ForPaws Blog

Training at the IMDT - Part 1

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I can’t quite believe its March.  In January I went on a 2 day seminar and a 4 day practical training course and meant to write up a little summary about it all as soon as I could.  It’s March and I’m only just getting round to it.  Ah well!  The business has been going really quite well and my days have been jam packed with dogs or just general business admin - I know excuses excuses!

So as some of you reading will know in September 2011 I went to a 2 day ‘Career as a Dog Trainer’ course run by Steve Mann of the IMDT (Institute of Modern Dog Training).  I actually only meant to go to understand a little more about dog training and behaviour and to add the course to my resume to try to appeal a little more to prospective dog walking clients.  I thoroughly enjoyed the course though and came away wondering why on earth I hadn’t looked into studying training sooner, dog psychology is fascinating!  So the decision was made, in addition to leaving work to run my own business, I’d add training as a dog trainer into the mix!

So on the 21st and 22nd I attended a 2 day seminar run by the IMDT covering Puppy Foundations, Aggression, Canine Body Language and Clicker.  Aside from the incredible amount of information that was packed into this course in the 2 days, one of the things I LOVE about going on these courses is being with lots of other people who are crazy about dogs and doing the same sort of thing as me (dog walking, grooming etc) we spend our break times comparing notes on dogs, interesting owners and funny stories.  It’s like group therapy!  

Over the two days we all learnt a lot so I thought I’d pick out some highlights from each section for my blog readers:

·         Puppy – The key time for socialising your ever curious puppy (getting it used to different sounds, sights, smells, touch and environments) is between 4 and 12 weeks, it’s a narrow window so planning is important! One thing to bear in mind however is that there is an overlapping ‘fear period’ between 8 and 12 weeks, during which time puppies are still curious, but this is tempered with some fearfulness.  You must take great care not to over tax your puppy in this time and provide plenty of reassurance for your puppy.  Some interesting objects were highlighted as needing attention in socialisation as they are often neglected, these were; umbrellas, people who are shy or nervous of dogs; and the night time!

·         Aggression – Most people have heard that fear is the most common cause of aggression, so it was highlighted to us again just how important socialisation is.  Prevention will always be better than cure.  In overcoming fear, classical conditioning is one of the tools that can be used to help.  Classical conditioning is the training that must of us have heard of in the experiment of Pavlov’s dog.  We use this to change how the dog feels about a certain stimulus, changing the dog from thinking ‘when I see x, bad things happen therefore I do y to make it go away’ to ‘when I see x, good things happen, yeay x, happy days, give me food/treat/toy’etc! 

·         Canine Body Language – One of the key things that we learnt in this section of the course was not to focus on any one thing in particular.  You have to look at the whole picture of a dog to interpret it’s body language.  A great example of this is lip licking.  Short frequent flashes of this is often a warning sign of a dog that is nervous and has the potential to become aggressive.  Or on some dogs, they just do this a lot naturally!  Another occasionally misinterpreted body language signal that dogs can give us is the tail wag.  Lots of people get this wrong (myself included before this course) and assume a tail wag is a signal of a happy dog.  This is not always the case as many people who have been bitten by a dog can testify!  Instead note the base of the tail and the dogs hindquarters.  A ‘waggy butt’ (this is my new term for it!) is a reasonable indicator of a happy dog, but a dog with a tense rear and tail base is not sure, so be careful!

·         Clicker Training – Clicker training uses a small device that makes a click to pinpoint specific actions that you want your dog to repeat.  You can build (or ‘shape’) this into a larger action, such as a sit and stay or a retrieve.  Before you can really start clicker training, you first need to ‘charge’ the clicker, which is to condition the dog to know that hearing the clicker means you did something good.  So you need to find something that really motivates the dog, normally this is food, but it doesn’t have to be.  You then have to classically condition the dog to understand that the clicker means the treat, which means that you simply click and reward a lot.  This is known as ‘charging the clicker’.  In order to correctly charge the clicker, you need to do this a lot in multiple different environments, and situations, so that your dog understands that it is the clicker that signals the reward and that currently they aren’t doing anything and there isn’t anything in the environment that makes the clicker click, other than you.  You are ‘finished’ when there is evidence that the dog understands the relationship between the clicker and the reward, so for example, a head whipping round to you when it hears the click.  I found this a key bit of training in the seminar, I’ve been guilty of rushing into using the clicker before the association has been correctly formed and this can lead to a bit of an intermittent response. 

The seminar finished just after 4pm on Sunday and I had that familiar feeling of being excited at wanting to go away and put the things I’d learnt into action and a little disappointment at it all being finished so quickly!  How many courses and seminars can you say that about!?

I’ll blog later about the 4 day course…

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