In our first blog post we talked about our goals with regards to training dogs and their handlers. We said we believe that dog training should be about becoming a team with our dogs and working in partnership with them. Now we would like to share some more detailed thoughts about the nature of the relationships we form with our dogs as well as the ways we engage with them: We believe that dog training should be all about cooperation with our dogs. In an ideal training session both the human and the dog within the partnership bring something to the process and both take something new away from it. Training, in our opinion should not just be about us teaching our dog a new trick, it should be about working together with our dog and harnessing both our and our dog’s individual dispositions and learn something new. For that to happen we need to actively engage both partners in the learning process. Only then they will both enjoy the activity and the training session will lead to the best possible outcome. We call it Cooperative Training!
While all this might sound very plausible, it can sometimes be difficult to make sure that training is actually of a cooperative nature. We have to constantly assess what is going on to avoid us unconsciously taking over and potentially ignoring our dog’s specific talents and needs: Especially in competitive training it is easy to fixate on perfecting a specific behaviour and therefore lose sight of our dog’s needs. Common examples would be pushing our dog within a training session when they are already tired or taking an exercise to the next stage when the behaviour isn’t quite ready for it. Other examples might be more subtle: It could be that we are trying to use specific types of reinforcement that our dog just doesn’t respond to very well (choosing the right reinforcement is a massive topic in itself and we will look at that in a separate post in the future). Either of these examples can easily result in increased pressure and frustration for both partners and ultimately inhibit the learning process and damage the relationship with our dog. This is why it is incredibly important that we get to know our canine partners as best as we can and learn about their preferences and needs. It is important that we listen to what our dogs tell us about their training needs rather than assuming or just following a blueprint.
So we need make sure that we as handlers don’t ignore our dogs’ needs – but what about our dogs’ influence on the training? As we said above, we strongly believe that it is important for both partners to be happy and comfortable within their training. And we also believe that both partners should play an active part in their joint learning process. This means we actually want our dogs to bring something to the table, we want them to train us to some extent. We want them to teach us new games, to tell us when they are up for a training session, or even decide what they would like to do as a warm up routine before an Agility run. Why shouldn’t our dogs be allowed to have a choice about how they want to engage with us (choice – another big topic that we will cover in the future)? As long as we are comfortable with it we will happily embrace “being trained” by them. By allowing them to make choices and to actively engage with us, we can improve our training as a result of increased motivation and positive relationship development.
We believe that co-operation is what makes the relationships with our dogs so special. When both partners bring something to the relationship and get something out of it, when they communicate with each other and pursue the same goals, that is when we feel that special connection with our dogs, and that is when we can see these amazing developments that we talked about in our first blog post We strongly believe that the best training sessions are those where we actively cooperate with our dogs, allowing them to influence the training session and making sure that both partners are comfortable with what is going on. There are probably people out there who would agree as well as some who disagree with our thoughts on the matter - so why not drop us a comment? We would love to hear what other people think about our idea of Cooperative Training.