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Thursday, May 1, 2008

How Dog Training Has Progressed

Written May 2, 2008

Recently I decided to take the examination for the Certification Exam for Pet Dog Trainers and subsequently the Certification for Dog Behavioral Counseling. Lots of rereading and rewatching document dog videos are in my future, but what got me thinking the most was the application. You see, in order to take the Certification test, I must have a minimum of 300 hours of dog training experience. Before you read on, I invite you to add up your dog training hours - I think you'll be as surprised as I was!
In adding up my hours, I was amazed to find that conservatively I have approximately 4050 hours of teaching classes, 2960 hours of watching dog behavior while judging and over 3000 hours watching dogs as a spectator. These numbers don't include the countless hours I've trained dogs private lessons, obedience and puppy classes and they don't count the years I've spent training my own pups too!
Well, if I didn't know it before than I guess it's time I come to terms with the fact that I've officially "gone to the dogs" and that if I'm not careful they may make a "Best in Show" type movie staring my Busy Bee!
But the real point of this e-mail is that I'm amazed at how dog training has progressed over the last 10+ years. The biggest lessons I've learned and wanted to share are:
  • Dog training isn't about the dog communicating with ME, but rather me adjusting my ways and communicating with the dog in THEIR language. They give us so many signals and we humans rarely pick them up. Instead we say "Why isn't he moving faster?" as we turn our back on our dog (which in dog language means 'leave me alone'), "He knows (fill in the blank)", "He's being stubborn", etc. I often wonder why it's all about us....and how did we become so self centered in this dog/human relationship. Don't get me wrong, we're not always like this, but when things aren't going our way, we tend to become self focused and ignore our partner. I used to get terribly nervous before running my Dalmatian in Agility. I've since learned that giving her a hug at the start line and looking into her eyes takes the focus off of me and puts the balance back in my world. I try to make that a habit now.
  • Another thing I've learned is that when encouraging/training a wanted behavior, rapid repetition (click treat, click treat, etc.) and breaking things down into smaller, more manageable portions is my friend! In other words, I shouldn't expect my dog to be brilliant if I'm only going to notice the unwanted behaviors and ignore all of those good things they're offering up.
  • One of the most important things I've recently been reminded of is that sometimes my dog needs to figure "it" (the thing I want them to do) out on their own and I need to patiently stand/sit there while they work through what I expect of them. Now granted, I'm talking in manageable steps, but gosh golly, if I step in every time they stood there staring at me and opted to lure them into position, I've given them no reason to think and they readily disengage their brain...the opposite of what I want! This one is hard, but as it's also been pointed out, I'm rarely standing/sitting there for eternity like it sure feels like!
  • I've also learned it's okay to be silly with my dogs, to get down on the ground and play with them or to run around the yard playing chase. While my neighbors may find my antics funny, it is really good exercise! Like my justification on that?
While I'm sure I'll come up with more epiphanies over the next several months, I'd like to hear from you. What have you learned during your time training your dogs?