Dog training can help developing an educational video game, and in this article we will explain why.
A professor told me that making a game is about making an experience, and he promised to pay attention to everything he did, not just other forms of entertainment. He was very interested in the idea that ideas can come from anywhere. His design was also improved by the fact that he spent a lot of time thinking critically. Even something as simple as walking through an airport was a chance to think about what worked well and what was hard to understand.
I’ve tried to do the same thing with every learning experience I’ve had: analyze and think about it (though admittedly it is tougher for me because I do not have a formal background in education). No one will ever ask me to design pedagogies in my job as an engineer, but it is an important skill to learn so that we can better understand our users’ needs and make better products. Dog training has been the most enlightening thing I’ve done so far.
Attention is all that matters. If you can’t get the attention of your dog (or your audience), there’s no hope. You have to do whatever it takes, like touching them, shoving a treat in their face, not feeding them to make the treats more exciting, clapping your hands, or saying your dog’s name. When young, a dog isn’t able to paying attention, picking her up off the floor helped. Every dog is unique. At home, you can make a controlled environment without any distractions, but the real world is what you are training for. You are practicing for when your dog chases a squirrel across a busy street. Lastly, paying attention is a skill that can be taught, at least to dogs.
In the games industry, we will use the words “engagement” or “interest” instead of “attention.” Just like a storyteller, game developers try to make an experience that keeps people interested from start to finish. We can’t give people an experience that will stick with them and change their lives if they stop playing.
Dog training is one of the many things that can be done by breaking things down into small steps. When your audience is less skilled than you, it can be hard to understand them, and it’s easy to assume they know what you know and skip over important steps. It also takes a lot of patience to teach something slowly.
I didn’t realize how specific and easy-to-find I had to be when I was training my dogs. Most of the time, when a dog is first learning a new command, it doesn’t do anything wrong. Sit, stand, down, and bow all start with you putting your dog in the right position, saying the command, and rewarding them as long as they don’t move. The first step in teaching paw/shake is to hold your dog’s paw and say the command. The first step in teaching your dog “touch” is to touch its nose. With a lot of repetition, encouragement, and consistency, small steps forward can be made from these simple beginnings.
I’ve talked about how important feedback is, and it’s easy to think of feedback with dogs as rewards or treats, but that’s too simple. Some behaviors, like jumping up on you, can be stopped by giving no feedback or negative feedback (with dogs sometimes any reaction is positive reinforcement). Even if your dog is doing what you want him to do, it is best to give him more than one type of feedback. For example, praising your dog out loud can help pass the time until you can give it a treat.
Much of training a dog depends on the trainer giving the dog the right kind of feedback and knowing when to move on to the next stage of learning. Early on in learning a new skill, anything close to what you were asking for gets a lot of praise and a reward. You are trying to make a memory. Then you give them rewards on a regular basis to help them remember the association. Once the connection is made, you can move on to improving the command by making it stricter. When you do this, you stop rewarding mistakes and instead give a jackpot for perfect practice. Then you make it harder by adding it to a series of commands, getting farther away from your dog, making them hold the command for a longer time, or putting them in a place that is distracting.
Challenge progression and the timing of rewards are important parts of any game. Most of the time, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s term “flow” is used to describe all of these things. After getting the user’s attention, games keep players interested by finding the right balance between challenges and rewards. This is what makes practice fun.
It would be a mistake to try to train people the same way I train dogs, but it did show me that there are some rules for learning that work for all species. A dog won’t learn unless you give them an experience that is rewarding, challenging, and fun. People are a little more willing to look at the big picture and work hard to learn, but we have to ask ourselves how many more people can learn skills if we make learning easier.
So these were some insights about how dog training can help us learn about education.