As an outdoorsman at a young age, Simon Prins was inspired by a hunter who spoke softly to his spaniels and retrievers when asking them to do their jobs in the field. Ton’s dogs appeared joyful in their work and the relationship between hunter and dogs was one of partnership and trust. Ton was a university professor and understood how learning occurs in humans and animals, and he used positive reinforcement to train his hunting dogs.
When Simon became a police officer and was accepted into the dog handling division, he was dismayed to find that his superiors intended the working relationship with his assigned patrol dog to begin with a battle for control, an argument with the dog he was to entrust with his life and the lives of others. Not only that, but as Simon pulled a ball and some cookies out of his pocket in preparation for meeting his dog, the other officers were a bit hostile, making bets as to whether Simon would be able to even get the growling dog out of the police car without injury. The culture in this new work environment was based on ruthless competition for control between dogs and humans, and between humans on the same team. The harsh training methods they used with the dogs were similar to how the humans were interacting. Clinging to the methods they had always used for training was limiting the possibilities for how the dogs could be used to help people. The belief system in the police department at that time was not supportive of curiosity or progressive ideas about how to do things in a better way.
Simon’s natural approach to life is to question everything, explore how to improve, and find ways to develop new systems of action, so there was no way he would be content with the status quo in the police department canine division. Something was missing. Simon was instructed to train and handle his patrol dog with harshness and negativity that was nothing like what he saw from his friend Ton, the hunter. As he forged ahead in learning his new job, Simon began to see how their training methods were limiting the canine division’s ability to pursue excellence in their work. He was learning about new uses for police dogs on the horizon and knew that his department must upgrade their training.
On his day off, Simon visited a marine park and watched a dolphin show. He was amazed at the ability of the trainer to get her eight dolphins to perform tricks like jumping really high and hitting balls with their noses exactly when she asked them to. All the dolphins paid close attention to the trainer and seemed to wait excitedly to be asked to do a trick. At the same time, the trainer was managing a huge audience, pleasing them with the performances of her animals, keeping their attention, and getting them to applaud at the appropriate times. Simon compared what he saw at the dolphin show with his own training of his patrol dog; he had only one dog on a long leash, no audience expecting him to entertain them, and he still wasn’t getting this level of performance. The dolphin trainer had eight dolphins swimming freely in a large pool in front of a huge audience and she was in complete control of all of them.
The dolphin trainer introduced him to the work of Dr. B.F. Skinner and those who followed, and Simon devoted himself to finding out how training could be done in a better way. This was in the 1990’s and the internet was in its infancy, but enough information was available for Simon to learn about Dr. B.F. Skinner’s work from the 1930’s and track down Bob and Marian Bailey. Simon knew he was on to something big and committed himself to learning behavior science in order to help his police department excel.
When he called Bob and Marian, Simon had to convince them he was serious in his pursuit and that their time would be well-spent teaching him. The Baileys had worked with police departments before. They were dismayed when they found these groups usually wanted to learn a special secret, one specific technique that might solve a certain problem in their work without requiring major changes to their training program. The Baileys knew this never works. Behavior science is a set of principles that forms the basic structure of a training program. It is an entire toolbox containing everything you need for a training program.
After several conversations, Simon finally succeeded in convincing Bob and Marian he was worth their time, and he continued to prove that as they proceeded with his education. The three of them committed fully to the work of making a behaviorist of Simon and as they worked together, Simon became a leading advocate of behavior science. He had found what he was looking for; behavior science opened up possibilities for training police dogs that Simon had not even imagined. He brought his superiors from the police department to Bob and Marian to help them understand the value of behavior science. He later brought Bob to the Netherlands to guide him in developing protocols for teaching trainers and handlers in the police department. Simon’s colleagues attended operant conditioning workshops with Bob and Marian, training chickens in amazing behaviors as a way to develop the skills of writing training plans, documenting training session results, and testing their mechanical skills. Over 25 years of working together, Bob and Marian helped Simon flourish as a trainer and behaviorist as he developed a police dog training program based solidly on behavior science. His department’s dogs are second to none in their abilities to perform safely and reliably, working as traditional patrol dogs doing jobs like tracking, detection of drugs, explosives, and other contraband, and taking down suspects. Simon is following in Bob’s and Marian’s footsteps in teaching trainers all over the world.
Behavior science has allowed Simon to develop a separate, exclusive group of dogs and trainers that work in an international operations application in Europe. These dogs are directed by voices transmitted through their collars. They can travel up to hundreds of meters from their handlers and be out on their own for many hours, moving and stopping as directed. With special equipment, some of these dogs film the areas they are travelling through. Some deliver robots that collect data from an area before being picked up by a dog and brought back to home base for analysis. Some of the dogs simply lie still and pick up local conversations through special devices they wear inconspicuously. Their abilities to detect differences in scent are used in amazing ways. These dogs work for long periods of time, out of the sight of their trainers, in unknown terrain or inside unfamiliar buildings to help special operative forces get the information they need to carry out their jobs.
Simon’s never-ending curiosity has resulted in immense benefits for the police department of the Netherlands and all those it serves. He never let his ego stop him from living his life at full intensity, constantly striving to improve. Our film shows how behavior science opened up a world of opportunities for Simon and continues to solve problems for society.