What does “Wabniaq” mean?
This word is from the language of the original human people in the area we now call the Canadian Maritimes and far northern Maine. It’s translated as the first appearance of light in the East, dawn, the light before sunrise. I hope that is how this dog training feels to you.
Your card says “Behavior – Wellness – Relationship.” What’s that about?
Dogs are most often brought for training because of behavior problems, but what usually emerges during the initial assessment is a relationship problem – a lack of communication or a lack of understanding about what the dog needs to be well. For the dog, “wellness” encompasses the mental, physical, emotional, behavioral, and relational aspects of life. When we satisfy all of the conditions for wellness and establish an appropriate and healthy relationship, the behavior problems tend to disappear. (For more info see Canine Wellness).
What kind of training is this?
It doesn’t have a name. It is based upon an appreciation for about twelve to fourteen thousand years of co-evolution and a recognition that while the structure of a dog’s brain and the function of their endocrine system bear significant similarities with humans, their world view is very different. It also includes the recognition that dogs have personalities, that they feel most of the same basic emotions as us, and they share with us the same basic needs for a natural state of well being.
Scientific learning theory plays a prominent role in this approach. There is a strong emphasis on understanding how dogs learn and using that understanding so that the dog learns quickly and thoroughly with minimal stress and enjoys the training. It’s also about teaching owners how dogs connect behavior with outcomes, and how to recognize if a dog is learning what we are trying to teach.
On this model, the dog is our partner, and that partnership is based upon trust. This is a fundamentally humane, goal-oriented approach to training, organized around suitable behavior and quality of relationship. Like all successful relationships, it is based upon mutual respect and mutual purpose in an appropriate context.
A necessary aspect of a relationship like this is communication. To have effective communication, you must understand how your partner sees the world. That will be an essential part of our training. (For more information see the Blog post "Communications.")
Is this “positive-only” training?
“Positive-only” or “purely positive” training is a misnomer, and the promulgation of it as a superior approach is a disservice to the community. In the language of training, “positive” simple means we are adding something, “negative” simply means we are taking something away. There’s no affective connotation – “positive” does not mean “good” or “I like it” and “negative does not mean “bad” or “I don’t like it.”
What we’re referring to here are trainers who do not use corrections, punishment or aversive stimuli of any kind on the idea that it is unnecessary because behavior that is rewarded is reinforced, behavior that is not reinforced is extinguished. That is a valid and useful observation that we will revisit continually, and it is also only part of a complete approach to training.
An effective correction – one that gets the dog’s attention the first time – is sometimes the most humane thing you can do. A correction that is not significant enough to achieve its desired purpose – one the dog learns it can ignore – can be grievously inhumane. (For more information see the Blog "How to Create a Monster.")
What do you mean by “humane?”
We’re going to assume that you’re already meeting the basic needs for canine wellness (See Blog Post – Canine Wellness) and what we’re really talking about here is, “What constitutes a humane correction?”
Rather than try to define what is a humane correction, because it will vary according to dog and circumstance, I think it’s more useful to describe what is not a humane correction. Hopefully we’ve already all agreed that any correction that could result in any kind of injury is impermissible.
- If the dog does not understand what behavior is being asked for, then the correction is inhumane.
- If the dog cannot produce the desired behavior for any reason, then the correction is inhumane.
- If the dog cannot learn quickly from the correction, then the correction is inhumane.
- If the dog does not know how, or cannot quickly learn how, to offer a behavior to avoid the correction, then the correction is inhumane.
One of the implications of this position is that what appears to be a severe correction given one time in a professional, attentive, well-timed, appropriate, and skillful manner can be the most humane action if the dog learns from it immediately and abandons dangerous behavior as a result. Conversely, what appears to be a modest or innocuous correction can be inhumane if it does not convey the intended lesson but the dog learns an unintended lesson. Yes, nagging is inhumane, we weren’t imagining things. Don’t nag your dog.
How long will it take to train my dog?
I think it’s unlikely that any responsible trainer would make representations or offer guarantees of any kind about outcomes. They’re dogs, not machines, and there are a lot of variables, including the human partner. I’ve seen remarkable changes in three sessions, and I’ve seen dogs and people who are “still working on it” over a year later. It’s up to you.
This training approach is rewards based – will I have to carry treats around in my pocket forever?
No. There is a difference between a lure, a bribe, and a reward. Lures are used in many different training styles to shape a behavior initially, but this is abandoned as quickly as possible. Bribes are given before the desired behavior, which is something that should never be done. We don’t bribe dogs for the same reason we don’t bribe people – it doesn’t end well for anyone.
A reward is something given after the desired behavior is completed. If the training is conducted properly, in fairly short order the activity itself and your participation in the activity becomes rewarding for the dog. Rewards are of course used as reinforcement, but you won’t need to walk around with a pocket full of treats unless you want to.
Why does your card says “Dog Skills Training” instead of “Dog Training?”
There are plenty of very good trainers who can produce remarkable results quickly, but when the dog is returned to the owner, something is missing. The dog doesn’t have the same spark or spontaneity, the same enthusiasm, the connection isn’t there. People perceive this readily, and I’ve heard resistance to dog training expressed as, “But I want Fido to still be a dog!”
This training is for the dog and the owner so both can enjoy a good relationship and a good life together. Each training program is individually developed to provide the tools for a strong relationship and help you meet your specific goals and preferences according to the personality of each dog and human. The result is not only better behavior, but greater enthusiasm, connection, and enjoyment.