This week we celebrated our 25-year friendship

When I was asked in 1996 to design a new concept of animal training in the Netherlands police, yes, 25 years ago, my research brought me to Bob and Marian Bailey. I found Bob’s phone number and called him. I was so happy that he answered the phone call but also surprised when he ended this within 5 minutes. He told me he didn’t want to work with police dog trainers and hung up! 

I called Bob back more than 25 times until he finally agreed to listen to me because I was so persistent and kept asking him for help. Because I knew that Bob and Marian could provide me with some answers. But, at this stage, I had not the slightest idea what this would be and how this contact was about to change my career and life. Bob and his lovely wife Marian decided to give it a chance. They invited me to Hot Springs, Arkansas, USA, for a meeting. This took place in their favorite restaurant, the Brau-Haus downtown Hot Springs. Expectations were clear before I arrived in the USA. Bob clearly explained, ‘If we like to have the conversation, we might work with you. If we don’t like it, please return to the Netherlands after dinner”. After the dessert, Bob and Marian talked briefly and invited me to their house the following day. Bob told me 9 o’clock sharp! And there, without any ‘warning’, my education started. 

When I entered the house, they led me to a large, long table in the living room, on which lay some sheets of paper. That’s my training area, Bob said. Then he asked me to follow him into the garden and opened a small chicken house. I should take one of the chickens and bring it to the living room table. I put it on, and Marian gave me a clicker, a cup of chicken feed, and a paper target. My test had begun – to demonstrate that I could train an animal, in this case, a chicken, by either giving or not giving food, using the clicker as a bridge signal. They observed my behavior and analyzed my timing, decisions, and other skills. I was way out of my comfort zone!

My first overall task was to show them that I could quickly change my behavior. I was unaware of my task; I followed instructions by training chickens, writing training protocols, and collecting data. Later I learned that being able to follow instructions is also an essential skill in the structure of the Baileys. The training was divided into “sessions” and “trials”. After training different chickens for 45 minutes, Marian gave me a 45-minute theory lecture. Then, for another 45 minutes, Bob showed me how I could do better with the chickens in practice, followed by another theory lesson with Marian. This has now become my routine during my time with them: training, theory, training, theory.It was hard work, and I was exhausted when I drove back to my hotel that evening. My notebook was full, and I still had to do my homework to write a training plan for the next day. Bob already told me what to train for the next day, but not how —that was my job for the training plan. When I flew home two weeks later. I had learned so much! With Bob and Marian’s help, I trained the chickens to peck at targets, identify colors, complete an obstacle course, pick up and pull things, and more. They started to teach me to understand operant conditioning and to bring this into practice immediately. It was absolutely amazing. On the return flight to Amsterdam, the person seated next to me asked me whether I had been to the USA for vacation or work. I explained that it was a police officer on a business trip. Interested, he enquired, but I smiled to myself, thinking there was no way I could explain to him that I’d been training chickens for the past two weeks. He would declare me crazy! So I said something about an exchange program and then fell into a deep sleep.

Meeting Bob and Marian changed my life. I owe them so much! They opened my eyes and, without exaggeration, showed me the way out of the fog into the light of animal training. They explained how to write and use training plans, collect and evaluate data, and observe and generalize the behavior. They explained how to select and coach trainers and much more. Marian died on September 25, 2001. Shortly before that, I was able to promise her that I would do everything in my power to bring the principles of operant conditioning to the world of police dogs. Bob and I have become good friends over the years and worked extensively on the programs I have been responsible for since we met. And we created some fabulous projects together that had a significant impact on the missions. Together we also trained thousands of animal trainers worldwide in workshops and seminars and put a lot of energy into our goal of changing the world of professional dog training.

In my books, online courses, or during my workshops, you will not learn a “Simon Prins method.” Also, there is no such thing as a “Bailey method”. It’s about classical and operant conditioning, Thorndike, Pavlov, Skinner and Watson, and the other thought leaders. Yes, I developed the training programs for the laser and radio-controlled camera police dogs, but I didn’t put my name tag on them. Because it’s just operant conditioning. Bob and Marian also sparked my interest in science and introduced me to this world. I began reading literature on animal behavior, human psychology, training, and much more. Also, thanks to Bob for realizing that time is precious – something I didn’t understand when we started working so closely together. Now, more than 25 years later, I know what he meant. The older we get, the faster time flies – before we have even looked around, it will be Christmas and another year.

This week we celebrated our 25-year friendship. Roadtrip with the ACT! Smart Scent Wheel, USA History in Fort Smith, Fishing together on the great lakes in Arkansas. And yes, we went back to that famous Brau-Haus, now named Steinhaus Keller. We had dinner on the same spot as where it all started 25 years ago! Thank you, Master Yoda and Marian Mouse, for all you did and mean to me! And as promised, I will continue to spread the message and your work! 

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