Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Power of a Good Book

A while back I had it in my head that I wanted to be a dog trainer. All right, so perhaps that notion hasn't quite disappeared, but I have come to the conclusion that due to our move, it is not financially feasible for me to take a course right now. So, I found the next best thing; a book. Well, actually, I found a few books and have been deeply engrossed in one of them. I can't quite remember the title, I'm horrible with book titles, but it is basically about the applied behavior and psychology of dogs. It is a very good, but heavy read. There is so much information that I have to read it in little sections, put the book away and digest what I've just read. It started by outlining the history of the domesticated dog and moved into puppy learning and behavior. It was published in 2000 and a lot of the references are quite old-dating back to 1949-but I think some of the information is still relevant and the stuff that is not will give me a base of knowledge that I can apply to my style of training. If someone asks me "why" or "why not" I will be better equipped to answer those questions.
I personally like Operant Conditioning, which basically means you teach the dog to make decisions and to problem solve. This is the type of learning that service dogs-police dogs, guide dogs-under go. This book seems to promote Classical Conditioning, which means you teach your dog a bunch of things and just expect it to perform them. This works for some people, but I enjoy challenging my dogs and having them make decisions and do the right thing because they want to. For example, when Glacier and I approach a car parked across a sidewalk, he will pause letting me know there is something there. I praise him and then ask him to "forward?" Glacier uses his little doggie brain and eyes to select the safest path and takes me around the vehicle safely. Dogs who are classically trained wouldn't have the ability to determine what was safest and would need me to tell them which direction to go. This is problematic if you can't see anything and don't know which is the safest route. That said, I am only on Chapter two and may be wrong on the book's take on Classical Conditioning as there is another section labelled Instrumental Learning.
The psychology behind a puppy's learning has been absolutely amazing to read about. Even though I don't know much about Kyo's history, reading some of the psychological responses to being weaned too early and isolation from human or other dog contact makes me think that Kyo's behavioral issues were caused by these two things. Separation anxiety, excessive mouthing/lack of bite inhibition and hyper activity are all behavioral issues that can be caused by taking a puppy from its litter too early and/or not socialising it properly.
From what I do know of Kyo's past, his family crated him at least  eight hours a day while they were away at work. If this was done during his puppy development stages, it could have contributed to his crazy behaviors. I always knew that his issues stemmed from his past, and perhaps poor breeding, but it's interesting to actually read about it and have my inklings confirmed.
Taking a course would have been good in that it would provide structured learning, but just reading books can also be just as beneficial. I can read differing opinions, training methods and theories and draw my own conclusions. I can take different training practices and put them together to create a training method I am comfortable with. Some of the training programs I was reading insist that you do everything their way and some of the things that they teach I do not agree with. Eventually, when finances are a bit more stable, I will definitely enroll in an actual course, but for now I'll stick with my books and learn as much as I can on my own. I know that type of learning can be problematic in that anyone can read a book and think that they are an expert when really they are a moron and are not qualified to teach an ant to find a sugar bowl, but I'm hoping I'm not a moron and I am not attempting to train anyone's dog until I have an actual qualification under my belt. Reading just gives me a platform to build up from. Another route I thought I may try is to apprentice with a trainer once in the UK. I'm not sure if anyone would be willing to teach me or if this would be a financially viable option either, but it's worth exploring.
For now, I'll keep reading and learning as much as I can through that method. Mr. K is an internet Ninja and can find me practically any book I could want in an accessible format. So, thank you Mr. K. :) And as for my Blog, be prepared for me to yammer on about dog behavior/psychology/training at length because aside from training for the triathlon, it's the thing that is under my skin the most right now. :)


Jen said...

I've been thinking the exact same thing recently, because financially this year, studying dog training might not be an option either. I don't want to stop learning about it though encase I lose interest and forget how much I want to study it. I've ordered a couple of books from the library in braille, but I'm not very good at finding accessible ones and don't have the patience to look, so your recommendations will be appreciated.
Where have you learned most of the things you already know? Was it from reading or have you worked with trainers? I haven't, so want to try and get opportunities to meet trainers and observe them actually working within the next year.

I look forward to all these blog posts!

Jess and Glacier said...

I just looked it up and the book I am reading right now is "Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training," by Steven Lindsey. I may have spelled his last name wrong. It was published in 2000 and as I've said, some of it may be outdated, but it's still interesting to know.
I'm not really sure my understanding of dogs thus far has come from one source in particular. I've read a few books, a lot of websites/blogs, went through one formal training class with Aria, had a few lessons with a trainer and Kyo, asked a lot of questions at Guide dog school (all three trips through), observed when I was volunteering at PAALS and other than that, a lot of it just makes sense to me. For example, I have always felt that paper training was a waste of time. I thought it was confusing to puppies and that people should just start training them outside from the minute they get the dog home-this book just confirmed that for me. I do a lot of research of products on my own as well and I've also been really lucky and have had a few friends who are as dog crazy as I am. Just talking about it helps. I really think observing a trainer would be a good idea and it's something I would really like to do. When I get to Scotland, I am going to volunteer with a rescue organisation hopefully and learn some more. I think your idea of observing trainers would be beneficial as well. I hope this helps. :)

Jen said...

Sorry if I just posted half a comment!
I constantly asked questions while training with OJ, and probably drove my trainer crazy, but she had 20 years of experience and was very helpful.
Do you listen to audiobooks?