In my 'about' section I talk about the science of behaviour and the research that has gone into various methods of training with positive reinforcement being the most effective and least stressful of all training types. Personally I have never agreed with forcing an animal to do something it doesn't want to, but I am all for encouraging with the right motivators.
I have unfortunately in my time had to undo training which involved aversive and often negative techniques which had actually escalated various behaviour problems or even caused new ones. I have seen dogs being laid upon and forced into positions in which they feel uncomfortable lead to someone being nipped or growled at as the dogs attempts to let the handler know they are very unhappy. I can honestly say I have never seen positive reinforcement create such a negative response in dogs. I have however seen aversive techniques lead to disaster. Aversive training can increase the negative experiences for a dog meaning the dog will either try to get away from the situation, refuse to perform, or if they feel threatened.. become aggressive. Often aversive methods can be so intense that it can force a dog to shut down. We don't want shut down dogs, we want happy and content dogs enjoying life.
However there is one thing I have noticed about some positive advocates, and that is that they never correct a dog. In all the research involving positive reinforcement, there is always some sort of correction for the dog being used in an experiment, be it a simple 'no' or a short gentle tug on a lead to let the dog know that isn't the correct response. Some form of correction fitting for that dog. In dogs that have not had any correction there are often other problems arising, such as pushiness, resource guarding and inappropriate behaviours within the home such as aggression to the owners. It's not that positive doesn't work, it is simply a fact that a dog needs boundaries.
I talk about bonding with your dogs as a two way thing, its about respect, but in the friendly way, understanding what each other's limits are and either accepting them or coming to an acceptable compromise. This is where all dogs are different. What works for one, will not work for another.
So when I am working on behavioural problems, I will look at other parts of the home, see what boundaries there are and the personality of the dog/s in question. Is a dog allowed to sleep on the bed? If that dog becomes aggressive when it is on the bed, then it is likely wanting to be on that bed very much. So you need to find something it wants more, and teach it to respect that it is only allowed on the bed when you say so and teach it to get off when you ask. This is just one possible problem.
Obviously aggression is not acceptable and you don't want to inadvertently reward the aggression, so its about leaving time between the aggressive display to get it out of the dogs mind and instead reward the behaviour you want it to perform. Eventually the dog will realise that if it steps off the bed nicely when you ask, it will get a reward. This is where teaching the dog a 'no' or some sort of correction word is invaluable so it is aware that the behaviour it is performing is undesirable. Dogs naturally want to please their handlers. Obviously if you have a dog that thinks the bed is the best thing in the world and won't let you near it... it's probably best not to allow the dog access to the bed full-stop. Though this may be difficult for some people to come to terms with, there is always the option of giving the dog its own bed near your own if you want it to sleep upstairs.
The whole point of training and interacting with your dog is learning the nuances of it's personality, its needs, its wants, much in the same way you would cater to a human friend. They certainly deserve the same amount of respect. It's about understanding these things that will lead to the best relationship you can have with your dog.
I have now officially held three training classes. It has taken a while for things to really get going, some people have missed classes, had other problems etc, but today we really got to work with the classes. It was much more structured than previous weeks,whilst being looser than your average training class. We have been doing a mix of formal and informal work.
I have taken to a structure of the first 5-10 minutes being a time to get the dogs focused on their handlers doing some loose lead walking, jogging and play. We then spend the next 30 minutes doing structured work where everyone gets to work at the same time. I feel it's important that handlers and their dogs do not stand around doing nothing during classes as it can become boring for both handler and dog and then focus is lost and that's when dogs begin to play up and handlers get frustrated.
We do have some dogs with issues in the class and I have ensured that class layout benefits the dogs to reduce stress. I have been observing each dog and handler carefully to make sure I can get the best out of them. During formal training so far we have been working on heel work, sit, down and introduced recall. Throughout I encourage the handlers to really engage with their dog to keep the focus and make the dog more willing to work WITH them. I've been involved in classes before and have often seen what seems to me almost a battle of wills between handlers and dogs. I do not agree with forcing a dog to do something, and so if a particular task is not working for one handler and dog I suggest breaking it up with a different task and go back to the difficult one later once both handler and dog have relaxed a little more.
I have seen improvements in the dogs during class already which has been fantastic. I thoroughly encourage handlers to bond with their dogs in a variety of ways and it's really what works for the pair. There is never a 'one size fits all' with a dog and handler relationship and its finding out what really makes each pairing tick which will help guide the training.
At the end of each class we spend 5-10 minutes again just doing some focus exercises but try and encourage the dogs to de-stress and relax a little to ensure that training remains a positive experience for them. It's lovely getting to meet handlers and their dogs and really get to know them. I look forward to many more weeks to come.
I decided to have a look through some images I have taken in the last coupleof years and came across some I thought could use a little re-editing, and even some I hadn't even touched before. After doing some black and white editing lately I decided to have a play around with some older photos, a mixture of some of the dogs I have had the pleasure of meeting and playing with, some on a photo shoot, others as regular visitors to our household. One thing I love about going back is remembering the days of each image captured, what the weather was like, the mood in the air. It all adds up to making a moment a permanent memory to remember.
I am a huge fan of dynamic images, capturing things in motion. I often prefer to work in colour to be as close to what it was during the shoot as possible.. but there's something about black and white. I'm not sure if its because instead of glaring colours hitting you, instead you are drawn to the finer details, or perhaps the feeling of the moment seems to come through more clearly.
In an effort to grow my love of black and white images I have been playing around with the format. Taking different pictures to see if I can alter the feeling or emotion within the picture, or truly capture the joy as seen here in Serendipity as she charges into a deep and muddy puddle after a toy. The focus in her gaze, the splash of the water, the freezing of motion, it all speaks of the moment captured and held still.
So how does this work with landscape/scenery pictures? Again I feel that often black and white seems to just capture the character of the place or scene so much better than a colour image. You have likely seen some of my landscape photos in an earlier blog, all in black and white and sepia. Maybe it's a personal liking for old vintage photos, before colour imaging was even possible. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I would love to hear others ideas about it. In the meantime enjoy some more local images I took recently.
This saturday the 11th January will be the official start date of training classes in Coggeshall village. I am beginning to get excited. I have been working out training schedules, figuring out some fun activities to end the classes on, and I've been deciding where to place each dog in the session during the formal parts to ensure we have the ideal personalities working next to each other. We do not want any clashes as we know that negative experiences can make the difference between something being a small training issue, and something becoming a major behavioural problem. I am aiming for the classes to be as fun and engaging for both the owners and their dogs to provide an optimal learning environment.
I know I myself have got bored during some formal training classes so I will be trying something new with mine. I am hoping everyone enjoys their first training experience with me and will continue to do so. I consider myself very flexible when it comes to giving classes. I will be asking for input each week from attendees asking what they thought worked well, what didn't and things they would like to try. It's not just about creating a batch of dogs that know commands and perform upon asking, it's about finding things which enhance the bond between owner and dog so they have a happy working relationship together. After all happy dogs and owners mean less behavioural issues in general.
Let the fun begin!
Dog Trainer, animal lover, artist and photographer