Monday, 12 March 2012

What's in a Word

I recently had a conversation with a friend about a gundog training class she was attending with her dog. She was being corrected because she wasn’t giving the ‘right’ commands. Her, and my opinion, is what does it matter what word you use, as long as your dog understands what you are asking. She felt to have to retrain her dog to the new words would be confusing. She never intents to work her dog to the gun, the class is just to give her young dog more focus and mental stimulation. My own dog has really bad associations with traditional commands. In her previous situation she was obviously harshly trained. The first time I asked her to sit to see if she knew the word, she ran away from me and urinated herself. After much confidence building and patience she is just now, a year and a half later, starting to really enjoy learning. What I have done is take things really slowly and renamed commands. For example I use ‘with me’ instead of heel. Some trainers will be fussy about using two words. It really doesn’t matter; she knows what it means and heels beautifully. Dogs are more than capably of understanding this.

What this highlighted to me is the inflexibility of some trainers. If they can’t move on such a simple point, how can they be adaptable to different dogs? Dogs like humans have different learning styles and speeds of taking on information. Stress can block learning and everything should be done to limit this. If the dog doesn’t understand what you are asking, a new way of presenting the information should be sort. You may have to change the environment you are training in or be creative, like using a prop to aid understanding. Clicker trainers do this by using lures and target sticks. Other trainers have been known to use a chair or their leg to lure a dog into a down. You don’t even need words to train your dog. Think of all those deaf dogs who understand just as many commands as dogs with perfect hearing. It’s just their cue is a visual one not a spoken word.

We have to be adaptive and creative when dealing with dogs. Please don’t limit yourselves or you canine companions by insisting on a word.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Opposite ends of the spectrum

I’ve had two ends of the spectrum this week. That of people who are adamant that dominance training is the only way and owners so in tune with their canine companions it can bring you to tears. I know the owners I like to spend time with. Old school trainers always seem to want a battle with you. In fact this is the basis for their method of training as it puts you in direct conflict with your dog. Surely nobody wants a constant battle. How tiring must that be and how confusing for their dogs? After months researching for my book ‘The Truth about Wolves & Dogs’ I have come to the conclusion that there are two personality types who own dogs. Fixed, inflexible people who don’t want to move with the times and like to control and open minded, forward thinking types who work with their dogs not against them. This may seem harsh and yes there is a third type, the people who just haven’t found reward based training yet. 23 years ago at the start of my long career working with dogs I worked for Guide Dogs for the Blind. At the time we were taught about pack hierarchy, not letting dogs win, who should start a game etc. It wasn’t until I started training as a Tellington TTouch Practitioner in the late 90’s and later when I worked with wolves, that I began to question the old beliefs. The journey I have taken over the last two decades has been an incredible one and I hope the book which is out in July helps others reach the same conclusion as me. That is, you don’t have to battle with your dogs on a daily basis. Teach good manners and give them boundaries. Most of all allow them to express themselves and be your companion. These are living creatures with emotions and it is about time we started to realise that in the dog training world.