During the pandemic, I started learning to draw and paint. Doing so helped crystalize which online materials were helpful and effective, and which were frustrating. Many tutorials led to expensive art paper being tossed in the recycling bin. Online learning can be frustrating. I was certainly frustrated with “This is how you paint a flower” tutorials. I tried so many of them. Some had elements that were very good. For example, Louise DeMasi and Liron Yanconsky had technique drills. Many were simply a “copy what I do”. I copied, and the results did not. That was frustrating.
I see it in my dog classes all the time. People google tutorial after tutorial, looking for solutions to questions like, “How do I get my dog to stop jumping?” They become convinced that they “tried everything and nothing worked.” That has got to be frustrating. Dogs get blamed a lot when things do not work out. You hear it when people say, “My dog is stubborn/defiant/dominant, nothing works.”
Compounding the problem is that experts online disagree with each other. I bet families want to scream at the screen, “Did you not take the same courses in school?” I call it the curse of the unregulated industry. Everyone has an opinion and no one has to defend it with facts. Remember this: Opinions end where facts exist. Dog training is the application of a science. We have facts.
True professionals do not have magic, special energy or even talent. They have developed their skills and learned the science. That’s a good thing because you cannot be reborn with talent, find magic or reach out to grab a little good energy.
You can develop skills and make dog training magic happen.
That is very much like learning to paint. If you follow an instructor like Lee Angold’s blog that is hard core technique, someone who teaches brush stroke drills or colour theory, it might not be as exciting as, “Learn to paint this flower.” But, it does teach you to paint and the results are vastly different. Copying an expert who does swoosh of paint here, there and voila – when you don’t have good brush work is destined to create an underwhelming painting that isn’t quite satisfying.
That is what often happens in dog training classes. Trainers take the leash and do this, that and VOILA, the dog is a rock star. The dog goes back to their family and in minutes the dog cannot or will not do what they clearly could do a moment before. It’s not magic. It’s technique.
Everyone should be able to understand, to empathize, with this idea. Whatever profession or hobby one does, if you do it well, you earned it success through practice. People can’t copy a fancy pastry on a whim because they skipped drilling the skills. A noob can’t build cabinets like a pro because they haven’t learned how to stain and varnish without streaks. You can’t drive Nascar because you watched Canada’s Worst Driver religiously.
Traditionally, dog training has been presented in terms of dog skills. “This is how you teach a sit, down, come, weave poles or back stall….”. It’s just like popular tutorials that teach people to cut their bangs or rewire the house. I’ve done electrical by google. It’s not fun. (It was a light switch, still not fun. The consequences could have been very bad.) It’s not how professionals learned their skill. So why would we expect novices to learn well while skipping the core critical skills? We shouldn’t.
What right do I have to challenge so many tutorials and classes that teach this way? Because it’s not my way. It’s been around for ages.
Going back to the 1800’s, you can find technique based training in the hunting book, “Practical Dog Training.” For many decades, technical, results based training was used in the cold war era. Cats were trained to do espionage work. Marine mammals searched for underwater mines in open oceans. Technical training is old school. It’s so old that some of it predates the science. Decades of science then confirmed why it worked so damn well. Decades of research gives us a body of FACTS that we can rely on. They work, just like gravity works. Technique based training is how I learned many years ago. This is not anyone’s way. I’m just passing on the information that I serendipitously (and with a lot of hard work) learned. Technical skills aren’t new.
Learning a few critical techniques creates fast effective dog training. At some professional conferences, trainers are given eight minutes. In that time, they need to teach a dog that they have never met, a skill the dog has not learned before – and put it on cue (command). It can be done. I’ve done it. But families don’t need to reach this level of speed to feel damn proud.
Back to painting for a second. Today I have been painting for two months. I am not a professional, but I feel good enough to hang a painting on my wall. I don’t have painting talent or magic. Coaches who taught technique drills helped me to improve quickly and so I feel deeply pleased with the results.
For families with dogs, there is no need to do an 8 minute skill session. It is however, reasonable to want results and to value the benefits of drilling human technique. It’s also reasonable to see a dog shine, to achieve the potential you knew they had all along and to say, “See, my dog is smart!”
Learn the HUMAN mechanics involved in dog training, and the dog will learn.
By learning and becoming decently proficient at just one, very easy skill, the door opens to teaching many behaviours – QUICKLY. We’re going to start with one skill in the next blog. Then we’ll look at common pitfalls to success. Finally, we’ll explore many ways this one skill can be adapted and used to teach a wide array of behaviours and solve many problems.
Maybe technique focused training doesn’t sound that sexy. It works. Over the next few blog posts, I hope that just like my in person clients, you’ll have that lightbulb moment where your dog, and YOU start to shine. Join me, sign up to our alerts on our website, follow us on Facebook. A few core drills is the only thing standing between today and future dog training success!