Thursday, January 10, 2019

Things I learned from animal trainers

Most of you know, I'm quite the animal nut.  Over the years, I've had the opportunity to attend training presentations, watch trainers in action and have used a few trainers with my own dogs.  Dog training can be a bit like parenting, but that is a different blog.

I've been struck, a few times, at how training theories or methods can be used other places in life.  Here are a few.

Train with an open hand.  Keeping a tight leash (or rein) on an animal doesn't allow them the room to grow, nor the space to learn to make their own good choices.  To reward the good choice, there needs to have been a good choice made.  And many animals will react negatively to force, restriction or confinement. 

In human life, I do believe too tight of control (on others, on projects, on goals) will have similar ill effects.  I have a bit of a rebel in me, so try to control me too tightly and I will react strongly against you.

 Living with an open hand can also seen in being giving with kindness and the benefit of the doubt.

Always keep the goal in mind.  This is more subtle than always moving toward the goal (which is  good too).  We adopted a dog who was pretty much feral.  She hadn't been properly socialized with people, and was quite fearful  (some of you will remember Dutchy).  We really couldn't, especially early on, always move toward the goal.  But we could sure keep the goal in mind.  When she first came to us, she was very afraid of Don (men).  The goal was for him to be able to touch her, and approach her.  To get there, we started with him lying down on the floor bed, or couch. So she could safely approach him.  In time she approached him, then he could pet her once she approached him, then he could lean on one arm, later, sit up and so on.  Over time she became quite comfortable with him, and loved to snuggle with him.  But we couldn't have gotten there(I don't think) if we'd just started with him approaching her. 

Sometimes there are steps we must take to prepare, that don't look like the goal at all.  Ground work and preparation often don't feel like you are approaching the goal, and can feel like a waste of time, and even humbling.  But...plenty of people can hide behind "getting ready" forever.  Always keep the goal in mind, even if you aren't moving straight toward it.

Use the power of distraction or re-direction. There are lots of reactive dogs out there; barking at other dogs on the walk, at the door bell, at the mail man and so on.  One method is to distract them from the event, so they don't react. And then, over time, use distraction less and less, so that they are tolerating the stimulus, without overly reacting.  And, for instance, if they get enough treats during the "event", they may even look forward to the event.  I used this method with a food motivated cat too.  Eva wanted to kill Clyde when we first adopted him. So I'd let her be around him for a short while, and would give her treats while he was in her presence.  Over time, she cared less about his presence, even with treats, and as they treats went away, she was still fine with him.  Over the years, she came to like him, would sleep by him and groomed him.

Isn't this kind of like finding something fun to do, that happens to be exercise?  You don't notice you are exercising, because you are having fun.

Do you notice any "life lessons" in other places in your life?

I'm not an animal trainer, and have NO education or training as such.  I've undoubtedly bastardized some tried and true training theories and methods.  These are just my thoughts and musings.

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