After spending many years searching for a mentor, in the animal world, that held values I could identify with, I read an article written by Kay Laurence that changed the direction my animal experiences would take. With so many different learning and teaching/training philosophies from which to choose, it is interesting to observe how dog handler’s are inclined to rely upon the philosophy that reflects their own every day beliefs. Central to Kay’s teaching are the concepts of connection, communication and respect. During the four years I have spent learning with Kay, I have had the opportunity to further explore my values and re-think the ways in which we influence the animal.
Coming from an educational background (and from my reading of a wide range of published papers) I believe that Piaget’s claim “ Play is the work of children” is too narrow. Like many other educationalists, I now believe that ‘clearly scaffolded play, sets the individual child up to succeed” and that should be with the work of teachers communicating understandings as the goal.
Recent training experiences and feedback (which I greatly value) have me constantly analysing and clarifying my thoughts. In some of this feedback, the word ‘independence’ has been mentioned a number of times. Outside of nose work, I am confused by what is meant by independence …what does it look like? Should a ‘large reactive’ (environmentally sensitive) dog be taught to be as independent as the ‘friendly white fluffy’ one?
Having owned both, that is, a congenial easy going Wire Haired German Pointer and an anxious, environmentally sensitive Wire Haired German Pointer, I believe not. To quote Ron Gaunt, “it depends…on so many elements that are individual to the dog and so many elements that are individual to each handler”.
For many decades, the goal of breeding dogs was to increase their ability do man’s work that is herding sheep, hunting, guarding their possessions, detecting dangers, guiding the blind as well as being a companion to man. This often became a symbiotic relationship. Nowadays, the breed of the dog often reflects the purpose for which they were bred. While this is of course a continuum and there are exceptions to any rules, generally speaking Spritz breeds are notorious for being more autonomous, while the Labrador is renowned as a good family dog. I do not believe we can suddenly expect all dogs, which have been moulded through their breeding to depend upon man, to suddenly be independent.
In terms of the handler, perhaps it is their life values that are the most influential. As a parent, I believed that it was my role to ensure my children awoke on time, were appropriately dressed and had a nourishing breakfast and set off to school with their homework and reading completed. I helped them with homework as this reflected and modelled the importance I put on their education. My children are now adults with families of their own and lead independent lives. I am not purporting this is the only way it should be done. ‘There are many paths up a mountain’, but this is the one I chose.
I know my core values of setting the learner up for success, carry over into my dog training philosophy. To me, it is important to have a high success rate. To achieve error free learning may require luring, micro-shaping, modified environments and the careful placement of reinforcers i.e. careful and sometimes intense scaffolding upon which to build future learning. Planning and criteria must be clearly thought out for each individual dog in order for progress to be measured and support or extension provided.
I am inspired and delighted that my dogs greatly enjoy my training methods and company! I am proud of our successes. Thank you, Kay!