Can we talk about Candy Crush for a minute? I’m serious. I was in a room full of training colleagues a while ago when a presenter referred to the popular game application as a useless waste of time. “Idiotic”, even.

Candy Crush is like dog trainingEveryone giggled in agreement. I smiled and mildly protested, “Hey now, I like Candy Crush!”

Everyone giggled at that too. I realized they thought I was being funny. I wasn’t.

For context, we were talking about the link between dopamine and playing video games — how players are quickly and frequently reinforced for continuing to play.

The parallel to training, of course — and why we were discussing video games — was to illustrate the benefits of shaping behaviour using positive reinforcement; of maintaining the enthusiasm to keep going, keep working, keeping aiming for the reward; of splitting the learning experience into small steps, and of making reinforcement easily and frequently available, yadda yadda.

What struck me about this short discussion, however, was how all the other benefits of games like Candy Crush seemed lost on my colleagues. There’s a lot more to games like this than just pretty colours and a steady supply of dopamine.

Much like the game of chess is considered a yawner to someone who hasn’t experienced the satisfying sensation of strategizing and outsmarting an opponent (don’t kid yourself, wars have been fought for that sensation… it’s a powerful thing), Candy Crush is considered a silly waste of time to the trainer who hasn’t noticed what a fascinating study in behaviour it really is.

Hold on, hear me out.


“Behaviour — feedback — revision”

Like in any video game, the player is given a limited number of lives to accomplish a task. When you lose a life, you’re placed back at the start of the puzzle for another crack at it.

Only this time, you’re smarter. You’ve learned from your previous behaviour, you’ve revised your approach, and you try again.

You receive tiny and frequent reinforcers every time you make a correct move. Keep going.

When you complete a task, you’re rewarded by moving ahead to the next one. Well done! Keep going.

When you open the next puzzle, though, there are no instructions. You need to figure out what you’re supposed to do as you’re doing it. So you see, this isn’t a mindless activity. You need to think.

After a few attempts and some loss of game lives, you learn to slow down, examine the big picture, and strategize before beginning to play again.

How can a trainer NOT recognize this as being an excellent example of what we do and what we teach every single day?

We gather information, we look at setting events and antecedents, we identify reinforcers. We slow down, analyze data, and determine what’s working and what isn’t.

Dude, that’s Candy Crush in a nutshell.

Candy Crush gives me a mental break

I admit I am addicted to the type of work I do. I. Love. It. I am happiest when I am solving a puzzle of any kind. Games like Candy Crush offer me endless opportunities to solve puzzles. I play for short periods every day, and I enjoy my dopamine rush (thank you very much).

I take a break to clear my mind between work tasks. I’ll take five minutes to play a quick level or two of Candy Crush on my phone while my tea steeps, and just like that, it’s like I’ve pressed a reset button and I’m ready to get started again with a fresh brain.

So there you have it. My name is Nancy, I’m an educated and relatively intelligent person, and I enjoy Candy Crush.

Why the urge to share my confession?

Well, here’s the thing: The dog training industry is rife with social pressure to take sides, to ridicule, and to criticize. We’re a strange bunch who like to spot flaws in training videos and feel compelled to point them out publicly. (What the hell is wrong with us?)

When I see an example of this behaviour on social media, I always wonder how many new trainers or potential training clients are being made painfully aware of how judgey and cannibalistic a group of professional trainers can be.

People are often easily influenced by waves of social groups who have chosen something to collectively hate. It becomes fashionable, even, to publicly ridicule random things. (Nickleback, anyone?)

Social pressure

When I heard the obvious criticism and ridicule expressed in my colleague’s statement about Candy Crush, I wondered how many people sitting in the room that day giggled as a result of social pressure. I thought, is it possible they’re secret Candy Crush players, preferring to side with the social group to avoid ridicule and criticism?

Would they have responded differently to the mention of Candy Crush if it had instead been described as an interesting parallel to our work? If they didn’t yet know about Candy Crush, might they have become curious to learn more about it if it was talked about in a positive tone?

I think this is what happens when someone brings up the subject of training methods in a group setting. How the discussion is introduced will determine whether learning is about to take place. There are, I’m sure, many observers who shy away from asking questions, who don’t dare express an interest in learning more about a method, a technique, a piece of equipment, or an approach. They’re aware that they risk scorn or judgment if they do.

I don’t like social groups that collectively ridicule. I cringe at the memory of times I’ve played along with this behaviour in the past. Now older and wiser, I avoid such groups, partly because I prefer to root for the underdog, and mostly because I find the associated behaviour neither constructive nor helpful.

Yeah, I like Crocs.

And you know what? Social ridicule be damned, I’ll just lay this out right here: I still love and regularly buy Crocs. I love the scent of Old Spice. Hair scrunchies are great (and way better for your hair). And I’ll sing along to Nickleback’s “… this is how you remind me…” at the top of my lungs whenever I hear it, because I enjoy it.

You don’t have to like any of these things, but if you would kindly step aside for those who do, that’d be great.

And if your aim is to reach minds and teach, well… I hope you’ll choose positivity over social intimidation.