In an attempt to differentiate and demarcate, it’s common for trainers, their businesses and training organisations, to invest a lot of effort into discussing what they won’t do, what training tools they won’t use, and how they won’t treat or handle your pet.
And while transparency is good, and historically, in this industry, it has been valuable, we aim to emphasise standards, rather than limitations or restrictions, and what we do, rather than what we don’t.
Here’s the thing, we don’t really do training. There isn’t some established definition of ‘dog training’ but the term certainly carries with it many connotations, synonymous with discipline, obedience and control.
We have come a long way in teaching others, and in our role, we have students of different species, each with needs, abilities and expectations.
But, the dogs are the vulnerable parties, whose humans want help to understand the needs of their pets.
It’s all education. And both species require a safe learning environment, free from intimidation, with copious amounts of support and guidance.
The modern dog
Dogs live with humans, which has provided them with many advantages. But, this arrangement also deprives them of so much, largely because our expectations of them and their behaviour are unrealistic.
As humans continue to live both busier and more sedentary lives, dogs spend longer in virtual social isolation, confined in under stimulating environments, with little consideration for their behavioural needs, to the detriment of their welfare.
Dogs are expected to and must inhibit their tendencies, their behaviour, their very dogginess just to live with us and when they don’t, their lives are at risk.
We put a lot of effort into management; setting up the dog’s environment so they are less likely to make mistakes. Unwanted behaviours, those mistakes, are usually normal dog behaviours. Management alone, suppresses dog behaviour even further, so we don’t do management alone.
What a dog needs
So far, we are talking a lot of what we don’t do. Instead of “training”, our programs help identify and provide for the dog’s needs, while supporting the human owner and making sure everyone’s welfare is maintained.
Foundations, we guide you in establishing, will always lie in helping the dog live an appropriately enriched life and the relationship between both learners, human and canine, being enhanced through engagement.
We work on engagement, and everything else follows – this makes “obedience” just not an important thing.
We concentrate on teaching behaviours that benefit the dog in their life with their human, and that help the dog and their human live together.
That’s what enrichment is supposed to do; provide dogs outlets for their natural behaviours, providing them with coping skills for the world we keep them in.
Be aware that ‘training’ and learning, for your dog (and for you), is happening all the time, whether you are involved directly, indirectly or not at all.
That’s why we use naturally occurring cues, rather than barking out “commands”. All behaviour is cued by something, even behaviours that we don’t like. Those cues prepare the dog to anticipate outcomes that may relate to them feeling accordingly.
We analyse those cues, or triggers, for behaviour, and teach the dog to carry out some other healthier behaviour in response. This allows us to take a reinforcement based approach and minimise the use of aversives.
“Obedience” is not prioritised as, in our experience, we don’t think that’s what you and your dog needs at all (more here on the whys).
Our species is obsessed with obedience, discipline, control, dominance. Instead of emphasising training exercises, let’s provide our dogs with experiences.
Allow them to navigate our world, as dogs, using their senses, their cognitive approaches, letting them find their joy, allowing them to work it out. We can be their guides (it can be appropriate and acceptable to both species), jumping in when asked, sharing their joy, basking in their silliness.
This provides dogs with important life skills – stuff you can’t teach through “obedience” or control. Their humans learn how to shape their dogs’ experiences and together they navigate their world.
An enrichment based approach
Enrichment is about providing captive animals, including companion dogs, with outlets for normal, natural, necessary behaviours. Many people don’t seem to know what constitutes species-typical behaviour and requirements for dogs or about breed/type specific requirements – dogs are just expected to conform.
And, it seems, that the term ‘enrichment’ and its application, have been somewhat co-opted and apparently are thought to be about puzzles of ever increasing complexity.
That’s not it at all. And that’s why I wrote and developed #100daysofenrichment – it’s essentially a complete “training” program, providing both canines and humans with skills and knowledge required to live together happily and healthily.
No woo here
While all this might sound a little bit out there, we assure you that everything we do is grounded in evidence and sciences relating to animal learning, animal behaviour, human teaching and animal care.
We take a systematic approach to carefully analysing the dog’s environment, lifestyle and behaviour. And then we translate that for their human so that they’re not hit with too much jargon or technicality.
Our entire conversation about dogs is from our point of view; how much they love us, how they were sent here to help us; I mean, we say that a dog loves us more than he loves himself.
We talk about the wonders of dogs, but this is largely acceptable only on our terms, via our Disney-version of dogs.
Dogs are wonderful as dogs, just being dogs. Real dogs, uninhibited by human burdens and expectations, doing things that are so often perplexing, and even disgusting, to us, being dogs living their best dog-lives.