Years back, Melissa Holbrook Pierson brought home a border collie named Mercy, without a clue on how to get her to behave. Amazed by a trainer whose immediate rapport with Mercy seemed magical, Pierson began delving into the techniques of positive reinforcement.
She made her way to philosopher B. F. Skinner, the man who started it all, the man who could train a pigeon to dance in minutes and whose research on conditioning has ramifications for athletes, dancers, and, as he originally conceived, all of us.
To learn more, Pierson met with a host of animal behaviorists, going behind the scenes to witness the relationships between trainers and animals at the National Zoo and to Clicker Expo where all the dogs but hers seemed to be learning new tricks.
In her new book, “The Secret History Of Kindness: Learning from How Dogs Learn” [W. W. Norton & Company; May 4, 2015; $26.95 hardcover], Pierson draws connections in her exploration of how kindness works to motivate all animals, including the human ones.