Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dog Training By Numb3rs

I had some spare energy last week since I wasn't able to train and I came up with sort of a half baked idea about math and dog training.

Sometime last year I discovered the t.v. show Numb3rs and because I've got my thumb on the pulse of all things cultural this show started 7-8 years ago and has been off the air for several years now I'd only just discovered it.  How a crime drama involving a genius messy haired mathematician solving crimes for the FBI by using math escaped me for so long is a mystery.  I love math and crime solving and I even went out with a genius mathematician with messy hair in college so how did I miss this?  It's possible I did try to watch it and happened to surf onto it during one of the scenes with machine guns blaring, explosions, car chases, etc. because this show has quite a lot of that in every episode.  Apparently Hollywood thinks it can't sell a show about math to Americans unless it has lots of gunfire and loud noises and bloodshed.  And I don't know, maybe they're right, but the great thing about Netflix is that I can fast forward through the gunfire and explosions to the nerdy, mathy stuff.

They talk about Game Theory a lot in the show and this is another thing that has been around for a while that I was completely unaware of.  So of course I have to wonder if there's a way to apply it to dog training and in particular the running dogwalk.  A quick Google search doesn't reveal anybody trying this with dog training other than a short post in a blog about a little experiment involving a biscuit.  However a quick search of books on Game Theory at the Boulder Public Library reveals a book called, 'Game Theory and Animal Behavior' and there's a whole chapter on learning.  As you can see from the link this book costs $120 on Amazon but not only can I get it for free from the library but I can get an e-book that I can read on my fancy pants new tablet and I don't even have to leave the house or worry about late fees.  Within a minute of coming up with a hair-brained scheme I can get expensive books on it for free without even getting out of my chair.  Never mind all the zillions of other e-books at the library on Game Theory and YouTube videos and free online courses from universities like Yale.  And this is about where my brain explodes from the endless possibilities of it all.

To add to the madness, I found this TED video about how algorithms are taking over the world.  Algorithms are another thing they talk about a lot on the Numb3rs show and I'm convinced I can come up with a running dogwalk algorithm.  Anyway, this video is both fascinating and terrifying.  We're so worried about global warming and nuclear annihilation but I think we should put those things on the back burner and start turning our attention to the algorithms as yet another messy haired geek explains:

I'm pretty sure that if the algorithms are powerful enough to take down the stock market and catch a serial killer they can help me take my running dogwalk training to another level.  In the meantime, better bust out those old calculus books.


  1. Thanks for sharing! I've been working on a blog post for -years- about game theory and aggressive behavior in dogs... I pulled it out again this week and still haven't been able to make it 'work'. Friends thought it wasn't technically correct so I haven't posted it. If it -is- right... it would be another way to help people realize dogs aren't trying to take over the world...their choices are about efficiency and safety.

    Somewhere on my computer I have notes about some other dog-training-related applications that I thought might be relevant. I haven't looked at that list in years! I really don't think running dogwalk was on m y list!

    I'll be trying to find that book...my library isn't as great as yours.

  2. I would think aggressive dog behavior would be a great application of game theory. I'd be interested in any thoughts/info./ideas you had however incomplete or incorrect. Would be great to somehow share ideas with people who have an interest in this and would be even greater to find an actual applied mathematician. Where is Charlie Epps when you need him? ; )

    I'm only just starting to learn about game theory and reading the introductory books but once I get the basic idea I'll read the one on animal behavior and do a post of anything that's relevant to dogs. A lot of it has to do with evolution. This is probably stating the obvious but you might want to check if your library is linked with a wider consortium, I'd be surprised if it wasn't. I get all kinds of weird books from rural mountain towns, small universities, etc. that are shipped right to the Boulder library for free and I can access their online libraries as well and the small rural towns can access Boulder/Denver etc.

  3. An email option for sending some of what I have to you? I don't want to post it to the world (yet?).

    Thanks for the tip, I haven't tried ebooks through the small library, only the big city library (which somehow has a limited ebook collection).

  4. My email is elaynefletcher at hotmail dot com.

    At my library there's an option to search 'other libraries' and it gives me access to a large consortium of other libraries, I wasn't searching each small library individually, just to be clear.

    I started reading the chapter on 'learning' in the book and it's interesting but a lot of math and complicated equations. The kind of math that you need to know what an eigenvalue is. There's a detailed analysis of the Prisoner Dilemma and operant conditioning (law of effect in particular) but again, lots of mathy equations. I haven't finished the whole chapter but so far not so much that might be useful to the average person. Fascinating stuff though I haven't seen eigenvalues in about 20 years and would have to do some serious review of my math skills to understand the equations. On my 'to do' list but very low down on the list.