Excerpt by a paper written by Francesco De Giorgio,
published in the proceedings of EurSAFE Conference 2016.
[Regarding our modern coexistence with non-human animals, although times change, concepts evolve and awareness increases, a vanguard ethics in animal science should also question why we still train them, in research as well as in other dimensions of human society. Hence, apart from the anthropocentric reasoning connected with using animals, rather than the understanding of animals, why do we train nonhuman animals? Very often, animal training is confused with animal learning.
However, intelligence is not the same as trainability. What seems like learning during training exercises is essentially an automatic execution of conditioned behaviors. Unlike conditioning, learning means becoming the owner of an experience. It is a proactive ownership of the experience that arises from a cognitive perception of that experience. Learning thus does not come from being conditioned or desensitized.
The concept of operant conditioning, which is generally the base for animal training, lies in a behaviorist matrix. For many years now, the behaviorist paradigm, both in its interpretative models and its various forms of application, is discussed as a Cartesian-like paradigm. However, although the scientific insight and data regarding the emotional-cognitive side in animals continues to increase, the trend of applying operant conditioning in day-to-day practice that focuses on stimulus–response protocols has become the predominant language and approach when interacting with animals. The tendency is to create a more “humane” interaction, with a risk to integrate modern knowledge about animal cognition into a more sophisticated manipulation of the animal’s mind.
To create room for the expression and perception of alterity, we should focus on preserving a cognitive-affiliative approach to learning, preserving the subjectivity and the mental and emotional heritage of other animals, instead of training them in order to control their behavior. We should focus on determining how to preserve spontaneous expressions that would preserve the right social context for individual animals, preserve their curiosity toward the world, and preserve the ability to make choices through one’s own authentic internal sources.
Understanding nonhuman animal subjectivity, and animal cognition in general, means understanding that they have a world to discover. An environment that does not fixate on fitting them into our ideas of coexistence, but focus on their alterity, on their attention, on shared experiencing, allowing our society to develop in a way that includes all different ways of being in the world, not by adaptation, but by inclusion (De Giorgio J., 2015).]