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Monday, June 29, 2009

Setting Up for Success

How do you learn best? Are you visual? Auditory? Tactile? There are as many different forms of learning and learners as there are things to learn. (If you are interested in knowing more about human learning theory, Howard Gardner's book, Frames of Mind, is a great read.) Given the opportunity, I would guess that if you have something new to learn, you are going to set yourself up for success. You are going to try and learn this new thing in the way that you learn best. If you are visual, you are probably not going to get a CD to listen to, you will probably get a book with a lot of photos or watch someone doing what you want to learn; if you are tactile, you are probably going to want to actually DO what you are trying to learn. You are going to put yourself in the best possible environment and scenario to learn.

Dogs also have different learning styles. Unfortunately they are not so easy to define (for us mere humans!), but in establishing our relationship with our dogs, in getting to know our dogs, we can come pretty close to figuring it out. Figure out what motivates your dog -- food? toys? time with you or another favorite person? a walk? a nap? a particular "job?" Then use it! If your dog will do anything for food, use food to teach them the behaviors you want. If your dog loves his ball, use a round of ball playing as the reward for a good training session. If your dog loves to play with you, roll around on the floor with your dog after she has learned something new. Finding what motivates your dog will maximize the amount of learning he does as well as minimizing your frustration as a teacher.

Keep in mind that what motivates your dog today, may not motivate him tomorrow! Too hard? Nah, it just takes being in relationship with your dog, being in tune to what's going on with your dog. When it's hot out, your toy motivated dog may care less about the toy, but might turn inside out for a chance to play in the water. When it's cold, your usually food motivated dog might be better encouraged by a brisk romp in the snow. Observing and interacting with your dog will give you plenty of opportunities to assemble a "tool box" of things that will help you in your training. Assess this "tool box" often and utilize every bit of knowledge you put into it and your training will be successful for both you and your dog.

We don't use "cookie cutter" training for our dogs -- they are each individuals with individual preferences and learning styles. By individualizing their training, we set them up for success. Today, get to know your dog, set them up for success and enjoy the amazing results!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Journey

The one thing I hope and wish for people and their relationship with their dogs is that the people understand what dogs seek -- a symbiotic journey with their human. They don't want to just be there, be a part of the routine, sometimes be that extra "to do" item the human needs to take care of before going on vacation. Dogs seek to be an integral part of our daily, even hourly, lives. Dogs' lives are consumed by the desire to do what gets them what they want. They jump on the counter to get something yummy -- not to ruin your day. They pull on the leash to get to where they want to go -- not to fight with you. They steal your socks because they smell like you, their precious human, and to get you to interact with them -- not to "get back" at you.

We worked with four lovely ladies and their wonderful dogs yesterday; sharing with them a portion of the vast amount of information out there about therapy dogs. These ladies cherish the relationships they have with their wonderful dogs and are seeking to grow that relationship by sharing their dogs with other people. How inspiring they each are! Thank you ladies for understanding that you are on a journey with your dog and that your dog is so much more than "just a dog."