Monday, 26 September 2016

The 7 habits of highly effective dog trainers

The 7 habits of highly effective dog trainers  is not just about professional trainers.  If you are training your dog,  you too are a dog trainer.  Perfecting some of these great habits will help you become more effective.

Highly effective trainers are organised

I know that a lot of keen outdoorsy and doggy folk shy away from planning their dog training.  They associate planning with work, offices, and bureaucracy.   However, to get the best from dog training sessions you really do need to be organised and make a plan.  An effective  trainer will often keep a few notes on what he achieved in a training session and jot down a few targets for the next one.  I keep a separate A6 notebook for each dog with the dog’s name on the front.  It is small enough that I can easily fit several  in a pocket and that way I don’t (often) waste time standing in the middle of a field wondering what the hell I am supposed to be doing!

Highly effective trainers can see the world from the dog’s point of view

An ability to view the world through the eyes of a dog is one of the good trainer’s best attributes.  Dogs do not see things the way people do, and understanding a situation from the dog’s perspective enables the trainer to anticipate problems and make fast effective decisions.

Highly effective trainers expect their dogs to behave like dogs.  This avoids a lot of disappointment.

This kind of understanding comes very naturally to some people,  we tend to describe them as having ‘dog sense’.  But it can be learned too,  by any one willing to take the time to find out how dogs actually think and learn.  This information is available online,  and in good books on canine psychology.

Highly effective trainers are persistent.

Dog training can be tough.  Whether you are training just your own dog,  or other peoples, there will be times when you don’t feel like training,  or when you seem to be stuck in a rut, and failing to make progress.  There can be days when your dog appears hell bent on forgetting everything you ever taught him.   At times like these persistence is required to work through and stick at the task.

Highly effective trainers  set their dogs up to win

There used to be quite a popular strategy in dog training,  of teaching a dog a command under fairly undemanding circumstances and then challenging his obedience to this command under a range of different circumstances.    This is essentially setting the dog up to lose so that he can be ‘caught in the act’ of being naughty, and  punished for doing so.

Setting a dog up to win is achieved by training in small incremental steps that are easily achievable,  moving those goalposts slowly,  mixing more difficult exercises up with plenty of easier ones,  and preventing the dog getting into situations where he can reward himself for being naughty.   This kind of non-confrontational training is not always straightforward to ‘set up’,  especially as training advances,  but it is extremely rewarding,  and teaches the trainer a great deal.

Highly effective trainers are patient

This is one that I have to work hard on every day of  my life.  I am not a patient person.  But dogs,  like children can teach you patience if you let them.

When you find yourself irritated with your dog, it is often because you have rushed ahead before he was ready,  or tried to ‘test’ him or ‘show off’  his new skills in front of friends.  Remind yourself it is not a race.  Always allow twice as long as you think it will take to achieve anything new.

The highly effective trainer has the utmost respect for the limitations of the dog.   Retracing your steps when the dog fails to grasp what you want,  starting over, remaining calm on days when your dog appears to have the attention span of a gnat and the IQ of a melon,  are all helpful strategies for demonstrating that respect.

Highly effective dog trainers are reasonable 

Dogs learn by the consequences of their behavior.  We train  dogs by manipulating those consequences in a precise and reasonable manner.

It is unreasonable to punish a dog for behavior he cannot control or to fail to reward behavior that is appropriate.   It is unreasonable to punish and confront a dog if there is a better way to achieve the desired result,  or if the desired result is not important.

These are judgement calls,  and to make these judgement calls, dog trainers need to equip themselves with adequate behavioral knowledge and understanding.   It is unreasonable to attempt to train an animal without this fundamental equipment.

Highly effective dog trainers are always learning

We have all met the trainer that thinks they know all there is to know.   You may have been to a class where the trainer’s attitude is  “its my way or the high way”

However,  really effective trainers are aware of their own weaknesses (and we all have some of those).   They know that there is always more to learn from other people and from other dogs.

They know that there is more than one way to train a dog.  And they are able to adapt methods to suit the sensibilities of different dog owners and the wide range of temperaments of the dogs that they train.  A little humility and a thirst for knowledge goes a long way in dog training.

How about you?  What do you think is the most important habit or quality in a highly effective dog trainer.  You can share your thoughts using the comments box below

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