It’s Not Training
It is most certainly planned learning. What is the difference?
Us. Our view, our mindset is the biggest hurdle to our own learning let alone that of our dogs. Many of us can easily view the learning that is ahead of an eight week old pup. They will “need” to learn the difference between indoors and outdoors: places to pee and get bonus rewards and places that don’t. It’s not house training, it’s certainly not house breaking, it is a build of the pup’s ability to memorise places of rewards and develop geographical awareness of their small world. This is a skill.
WARNING: three minutes of your life with lots of puppy squeaking liable to waken any mum ….
I had a litter of 2-3 week old pups and realigned their world by turning the whelping box 90° so that they were not lying in full sun. They were exploring to find a non-bedding area to eliminate. Even though their eyes were barely opening this was also a move towards the window. But after moving the box, they initially used that light source as a direction to move to pee, not the touch. It took them a few more days to learn to “find” the non-bed area again. Innate skills of a sense of location and awareness at 3 weeks old. Dogs can continue to develop this through their lives and given the opportunity take you back to your car on the misty day you get lost in the woods.
They know where it is. They will have learned that skill.
But have you consciously developed it or just expected as part of the parcel called a Really Good Dog? Regular trips to the same location where the pup explores outward in different directions from the same parking spot gives this skill a chance to bloom. They will learn their place of safety and how to return in the case of a threat; they will learn to recognise the scents and terrain that is familiar. But if that pup is transported a hundred new places, then placed down to “explore” under the label of socialisation, the skill stands very little chance of good development. It will be overwhelmed.
It’s not training. It is a carefully planned learning pathway, paced to suit that particular learner for their life ahead.
Building the skills for your dog enables them to be able to thrive in their future environment. Whether that is learning how to step away from unwanted approaches, maintain stillness when their immediate surroundings are active, or develop the fine motor skills that allows a dog to collect up an article whilst on the turn and not even break their stride.
A simple looking behaviour is full of skills: as the dog approaches with speed they will use their experience to assess the perfect point of contact needed to lift and carry that object. At the same time they will decelerate enough to be accurate in collection whilst turning in anticipation of their returning path to travel.
Travelling too fast without physical coordination is likely to cause an overshoot before the collection. Poor collection skills will force the dog to come to a stop and test-mouth the object before lifting. Poor carrying skills will slow the dog down on their returning journey.
This is not training. This is:
- Identifying the skills needed for successful completion
- Isolating those skills for the dog to build their experience and competency.
- Practising those skills with planned increasing difficulty
- Integrating those skills with other skills either in the chain or occurring simultaneously.
The plan would also include developing a range of complementary skills of physical fitness, motor coordination, strength and balance.
This is not about repeating 3000 retrieves.
This is not training. Think instead of building a skilful learner: planning your dog’s future and developing their skills to share your life.
Even their basic learning curriculum is very extensive but easy to overlook or overwhelm. Can a 7 month old pup be expected to walk along the street, assess the threat of 16 wheeled lorries and maintain a constant speed at your side whilst child on a skateboard approaches? I would be screaming into the woods under this onslaught and certainly hesitate about future opportunities for “a quick walk”.
Rose bushes and espalier apples trees are trained to grow in a decorative and functional way.
Do you really want to be a trainer? Or perhaps be a learning designer?