Letter K, Number 9: part 2

The dog training seminar I attended in mid-july (see “Letter K, Number 9: part 1”) was about learning to read dog body-language (for film and TV). Body language is a HUGE topic. You have to look at the whole picture, AND at all the smaller components. Very few things stand on their own.

We talked about calming signals, distance- increasing and decreasing signals (etc.). We explored- briefly -all of the ways in which dogs use their bodies to communicate with each other, and with us (the humans 🙂 ).

*A number of comments were made, saying how helpful it would be to have a seminar on human body language to accompany the one on dogs. Cross-species communication is fascinating and taking a more in depth/scientific look at natural human body language (and its impact on human-human and human-dog communication) would definitely be something I would be interested in – sign me up!

We also discussed the following:

1. The importance of communication and planning, on going public and professional education and networking.

Learn to understand what is being said, to read between the lines (for both dogs and humans) and respond in a timely and appropriate manner.

Planning is EXTREMELY important. Living and working with dogs requires a game plan- don’t decide to fly by the seat of your pants. Make a plan, follow it, revise it if necessary. And practice, practice, practice.

Get out there! Living and working with dogs, we need to stay current, stay connected and share information with each other in order to improve the health, wellbeing and education of ourselves, our dogs, and others.

2. The large number of variables involved in any situation and observations on how each of those could be interpreted.

You must place things in context. Dog training is full of overlapping approaches and techniques, the cues we use, the meaning of certain postures or tones used in dog-dog communication and handler-dog communication all are incredibly nuanced.

For example: a wagging tail can mean many things based on the intensity, direction and height at which the wagging occurs; the dog could be happy, unsure, defensive or downright depressed. Take a look at the bigger picture, and make sure that picture is in context before deciding on a course of action.

3. The constant debate on method and application: When is e-collar training ok? Is dog training an art? A science? A mechanical skill? Does experience trump education? Or does education trump experience?

One participant was of the opinion that everything has its use, BUT that the equipment/approach MUST be used CORRECTLY by a person who has a THOROUGH understanding of how (and why) the equipment/approach is used as well as its applications. And as the participant was quick to point out, VERY FEW PEOPLE possess this knowledge. I am in agreement with all of the above.

For example: certain e-collars, such as vibration collars can be used to help train and communicate with dogs who are deaf or hard of hearing. *Under no circumstances do I support the use of prong, choke or shock collars. Pet dogs and working dogs of all shapes, sizes, ages, breeds and temperaments can be taught all skills and behaviours to fluency using current, humane, science-based training methods where learning is enjoyable for everyone.

Art? Science? Skill? My opinion: Dog training is all three! Renowned trainer Terry Ryan states: “Training is a science, an art and a mechanical skill,” and I agree. Like art, when done well, training and learning, working together is beautiful, intuitive, flexible. Behaviour is a science. And putting it all together (teaching the dog, the human, the behaviour, managing the equipment and environment) THAT is skill!

Experience and education? Well, each is equally important. You can have all the experience in the world, but without a foundation of knowledge on which to build and grow you risk falling behind and out of date. Similarly, you may have the knowledge, but without the opportunity to apply it in the “real world” you may have difficulty proving your competency.