Free Will Teaching Workshop

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.

http://www.freewillteaching.com

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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.

Teaching the clever way

The animals we work and live with do not know the dangers of our human world, yet we often expect them to behave as if they are fully aware of such things. We expect them to give us an appropriate behaviour for the circumstances they find themselves in, often without thought for the fact that animals are a different species and so will have different instincts and behaviour to those we want them to express. A human behaviour trait is to try harder if the first time we ask doesn’t work. You ask your dog or horse to do something, and they don’t comply with your request. One of the first instinctual responses you have is irritation, and so repeat your request in a stronger manner. Our first choice is often to apply more pressure, in the form of force and coercion. It’s all downhill from there, as you employ increasing pressure to make the other party do what you want. Again, a human trait, that you must not back down, you must show strength or you will be considered weak, and whoever you were trying to tell what to do will then be in charge of you. This piece of advice is often given to horse and dog owners, with the label of dominance. However, dominance is a human concept, inappropriately applied to how we interact with animals.

The best piece of advice to give to people regarding this, is to forget you heard it, stop thinking you must do what someone else says you should, and instead, start using common sense and genuine care for the animals you are with.

You do not need to make your animal feel scared or unhappy.

You do not need to follow rank reduction programmes, or dominance theory.

You do not need to continue until the animal does what you want.

You do not need to listen to advice that you should not let your animal get away with anything, they must obey at all times.

You do not need to listen to advice that you should withhold love, affection and comforts as your animal will come to expect them, and think he is in charge.

Some of my clients actually sigh with relief when I tell them this.

It is said that doing everything before your dog will show him you are dominant and the alpha. You must eat first, go through doors first, etc. IT WILL NOT.

Your dog will just get hungrier whilst you eat, usually resulting in attempts to secure some of your food! Your dog does not understand that whoever goes through a door first is considered to be the most important – he just wants to get out in the garden.

That continuing to force your horse until he gives a behaviour will show him you are in charge and dominant. IT WILL NOT. Your horse will become increasingly anxious and learn that you are a source of pain, and to be avoided.

If you don’t show him who is boss he will run rings round you. HE WILL NOT.

Allowing an animal to do something different to what you have asked, or choose what he wants to do will lead to chaos. IT WILL NOT. A lack of teaching will lead to chaos, plain and simple.

There is a better way, and that is teaching with positive methods, giving a choice, and using positive reinforcement for the best conditions for learning, improving confidence and self awareness. This in turn gives, safety, reliability, and contentment.

When I am with animals, I am not the alpha, leader, or in charge. I am part of our group, whether that is me and my two horses, me and my dog, or another scenario. We each have strengths, preferences, things we enjoy, and whoever is best for the task at hand is the one the rest of the group is guided by. A true partnership is about giving all members of the group the ability and freedom to express themselves and choose what they do or don’t do, as long as everyone is kept safe.

So how do we achieve this?

I am their teacher, helping them understand how to interpret this human world they live in.

As they learn, I become their guide, suggesting a good course of action.

As they become aware, they become my guide; I go along with their choice as long as it isn’t dangerous, or completely wrong for the situation we are in.

As our relationship of trust, understanding, and awareness develops, we each contribute to what we do that day, and how we solve any difficulties along the way.

Cas

A Tale of Two Horses – Book Review

My first review has just come in. The very talented and lovely Sarah Fisher has given it a fabulous review. Read it here.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and found Kathie’s honesty and self-awareness, as well as her true love and understanding of the glorious Thoroughbred, delightfully refreshing. This is more than a tale of two horses; it is a celebration of the harmony that can be achieved when we take time to observe, listen to, and learn from animals whether we are experienced guardians or not.

Kathie combines her knowledge as an animal behaviourist with an innate sensitivity to liberate two ex-racehorses from anxiety, and enable them to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives as valued companions. She explains how scientifically proven positive reinforcement can be used successfully to educate and rehabilitate troubled equids thus negating the need to employ all too commonly championed aversive techniques (stemming from misguided conceptions and beliefs) that rely on suppression, fear and force.

Anyone who has a passion for horses or an interest in animal behaviour will find this publication a peaceful, inspiring and rewarding read.’

Sarah Fisher

Emotional Learning in the Performance Horse.

Whatever activity you and your horse engage in, be it eventing through to showing your horse, you start at the start, and aim to progress in your chosen activity. Some horses show a real talent for the activity you do with them, and can progress very quickly up the ranks. Time is spent teaching yourself and your horse to improve and achieve more.

These are two of the three essential elements to continuing to progress and realise your goals. The third is the one that is often forgotten, or not even known. And that is your horses psychological development.

If he is gifted at what he does, he may well find that his abilities put him in situations that his emotional mind is not yet able to cope with. To avoid this, and help your horse be the best he can be, add sessions that develop the emotional mind.

Give him different experiences so he gets used to the many different things he may be exposed to. Use some competitions as emotional development training, teaching him how to manage himself and cope with whatever novel things are in the arena/course, without pressure to perform. Finally, take emotional learning experiences at a pace he is comfortable with, and he will be reliable and confident wherever you go.

“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.