Do you see what I see

by | Aug 21, 2023

Merrick looking alert

The purpose of learning is to gain
more and better rewards.


Doing Better is the Reward from Doing the Work

This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way. Your work may involve many different strands of learning that weave together. We roll up our sleeves to begin this work because we care enough about this dog and their future to invest in the effort. Do not hesitate to engage in the long process of earning genuine expertise; avoid the flimflam of a seminar promising expertise by 4pm.

The Right Work

The right work is effort spent on improvement; it may be a new skill or refining a raw understanding and blending into a new way of thinking or new ways of practising.

The choice of work will depend on where you see your future. You may want to learn more about reward processes, or learn to analyse movement or improve the quality of life skills. Seek to learn from people who share your values; those values will be evident in their body work not simply a label.

A successful trainer may have methods that lead them to achieve high levels but if their values do not align with yours the studying will be a conflicting journey translating their choices and application to your pathway. Values first and the choice of methods and application can then be trusted. Seek evidence of the underpinning values do not rely salesmanship or fake frontage.  

The right work will attract people of the same values and passion; look at these potential learning companions as they can be your support structure as well as honest evaluators with your interests at heart. Learning grows exponentially as we share individual challenges, constructive choices and outcomes.

The Right Time

It is always the right time. There is no such situation as the wrong time as we make the time right by simply doing the work. Even when we feel at our lowest stepping into work that requires our fullest focus, deep investment or simple motor-skill repetitions will have value and a warming, uplifting effect.

We did the work, we moved forward, we got better.

The Right Intent

The right intent will make a difference for this dog and all the dogs in our future. If we view the purpose as a specific outcome then our mindset whilst doing the work is not focussed on the work itself but the potential outcome. Although goal visualisation is promoted as a motivator it can spin us on the hamster wheel and we stop focussing on the learning as it is happening. It is not mindful learning. It becomes a never ending search for reassurance: from sports results, admiration, approval or perfect outcomes. When the work does not bring that outcome there is a high risk of disappointment.

Instead begin the work with the mindset that it is an opportunity for better: a better relationship with our dog, a deeper understanding of the processes, learning to see with new eyes, increased empathy for our learners. These are the real rewards of learning: the potential changes to our future and confidence.

Learning is the process
the outcome is a side effect

Seth Godin

The Right Way

The right way is the core of confidence. It is knowing that you have done the preparation, drilled the personal skills and set a standard that will uphold the test. You have examined the structures of the learning, built the foundations and done your homework: researched, asked the questions, explored the options, made the choices.

This will all come together when we begin the work. It feels on track, the results are evident and immediate. Dogs do not fail us in this: when we have it right they will reflect it and bring along a joy that makes all work worthy of effort.

The right way will contain many strands. Our work with our own dogs, or with people with their dogs, combines many skills each deserving of individual attention.

Observation skills require serious attention and we can learning from studying videos: seeking information from all the elements that are present. Identifying what is working, why it is working, how it works and what the results looks like.

I have done a video-study here of the Scandinavian Working Dog Institute introducing a pup to a sequence of indication at a target. This video is full of the skills of the trainer, the preparation of the pup and the well planned process of how the learning will evolve. It screams confidence because the work has been done.

SWDI labrador looking at a cone

Good observation skills will guide the critical choices you make for the teachers in your future. Learn to see beyond glossy presentation and pitch, see the connection, the pleasure, the quiet confidence.

Choose your studies with processes that will be to your benefit, particularly with video. When you then come to evaluate your own work, or work of others, you will be able to identify the learning gaps with specific material. If you begin with videos that are uncomfortable to watch you will become over-biased to seeing error and judging the choices. This is not constructional learning and it is likely to have a negative effect on your own work, particularly when you are self-videoing as your mind will keep focussing on what is not right, or not good enough, or at fault.

Have Confidence to Learn

Doing the work is about building confidence. A deep sense that we have done the preparation, we have been diligent in our choices and standards and WE DID THE WORK. It is not about imitation and copying the work of others but by choosing the coaches and teachers that will help us create our own work. It does not mean we need to travel solo but that our work and doing that work is the way we build our confidence.

There is a growing market selling you the work of others as a source of instant success and the easy route of avoidance of effort. Doing the work may not be easy but it is tremendously worthwhile. Who are you doing the work for? Your ego or your dog? Your bank balance? What do you care for most? The life your dog will enjoy or what other’s see?

This work is one of the highest payoffs that you can ever desire: that beaming face that says:

“This is what I am here for, can we do more?”

close up shot of a collie face

Key Reading

What is a Trainer?

I know what I am, as a trainer. But does my view of “A Trainer” coincide with, or even overlap with yours?

What’s Cooking? A Warning About Recipes

Recipes for “training” dogs are so prevalent in how we live with and talk about them that their existence often goes unquestioned.

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

Don’t Let Them Learn

Becoming aware that we share our lives with premier learners, dogs, is about saving you frustration, despair, anxiety and endless hours further down the road.

A Family of Multiple Dogs

Another addition is not just an extra bed and bowl. It is important to build a home that is healthy, content and well-balanced.

Science Doesn’t Have All the Answers

We lean on science in our efforts to bridge the gap as though it provides the answers to how things should be rather than describing how things are understood.

The Answers Await Discovery

The idea that we’re responsible for our dogs’ learning might well seem strange when we consider how we conceptualise “training:”

The choice of lure

Luring teaches trainers essential skills. We learn how to use suggestion and guidance to shape behaviours. We learn how to explain dynamic movement in the cues from our hands. In combination with reinforcement, luring has without doubt, been one of the skills I value most as a trainer.

No room for mechanics

If your ambition is to have good mechanics in communication to animals then you may find yourself blocked into a tight corner

A Cue or not a cue?

With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.

Top Training

Reasons to use a clicker

The concept of “being a clicker trainer” is always going to lead to argument and misunderstanding because it cannot exist alongside the science and technology. It is a “fakery” of our time. The clicker itself is a simple tool that when used in conjunction with technology provides clarity and understanding in teaching.

Nose Target. No thanks

Nose target is a popular behaviour taught to many dogs, and other animals. It seems easy to teach and have practical application, but it is often not such a pleasant experience for all dogs. There are many other options available that give the same practical benefit, without the unpleasant extremes.

Luring: Hand lures

Learning hand-lure skills, Collect the food, engage, follow, feed.

Duration: sustaining movement

Continuing and maintaining a specific movement

Stop doing that ….

Can we teach an effective Cease That Behaviour? Absolutely. We can teach that positively, without harm, and we should teach them the skills of stopping that and doing this instead.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Going Shopping

This is a joint travelling adventure. It completely resets the learning and can easily extend the reinforcement process.

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.

1 Comment

  1. Lise Pratt

    What a brilliant article! This is well written and right on point! Thank you!


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