A Matter of Perspective

Training

Assuming you are in complete control of another being, animal or human, is a false perception which can lead to errors in judgement and raises significant safety issues.

Firstly, we can only control another beings movements, not his mind. We may think we control his mind, when we exert our will over him and make him do what we want, but we cannot control his thoughts or emotions, which is of major importance when learning, and if we are to stay safe.

For example, you want your animal to learn to do as you ask. Humans tend to keep trying if something doesn’t work, so from our point of view, this may mean one of the following things.

Continuing until you do get the result you were after.

Not worry about how you get that result, just that you get it; the end justifies the means.

You can easily see that from our perspective, being successful means you have achieved what you set out to do. But what about the animal you are teaching? Were they successful? If they did what you wanted, then yes, you could argue that they were also successful.

However, that is not necessarily the case. In order to be successful you have to see things from the animal’s perspective, not yours. Have you left the animal better off than before you interacted with him? If you’ve continued a lesson far longer than was productive, so that you could finish on a high, you feel satisfied, and might sigh with relief that you have persevered and it was worth the effort. However, the animal may well have a different view. Is he likely to feel relief from finally doing what was asked? Or is he likely to feel relief for the fact that it has finished and there are no further demands on him?

Similarly, what will the animal take from a lesson that is conducted from the viewpoint of the end justifies the means? Again, you will feel relief that finally the animal has understood you and done what he was supposed to. And once again, the animal will feel relief that the interaction is over. By trying to make ourselves successful we have made the animal we are working with unsuccessful, as what he has learnt from engaging in the encounter is not a positive or rewarding experience.

Will he be willing to engage next time? Not likely, and certainly not with enthusiasm. He may also have learnt that avoidance or active defence is his best course of action to ensure he is not put in this situation again.

Coming back to the title of this piece – a matter of perspective – teach yourself to analyse everything you intend to do from the animal’s perspective, and you will set yourself and him up for fun, engaging teaching sessions that result in success for both of you.

Advertisements

“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.” —Woodrow Wilson (28th President of the United States)

A true statement, and one that reminds us to always treat our dogs with compassion and understanding, regardless of what they may do or how they behave. This caused me to think of my puppy, Wolfie, who is going through his teenager stage. It is not easy to remain calm and composed when dealing with the resulting behaviours, but how people deal with this difficult period makes a huge difference to how your puppy’s personality develops as he becomes an adult.

Wolfie is 5&¾ months old and his hormones kicked in about 4 weeks ago. Living with any teenage puppy is difficult, and there are a few more considerations when your puppy is a giant breed. Wolfie is an Irish Wolfhound, weighs about 45kg and is the size of an adult German Shepherd. He still has a lot of growing to do.

Puppies are often very boisterous when they play, biting and growling, racing around, pouncing, and trying to engage with anything and everything, in a very happy and excited manner, flopping to the floor when they are worn out. When your puppy becomes a teenager, his arousal and frustration levels go up, and his tolerance level goes down. This results in the same type of play, but with a different emotional state, due to hormones and changes in his brain chemistry. He is restless, unsatisfied, and doesn’t know what to do with himself. Play is not so pleasurable, he gets frustrated, and as he tries harder to resolve these emotions, he tips into mania. This is not a balanced state of mind, nor is it one that can be easily distracted or calmed.

When Wolfie has a hormone surge, I am the obvious target for venting that frustration as the only moving object to interact with. He’ll use toys or branches of the trees as a means of getting it out his system and calming down when on his own, but not when I am about. Normal behaviour for a puppy going through the teenage period, but strategies need to be put in place to help him calm down. The emotions he is experiencing mean that he tries harder to achieve some relief, but gets ever more frustrated when that doesn’t happen. Your puppy is not enjoying this, he is trying to reach resolution, and that may mean an increased drive to interact with you, resulting in reverting to puppy biting behaviour, but without the restraint that he had when he was younger. It looks like he is intentionally trying to bite you, and this is when the relationship can break down. There is also an increased chance of injury, more so when the puppy in question is a giant breed.

This period is one that we often find the most difficult to cope with. Our puppy who has been taught how to behave calmly, not eat the furniture, or bite us, has lost the plot, and is once again doing all those things. Worse, he’s bigger, stronger, and far more intent on this manic behaviour than ever before.

It is important to understand that your puppy is not in control of himself when he behaves like this, he is not intentionally trying to bite you or destroy the furniture, although it seems that way. It is also difficult to control your own emotional response to his behaviour. We get frustrated and upset, asking ourselves why would he do that if he loves us? Why would he try to bite those who care for him, look after him and love him? It undermines our trust in our puppy, and may cause us to behave in a way that is not optimum for either of us. But, using force to handle the situation can put you both in danger, and the outcome is never good.

What should we do? Remember the quote at the start of this piece. How will your puppy feel if you meet his perceived aggressively challenging behaviour with aggressive behaviour of your own? What will his eyes say, when he looks at you? It’s hard-wired into all of us to respond to the things we perceive as a threat. Retaliation by striking out at our puppy when he is coming at us with his teeth, intending to bite, is a reaction that can happen before we have had time to process what we are doing, and that your puppy is not a threat, rather he has no idea what he is doing.

Instead, we must suspend our emotional response and approach this with the compassion and understanding it deserves. Our puppy is at the mercy of hormones and emotions, and what he really needs from us is calm behaviour and kind strategies, based in positive methods, that enable him to get through this difficult stage as easily as is possible. Approaching things in this way ensures that the trust between you and your puppy remains intact, strengthens, and develops. It results in you both have a better relationship and understanding of each other, a true partnership, and bond that cannot be broken.

Is Your Dog Content?

Wolfie 2 100615There are many aspects to contentment. How would you describe your dog when talking about him being content? What makes him contented and not discontented? Is he content with all aspects of his life, or are there areas which are not satisfying?

For a dog to be content with his life, we need to assess all aspects that make up his life and how he lives, and make each one the best for that dog. Every dog is an individual, and what makes one content, may not work for another. There is no right or wrong, no one rule for all, you should do the best for YOUR dog, and provide him with the things HE needs.

Play

How does your dog like to play? For some, play is a big part of their day, and they would rather engage in more of this than other activities. Play develops your relationship with your dog, and creates a happy association for both you and your dog. It also gives you a head start on working off lead and still being able to get your dog’s attention.

Exercise

What is exercise? We tend to think of it as going out for a walk, something that we should do every day, to give our dog exercise. In reality, every activity your dog is engaged in is exercise; be it playing with you, tearing around the garden on his own, playing with another dog, or going for a walk. There’s a certain expectation for us to take our dogs out each day, and that we are neglecting them if we don’t. But, this is not necessarily true. For some dogs, going out for a walk is not a pleasurable experience. There are reasons ranging from fear and anxiety, to pain, or loss of mobility. Choose the correct type of exercise for your dog’s age, abilities and preferences.

NOTE; Socialisation is very important, and going to different places and experiencing different things is essential for every dog to get to know the world, but there is more to this that just going out for a walk because you think you should, particularly if your dog is not receiving a good experience from it. I’ll talk about socialisation in another post.

Learning

Every moment of every day, your dog is learning. This is part of living. However, we can assist and progress natural learning by teaching our dogs movements, tricks, words & phrases, routines, and what to do in different situations. We can take him to classes to learn new exercises and increase his knowledge. We do activities together, such as running, Canicross and agility. A content mind is a mind that has stimulation, can work out puzzles, learn new things.

Diet

A huge subject, and one with many differing opinions. What suits one dog may not suit another. What you feed your dog will make a difference to how content he is with this aspect of his life. All dogs like to eat food that tastes good and is satisfying. It is also worth noting that different foods have different effects on brain chemistry, and regular meals contribute to a balanced mind, minimising the troughs and peaks that occur when we either eat, or are hungry, such as blood sugar levels, which in turn promotes contentment.

Affection

Every owner knows that look of contentment on the face of their dog when they are having snuggles and cuddles. This releases endorphins, which promotes feelings of security, and strengthens the relationship.

Comfort

Our dogs usually have a few places where they feel comfortable at different times of the day. Giving him access to these, and allowing him to sit and watch the world go by, or just hang around with you when you are busy allows him to be content without activity.

Sleep

All dogs need to feel safe and secure, and sleeping somewhere where they can relax and not feel anxious is essential to quality sleep. A lack of quality sleep can affect the mind in drastic ways, and interferes with a sense of contentment.

Himself

The final piece to the puzzle is to teach your dog to be comfortable with his own company. The key to contentment, is to be content within yourself. Getting the sections above correct for your dog, along with teaching him self-reliance so that he is also fine if he is on his own will lead to a sense of well-being, happiness and contentment.

Things I’ve learned along the way through life

1 Time

Training animals takes time. Teaching your horse or dog movements, tricks and routines takes time. The brain has to get used to the new movements so they become familiar, then your horse or dog has to learn the voice or visual cue associated with that movement, and only then can be sure that he knows what to do we ask him to give us that movement. Changing behaviour takes time. One of the key things when working with horses and dogs who have issues, is to change their perception of the issue. And that takes time. The horse, who is not confident enough to hack out alone, will not change his mind on this very quickly. It takes time for him to build his confidence and not worry about being away from his friends. The dog who is over-excitable around other dogs will not simply decide he can be calm and collected. He needs time to learn this new response when he sees a dog and anticipates play.

2 Prioritise

Life is busy. There is never time to do everything, so you have to prioritise. My puppy, Wolfie, is 5 & ½ months old. He needs a fair amount of guidance and teaching, as there is a lot he needs to know at this stage in his life. On the other hand, my horses have been with me for 2 & ½ years, and know a lot of things. We were starting to take things to the next training level before Wolfie arrived, but now he is here, his teaching takes priority over Charlie and Star’s, as their training is not time critical. For those of you following their training diary, apologies for it being sporadic at present. I also like to cook, but there is only so much time in the day, so this doesn’t always happen. I have a combination of short-term and long-term writing projects on the go, along with clients who have different needs and time-scales. My priorities roughly remain in the same order, but with a fair amount of short-term adjusting for upcoming deadlines. Being able to identify when a priority should change position is essential for keeping things together and getting everything done at the right time.

3 Setting realistic goals = setting yourself up for success

Recognising that you can’t do everything all the time, and choosing what to do means you are much more likely to achieve the items on your list that day. Let go of feeling that you should do it all and realise that it’s not a problem. If dinner is not prepared, if other things remain undone, or you didn’t get around to something you wanted to get done, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

4 Set your horse or dog up for success

This is essential to being a great teacher and trainer. You want your horse or dog to enjoy learning and be good at it. Learning can only be effective and enjoyable if it is rewarding and something that the horse or dog wants to do again. Setting them up for success means that you teach them in small steps, so they are able to understand and progress. Rewarding and praising them is essential to their perception of this being an enjoyable activity. It also means that you should create an environment where there is no fear, pain or coercion.

5 We’ll get there when we get there/ It takes as long as it takes

A great lesson to learn. Too often we have a set time-scale in mind, and feel that we must reach our goals at this point. Unfortunately behaviour does not work that way, and neither does your horse or dog. Each animal is different, and each will learn at a different rate. Some things will be easy and quickly learnt, some will not. The same applies to other things in your life.

6 Focus on the positives

We humans do tend to think about what was not right, did not go well, and was not good. Of course being aware of these things enables us to improve on them. However, there is a lot of negative energy attached to thinking in this way, so changing how you assess what you’ve been doing to look at the positive elements makes you feel good, which transfers to how you approach the next interaction with your horse or dog.

7 Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong

Hindsight is a great thing. We can spend our time berating ourselves for the choices we made, or we can learn from them and make different ones next time.

8 Adjust as necessary

This relates to all previous points; 1 to 7. By recognising our performance, strengths and weaknesses, we can adjust each point accordingly to achieve success.

1 – take the time needed for each job, and don’t rush it. 2 – improve your ability to prioritise. 3 – you can improve your goal setting when you have some experience of what you can achieve each day. 4 – if teaching wasn’t easy, assess how you can change things so your horse or dog is successful. 5 – don’t try to force learning to happen quicker than the horse or dog is capable of. 6 – train your mind to see the great things you are achieving, so it becomes normal for you to think this way. 7 – let go of what has happened, and adjust for the next time.

9 Celebrate progress

We don’t do this often enough, and whilst modesty is a good trait, we should also recognise and celebrate what we have achieved. It leads to a content mind, and feelings of satisfaction.

10 Use what you’ve learnt to improve

following all these points and using them to assess who you are, where you are going, and what you want to achieve on your journey through life will help you realise your ambitions and dreams. It leads to a happy and full-filled life for you and your horse and dog.

Why do I write?

I’ve always enjoyed writing.

To get those thoughts down on paper, before they’ve flown away, out of my mind.

To return to them, remember them and gain inspiration from them.

To challenge my perception, develop, and grow.

To explore possibilities.

Now I write with an audience in mind.

Can I give others inspiration?

Change their perceptions?

Help them explore new possibilities?

Writing is to share, to learn, to teach, to help each other.

Busy Times

Lots of things on the go at the moment, and not enough time for everything.

I have several writing projects on the go, course development, work with clients and their horses and dogs, and of course training my own horses and new puppy Wolfie.

Today I’ve been out to see a prospective venue for hosting my new courses for horses and their owners. What a lovely venue Hallsannery Farmhouse in Bideford, Devon is. This ticks all the boxes for my needs, I’m looking forward to hosting events there. The first is to be a 3 day foundation course in free will teaching and positive reinforcement methods.

Training for Charlie and Star has taken a back seat whilst I spend time with Wolfie. With less time spent on training, Star has decided that she should show me how to do it! So I get a lovely demonstration of exercises from her as she reminds me that I should be asking for them! Charlie stands by the exercise yard looking hopeful. It’s clear they want to do more training than they are currently getting. This is one of the many benefits of working with positive reinforcement, they ask to learn and train.

Training

Wolfie is 20 weeks old today and needs lots of attention and guidance at the moment, which is why I’m doing less training with Charlie and Star. He is doing really well, and with the same methods he already has a good amount of self awareness and is able to interrupt himself when in the grip of emotions – well, not all the time yet – he is still a puppy! His hormones have also just kicked in, so his first teenage phase is under way, a time that can be very challenging for owners.

Wolfie 210815

I’m also busy with the final tasks before my book A Tale of Two Horses, is finished and ready to go to the printers. Final edit done, we’re now on layout, last amendments and indexing. It details Charlie and Star’s first year with me and first experiences of positive reinforcement methods, and I’m really excited to see my manuscript in print.