Saturday, August 18, 2012

Student or Teacher?

One aspect of dog training that I often try to teach dog handlers, regardless of their training goals, is that it is much more effective for the dog to learn through self discovery. If I cue or give a verbal reminder to the dog for a behavior then the dog is quite likely only to offer that behavior in response to the cue or reminder. For example if you are working with a dog that is particularly sniffy and distracted and you use a verbal cue to get the dog to ignore a particularly interesting smell. What happens when you don't use that cue? Does the dog think that it is not okay to sniff unless instructed not too? I could give many many examples in all types of training - indicating articles on tracks for example. People cue the indication (usually a down) when the dog comes up on an article on the track. However quite often the dog remains dependent on this cue and if the handler does not give it then they are confused or just keep tracking.

So I know how well this works for the dogs but I am starting to realize how effective it is for me as well. It seems like both Steel (maintaining his tracking skills and hoping to get into a Variable Surface Tracking test this fall) and Jill (prepping for her CDX in the obedience ring this fall) are determined to provide me with these self discovery moments. They have left me feeling both impressed with my brilliant powers of observation/problem solving skills and a little chagrined. Just when I think I know something my dogs show me that I can still learn stuff and find new ways to teach "old tricks". I swear in Jill's case (Ms Perfect) she is doing it on purpose too.

In college, at least in the science fields, there is a joke about the progression of obtaining knowledge. When you come in as an undergrad you are in awe at the knowledge of your professors and amazed at all the stuff you have to learn in the text books. You are just a big sponge (hopefully). You soak it all up and then think you KNOW STUFF.  Then you move on to graduate school and discover that all that stuff you learned in the textbooks wasn't really as set in stone as you thought. In fact you find out that a lot of what you learned is outdated and just taught to you as a starting off point. You find out that all those professors often disagree with each other.  You feel very disillusioned because now you don't know as much as you thought. You are also rather annoyed and disillusioned with your professors who don't seem as smart as they once seem. Then you move onto the final stage where you learn that knowledge is constantly evolving and not only do you still have a lot to learn but EVERYONE has a lot to learn. That is pretty much the place where I am in my dog training - I no longer worry about knowing it all because the learning is continuous.  I just concentrate of letting my dogs, and all the others I train, show me what they as individuals understand about the task and find way to help them "discover" the way to do it properly.

Who is the  student and who is the teacher??

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