The World Canine Freestyle Conference and Competition in Greeley, Colo., is now history. The seminars were amazing and enlightening, and hopefully I will be able to share some of this valuable information with others who are interested in training their dog in a way that is incredibly enjoyable and rewarding for both the dog and the trainer.
The seminar presenters were from Japan, Holland, England, Canada and the U.S.
Andy Shimada from Japan taught through an interpreter, which was a bit frustrating, since you did not want to miss one word he said. He would look right at each of us as he spoke, knowing full well that we did not understand a word. We would wait eagerly for the translation. He teaches a program which he calls Habituation training. This, he says, is primary and should begin before any other training. He says that the brain and the muscles are closely related and we need to work with the whole dog. He would bring a dog from the audience and show how it would react negatively to being petted in certain parts of his body by different people. The dog needs to be desensitized.
The first step is to teach the dog to stand in a comfortable, relaxed position, which Shimada calls "freeze." The dog does not move. To begin this desensitization, pet the dog from front to back, head to tail. Some dogs are more comfortable with this than others. After working just with our hands on the dog, we begin to move around the dog while he stands in this "freeze" position. We only move on when the dog is totally comfortable with each move we make. This vital step in the training process develops total trust and confidence between dog and handler.
Shimada stresses the importance of food treats for positive training. Tug toys and balls are good motivators, but it requires breaking the rhythm of the training. He uses a tiny bit of some soft food that the dog loves and can swallow without chewing. Other positives come from the face of the handler and their voice.
Much of what we do in training, our body language, facial expressions and voice, is negative, according to Shimada. We must make ourselves aware of this and change it to a positive.
Linda Topliss, from Derbyshire, England, is an amazing trainer.
Watching her work with the dogs, you are immediately impressed with her quietness. She stresses the importance of relaying information to the dog that he can understand. To make a point, participants in the seminar work in teams, one person taking the part of the dog. The other person is to teach this person/dog a task without using words. It does not take long for us to realize how frustrating it must be for the dog when we call out these words or jerk him around trying to get him to perform a task, when he has no clue what that task is.
Topliss uses a clicker, her eyes and facial expression, as well as body language, to let the dog know when what he is doing is correct. The result is a happy dog, eager to please.
Communication is such a vital part of working with dogs. Dogs do not use words. We teach them to understand words, but their primary means of communication is body language. If you watch dogs playing together or moving among each other, you can see their positioning. It is all body language.
In one seminar, we all were given the opportunity to move our dogs from one position to another, using only our eyes. The experience was incredible. We spend so much time, energy and frustration yelling commands at our dogs and yet we can do most of it with no words at all. To begin with, naturally, our dogs must be taught to pay attention. However, our dogs will pay attention to us if we make it fun, challenging and rewarding.
Topliss would move a dog around the room and bring it to a desired position, using only her eyes, body positions and facial expression. She claimed to be using mental telepathy as well and it certainly seemed to be working.
She stressed that when we are asking the dog to pay attention to us, we must also be giving them our full attention. This makes for a powerful connection. The dog would be clicked and given a tasty, tiny treat when he performed as requested. However, if he deliberately did not do what he was supposed to be doing and went sniffing around the room, she would turn her back to the dog. Dogs hate this. As soon as they turned their attention back to her, she would reward them with a click, a treat and a pleasant facial expression. Words were rarely spoken. I have attended many dog training seminars with a wide variety of trainers, but I have never experienced a trainer with such a quiet strength.
Too often, we look at dog training as a chore, a drudgery, a necessary evil or we do not attempt it at all. Ten or 15 minutes a day of positive training can produce amazing results. The more we work with our dogs, the more we realize they can learn and want to learn and the possibilities are endless. And through this time spent concentrating on each other, the relationship grows beyond our wildest expectations. It is such fun. Try it. You will like it. I guarantee it.
-- Christy Powers is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.