I have always been very conscious in really thinking about how dogs learn and how we can influence success and accelerate learning with changing habits. I was reading an article the other day about how we get into our habits without really thinking about them. It made me giggle, so I have to share! The example they gave was how we put our underwear on. If you think about it, when we put them on we lift one of our legs first, before the other. We might put our right leg in first before the left or vise versa. We don’t have to think about it, we just do it. And we most probably started doing it that way when we were knee high to a grasshopper and one of our parents showed us how, by putting them on us the way they put theirs on and we’ve always done it that way!!
When I run my seminars and workshops I always have a bit of fun with the audience. I explain about habits, how we do not think about them, except when we need to or have to change them, then we really have to think about the way we do things. So, when explaining the theory, we do a practical exercise. As I explain it, if you are interested, join in the fun! I would like you to fold your arms. Keep them folded for 10 seconds then unfold them. Then immediately fold them the other way!!
Did you have to think about it?
When you get dressed tomorrow and you put your underwear on, put the opposite leg in first…….!
So, how many of you lost your balance!
I have a sore left hip, so for me to do anything that involves balance, I have to slow myself down and really concentrate about what I am doing. I have to be in the moment. If I do it while my head is thinking about something else, you can guess what happens!!
We process information individually, dependant on the way we were brought up, our history of how we got to be ‘Here’ and how we were taught to do things. Whether we think in pictures, do things in a logical order, see the end result then figure out how to get started….. it’s all different, all unique.
In all my years, the one constant with training a dog is to watch them to see how they learn, then adapt my training so they can be successful.
I have to change my habits of skills and techniques, step outside the box, in that moment, with that dog, for success to follow.
Whether I am working with a dog or a client, this is how my toolbox works:
Teaching – we start to teach
Observation – we see the action of our teaching
Outlook – we acknowledge what we see, (ie;fooling around or shutdown)
Learning – how they are in the moment, gives us a clue to how they are feeling
Behaviour – we change our teaching, so the subject can change their behaviour
Outcome – changing our input with different skills, changes the output
Xcellent! – The outcome is excellent
As an example, working with a dog that needs to be more flexible in bending its body both ways and turning more efficiently. I observe how they are moving, muscle development, gait, how they hold their tail and where their weight is, on the forehand or in the hind end. I acknowledge that information and then work on the dog’s balance. If there is one point of contact I change it to two, by using the balance leash around the chest, I can help bring the dog into ‘pockets’ of balance, ensuring that all the weight is evenly distributed.
I slow the dog, then allow them to walk faster, then slowing them again, using the two contact points and ‘easing and releasing’ so there is no constant tension for the dog to lean into. I help the dog into a stand position, with no tension. (These ‘pockets’ of balance are the little steps of success. The balance will become a habit in time). Having these little breaks, with some nice calm contact, will bring the dog into the present moment and give you a chance to connect, before walking again. They start to slow themselves, walk in a calmer way as their balance shifts.
When you ask them to turn towards or away from you, either stationary or moving, you are assessing what they can achieve each step of the way.
Because you have previously prepared them by being balanced, they are then able to consciously slow themselves and be successful.
The same as when you folded your arms in a different way or changed the way you put your underwear on! You are more conscious, in the moment and aware.
You are influencing change in their habit, with increasing their flexibility.
You are giving input to the dogs sensory systems to influence inner change.
The dog is teaching you whether your techniques are working, or whether you need to change them.
You are affecting them physically and mentally to change into a new habit of co-ordinated efficiency.
They become more focused on the task at hand.
Their awareness is increased.
You are empowering them to be successful.
Changing a Habit
Science has proven that it takes a human 30 days (without missing a day) of input to a new habit to make it stick. It becomes easier as the days go on however for the first three weeks or so, it is difficult, you have to think about it. As you get nearer the 30 days, it becomes easier and to the point that you can do it without thinking about it.
I believe this is the same with a dog.
When I trained guide dogs in achieving certain tasks within their guiding role, showing them what they needed to do in certain situations, it took time, every day. But as they understood and it became second nature for them, it became a habit.
It takes 5-7 months to train a dog to guide safely and efficiently.
Give your dog a chance to make the change.
Be consistent, be patient and see the difference.
“Empowering Dogs to Reach Their Full Potential”
Do you want to learn more about these skills and techniques?
If so, I invite you to contact me to discuss a workshop or Seminar in your area. firstname.lastname@example.org