I was in Crewe this weekend to present a talk on Free Will Teaching at Rixton Dog School in Warrington. We started with looking at what free will teaching is and it’s four stages – Subliminal, Shaping, Active, Partnership, then moving on to the basics of FWT techniques to teach our animals.
When we can teach understanding and awareness, we can then teach our animals real choice and decision making about how they manage themselves in daily life, what activities they do, and also to know how to regulate their emotional minds, and when to rest and relax to keep their minds and bodies healthy and strong.
There are so many misconceptions and myths about how much dogs and horses can learn, that teaching is often kept at a basic level, when in fact they can learn so much more. I have worked like this for years and my own, and clients, dogs and horses show the amazing achievements that can be reached by teaching without preconceived limitations.
The day finished with some lively and interesting discussions about applying FWT to problems and to further teach the companions we live with.
Everyone attending was really welcoming, supportive and interested in how I work, it was a real pleasure to teach and engage people to show what heights our companion animals can reach when we allow them to reach their full potential.
I’m doing another free will teaching workshop in Wimborne in April, with more dates added later in the year. Please do get in touch if you’d like me to put one on in your area.
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.
I’ve just received an advance copy of my book, A Tale of Two Horses.
To see all those pages of plain type become this wonderful book is amazing.
Huge thanks to Jude Brooks and the team at Hubble & Hattie for making this possible.
It tells the story of my first year with my two Thoroughbred ex-racers as they make the transition from reactive horses with behavioural issues to content, well balanced horses. My teaching is force free both physically and psychologically, enabling free will and ensuring the emotional mind is content, showing the reader how to apply the same principles and methods. If you know anyone who may be interested in it, please let them know.
You can buy it here http://www.hubbleandhattie.com/shop/HH4794/
Autumn is here. It’s getting pretty chilly at night, and time for many people to think about rugging their horses. Horses are rugged for many different reasons, and for some it is a necessity. If it isn’t, you may consider allowing your horses body to do what it does naturally – grow a winter coat, so there is no need to rug him.
The first step is to teach your horse to be aware of his body and manage his comfort accordingly. This involves showing him how to find shelter from wind and rain, rather than stand out and endure it. He is far less likely to need a rug if he does not stand out in howling wind or driving rain for hours on end! The other reason for teaching him to find shelter is that as you don’t need to rug him, it gives his body the ability to respond to the drop in temperature and stimulate hair growth, starting the process of growing a winter coat.
The next step is to only rug when absolutely necessary. Each time you do rug, you interrupt this process, so in order to have a really good winter coat that is capable of keeping your horse warm, the horse needs to manage his comfort so he doesn’t require rugging, other than the odd occasion.
The first year, his coat may not reach it’s full thickness, and there may be occasions when the weather is particularly bad, that he does need a rug. If this is the case, he will only need a lightweight one, or he’ll be too hot. In year two you will find that his coat develops more thickness, and you will probably not need to rug at all.
The final step is to relax and not worry! If your horse is out when the weather is bad, there is a tendency to think he must be cold. However, the combination of teaching him to manage his own comfort, and having a full winter coat, is good protection against the elements, and when you check, you mostly find that he is not cold, or wet underneath his coat. More likely is that as he is comfortable, he would rather be out grazing.
Deciding what to do first is not always easy, so today’s post is about prioritising. Life remains hectic here, and there is always so much to do. Updating readers is a really good way of looking at what you have on the go, and what needs to be done, when.
So, in no particular order, this is where I am at the moment.
Charlie and Star have just moved into their winter field after we’ve had some new fencing put up. They are very happy, and are spending all their time out there – I don’t think they’ve been in the barn for more than a drink. Training has taken a back seat, but I have a list of things that I want to teach them next.
My first book, A Tale of Two Horses, has gone to the printers, hooray! The last few weeks have been spent on final proof reading, adjustments and index writing, with not much time for anything else. Now this has finished, there is nothing more to do on the actual book, the next tasks will be marketing and promoting it.
Wolfie our Irish Wolfhound puppy continues to take up a good chunk of time each day. He’s now five and a half months old, his hormones have kicked in, and he is a teenager! He needs lots of time, patience and teaching to get through this difficult period. He is doing really well and mostly we have a calm and balanced puppy, who only occasionally loses the plot.
Puppy classes are busy, there was a quiet start to the year, but things have got a lot busier. I have three foundation courses on the go at the moment, all at different stages.
I’m part way through a series of articles on aggression for Kennel & Cattery magazine, which I am really enjoying writing.
I have also started my next book, which is about bringing up a puppy – as you can imagine Wolfie is providing me with lots of material for this, and reminding me of things I had forgotten. The last time we had a puppy was ten and a half years ago, with Indie our Great Dane.
I’m currently taking the writing101 course with WordPress, and am exploring different types of writing, as well as posting to this blog. I have some ideas about short stories, which is a new direction for me, as my writing is usually factual or technical pieces on animal behaviour and training.
Added to these things, I run my behavioural business and see clients, I teach art once a week, I try to keep up with facebook and twitter, and look after the house and farm, when hubby is at work!
On to prioritizing all these activities.
Wolfie remains my first priority. He is at such an important stage, and it would be very detrimental to his development and growing up to be a well balanced adult if I do not take the time to teach him.
The next consideration is what is important at this stage of his life? Where do I concentrate my teaching? Without a doubt, the most important thing to teach now is how to calm down his mind when he is over the top. Impulse control, self restraint and managing arousal levels in the brain is essential at this stage in his life. It will help mange this difficult period, and will teach him how to be in control of his emotional mind, not be swept along by it. Essentially, it will set him up to be a well balanced adult, who can manage his emotions, and his behaviour is guided primarily by his thinking brain, not his emotional brain.
Charlie and Star are at the stage where they will benefit from me teaching them more, but there is not an essential time-frame, or specific things that must be done now. They will enjoy my company, and we will continue to develop our relationship if I can spend some regular time with them, even if it is only in short sessions. They enjoy learning, and keeping it going, even when you only have limited time, is well worth it. We often think that there is no point if we don’t have enough time, but a little teaching when you can, soon builds up, and things are learnt without so much expectation to achieve them, which can be a benefit, depending on how your horse learns.
I’m really excited about writing my next book, and showing people how to bring up a puppy to be a perfect adult. There are so many dilemma’s as to what to do when dealing with puppy and adolescent behaviours, how to approach things to you don’t create future problems, what to teach and when, socialisation, and how to get through that very challenging teenager period. As Wolfie is providing me with inspiration and a huge amount of material to write about as we go through these things ourselves, I want to write this book as we experience life together.
Charlie and Star, and writing this book, are the next priorities after Wolfie.
Clients book in as they need to, so everything fits in around work.
Articles have deadlines, and so they temporarily take priority as necessary.
Social media, and promoting the business all have to be maintained, but there is nothing specific that I need to prioritize at them moment.
Whether you are juggling lots of activities, or don’t know what you should teach or develop next with your horse or dog, writing it down, noting time-scales for activities or specific behaviours, and going through the options, helps clarify what you do next and provides a way forward.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.