.biddable - willing to carry out the orders or wishes of another without protest; "too acquiescent to challenge authority"
obedient - dutifully complying with the commands or instructions of those in authority; "an obedient soldier"; "obedient children"; "a little man obedient to his wife"; "the obedient colonies...are heavily taxed; the refractory remain unburdened"- Edmund Burke

Using those definitions, how can we measure or define biddability in our sport dogs? I think we need to toss out the "obedient" term in the above definition. Dogs (as well as children) are not born trained (wouldn't that be nice?), they are not born obedient - they may learn to be obedient and certainly some dogs (and children) are easier to train than others, but that is not entirely of to be (or not be) biddable. What about docile? Does docility equal biddability? No. Docility is unrelated to biddability. Some of the most biddable dogs I've met and interacted with could never be described as docile (including the yellow dog sleeping next to me on the couch), even though they might be friendly and amicable creatures.

So if biddability is not obedience plus docility, than what is it? How does a dog's drive (or desire) factor into biddability? Well, let's look at my definition:

bid·da·ble  (bd-bl)  adj
         1. Desire to please; willingness to work according to the parameters of training. Responding to his handler's      method of training
2. Willingness to learn over innate desires and functions. Functioning and working as part of a team. ie: the retriever returns game to his handler rather than catching the prey and devouring it independently.

So a biddable dog chooses to work with his owner/handler over other things that may be more innately reinforcing: food, toys, sex, chase, etc. A biddable dog wants to learn behaviors that please his person. An operant biddable dog will consistently offer behaviors that he thinks will please his person. There are ways to make a dog seem more biddable - certainly electronic collars have the ability to increase willingness to work according to the parameters of training - cookies as a bribe can also increase desire to please and improve responses to a handler's cues. However, the difference between innate biddability and constructed biddability is that once the collar comes off, the leash is unbuckled from the choke chain or the food (toy) goes away (and the dog figures this out quickly) so does the biddability. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't reinforce during training, but you've got to work from the baseline that your dog came with from birth - recognizing what is constructed and what is innate.

Now, let's discuss a bit about drive as a component of the picture. It's possible to have a dog who is high drive and low biddability (ie: a border collie extremely intent on sheep - high drive to herd, but is pretty damn useless as a farm dog because he does not respect his handler or is unwilling to accept training in the context of herding). It's also possible to have a dog that has reasonably high biddability and low drive (ie the dog who is super talented, easy to train but lacks a solid work ethic - I already made the hard mark, I brought you a duck, now it's your turn to go get the next one).

What is the optimal balance? Biddable plus Drive? Biddability plus Drive plus Honesty?  How should we define Honesty in relation to our dogs? Well, that's another part of the equation - and another post entirely. I'll let you chew on the concept of biddability for a while. Is your dog biddable? Do you agree with my definition of biddable/biddability?


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