Depression – something personal

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I’ve thought long and hard about writing this blog as it’s been a personal struggle which I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share. Then I looked at the stats. Depression kills. It kills far more men than it does women and it kills more men in my age group than in others and is avoidable in many cases. I am in a privileged position through my work to reach a few thousand people so for me I need to try to help anyway I can. So here goes.

I have probably suffered from depression for several years and looking back have had several episodes over my adult life. Up until the last year or so, I’ve been able to bring myself out of most of them most of the time, with the support of loved ones and exercise. This last year has been different.

Andrew Solomon, who is a psychiatric expert on depression likens the mind to an iron structure. When we get deressed, the rust sets in. It eats away constantly at the structure and then sometimes parts of the structure collapse. These are the acute episodes. During these episodes everything is difficult, no, it’s not, everything is extremely difficult and some things are impossible. For me as well, I think it’s like when you have a bad cold. You know thet there are times in you life when you’ve not had a cold but you can’t remember what it feels like. That’s depression too.

I’ll not go into the full details of why I became ill but this is what some of what I experienced and if you are suffering from it you are not alone. Some days I could not get out of bed. I still have days like that but work forces me to get up as does needing to get Watson out and take care of her needs. At the weekends my brain and my body need time to heal so there are times when I don’t get out of bed until 1pm. At first I would get annoyed with myself that I had spent so much time in bed and not been more productive and this would make me feel worse. So I started to give myself a break about it. A few weeks ago I came in from work and went to bed at 5.30pm and slept til 7.30am the next day. My body was telling me something and I listened. I need to rest. A lot. So I do.

Up until last year, I was working full time and doing my dog training on the side. My physical fitness then dropped off due to constraints on my time and I few strains and niggles would creep in. I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as my hobby and it has been an absolute tonic in my life for the last 11 years. My injuries meant I couldn’t get off the couch when I came home after class and getting dressed the next morning was a huge physical struggle. I could harldy get out of bed or put on my clothes. Tying my shoe laces was very painful. So I stopped going.

I felt bad. BJJ, which made me feel better was now no longer available to me so I felt worse. It spiralled down. I needed to do something about it as I am not depression. It is only a part of me and something I am trying to make a temporary part of me.

So, I started yoga and saw and osteopath to help make my back better. I tried to do one thing very day which I didn’t want to do, one small thing which might be as simple as shaving (no, this wasn’t the reaons for growing the beard; my neckline and cheeks still needed attention). If I became overwhemed when out I would try to centre myself in the moment by concentrating on 5 things I could see, 4 things I could hear, 3 things I could feel, 2 things I could smell or taste. This works well. Depression is about loss and anxiety is about uncertainty of what will happen next. One is in the past, the other the future so mindfulness brings you into the present. Sometimes I still get overwhelmed and need to go home. I feel ok about it as these episodes are lessening but they are still there. Ride the wave, it passes.

I previously worked in an extremely male dominated, macho bullshit environment. I’ve grown up in the West of Scotland where men needs to be men. We don’t talk about our feelings. So talk. Especially the guys, talk to someone, please, if you feel like this. It helps. A lot. If you think you are being unfair to your wife or girlfriend by burdening them with it, talk to someone else. Talk to the dog, call a helpline but for fuck sake please talk about it. It might help but it most often doesn’t make it worse. You need to get it out in some productive way.

Find the tiny little things which give you pleasure. Anything you can, you need to redress the balance. Engage as much as you can. Our industry can be very isolating so we need friends and a support network. If we practice positive reinforcement with out animals we need to practice it with each other. Stand up when you see others being bullied or harassed as you don’t know how it is effecting the recipient. A couple of months ago I defended a dominance based, balanced trainer who I recognised as being emotionally vulnerable against an immature campaign of online harassement from a so-called positive dog trainer. We need to do this. We need to try to practice it in all aspects of our lives.

Find something you are good at and can be successful at. Practice it. Everytime we are successful at something we start to redress the brain chemisty. Help your body and your brain out, you have the power to do something about it.

GO AND SEE YOUR DOCTOR!

I know this has been a bit disjointed but we are not defined by our depression. It is not who we are it is only part of us. There is still such a massive taboo about mental health issues in our culture that we don’t talk about it. This needs to change. Depression kills us if we don’t. Ask for help if you need it.

http://www.samaritans.org/

http://breathingspace.scot/

Love and peace.

John

Positively Excellent Dog Training Workshop 5

Workshop 5 of 6 today. When we started Positively Excellent Dog Training a few months ago, Clare and I envisioned bringing quality, up to date dog training to both trainers and owners in a way which was easy to access and understand. It has been a massicvve success and is just the start of things to come.

Today we looked at behaviours, skills and outcomes. Behaviours can be described as a specific thing the learner does, such as moving a cetain muscle or joint. Skills are where the dog generalises, so “walk beside me” can mean in a varietyof situations for example. A skill humans would have in this example would be having the skill to open most doors of similar design once the skill of door opening is learned. Some doors open by pulling, others by pushing (depending where you are in relation to it). Once the skill of door opening is learned, we can then apply it to many situations. The outcome for us would be the open door, the outcome in the dog example would be the dog walking with you on a loose lead.

Students had to teach me how to open a door when I was at the other side of the room. They were asked to break down each behaviour into very small steps. Each time they asked me to do something I wasn’t in a position to do, I told them I couldn’t do it and then they had to break it down further. This extended to putting my weight on one foot rather than the other, moving a specific distance forward etc. All these things teach us to be very careful in what we are describing and reinforcing, if the learned jumps ahead of us then we can go with it. If they get stuck then we need to break it down further into something they can do.

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We then looked a little more closely at certain drivers for reinforcement. Can we mimic the hunt for a dog and then put this on cue so the dog gets to hunt but only when we ask for it? Can we mimic a sheep’s movment with a ball so that a collie can herd the ball, give him an outlet for that daily and put it on cue so we get less herding of people and traffic? The answer is yes, we can.

Next workshop is the 4th June in East Kilbride.

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Captain America and telling our dogs what to do.

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I went to see Captain America: Civil War at the weekend at our local 3D IMAX (It was very entertaining, the usual great Marvel stuff). At the beginning of the film, there was an announcement

“PUT ON YOUR 3D GLASSESS NOW”

My very first reaction to this was “don’t tell me what to do”. Now, I get that “Please put on your 3D glasses to fully enjoy the IMAX 3D experience” is unecessarily wordy, however, I really do not like being told what to do. In my previous job, I had a supervisor who constantly told everyone what to do. He never asked. He was a truly horrible bully of a man. Some of my colleagues who could be pushed around were, they did their jobs and did as they were told but none of them liked him. Those of us who didn’t like being told what to do would do it but very often we would push back, in fact we pushed back at every available opportunity. We stuck it to him whenever we could. The more we pushed back, the more he told us what to do. He then left, and was replaced by a man whom I absolutely adored. Jimbo would ask you to do tasks, never tell you and would do so with the full knowledge that you would do it. He never asked you to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. The guys who could be pushed around relaxed and worked harder, and those of us who were slightly more hard headed worked even harder still. Productivity and morale soared. He was a true leader who brought out the best in his people.

What does this have to do with dog training? Some of our dogs can be told what to do. We can push them around, shout at them, correct them and basically bully them in to compliance. Then there are the dogs who will push back. The problem for these dogs is that when they push back, they almost always lose. We shout at them and correct them, and they growl. We give them a harder time and they snap at us. We push more. They then bite “out of the blue”. Then it’s off to the shelter, vet to be put to sleep or we sell them on gumtree/Craiglist. The solution for all these dogs, whether the soft ones or the hard ones is to explain the rules in a way they understand, set up the environment so they can easily do the things we want them to to and so it’s difficult for them to the wrong thing and motivate them to do what we want them to do. If it works for humans, it can and does work for dogs.

If some of us don’t like being told what to do, is it not reasonable to conclude some of our dogs may feel the same way?

Why we need to challenge what our trainers tell us.

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There has been enough coverage of the incident featured on Cesar 911 recently where Simon the French Bulldog cross, who had previously killed pigs, was allowed to be in an enclosed area off lead with a restrained pig. Some great trainers have successfully used social media to highlight the issue and it has been rightfully reported to law enforcment in the US.
What I’d like to comment on is how we can blindly follow some trainers due to the cult of personality. I have learned from many great trainers over the years. What’s great about them is that they actively encourage us to think and to challenge their ideas. That is what scientific progress is about. Trainers whose methods were very progressive 25 years ago because they didn’t use choke chains are now seen as very dated because they use psychological intimidation instead. Techniques which cause frustration are (or should be) seen as unnecessary and counter-productive. I don’t agree with everything all of them have taught me, and if I was to ask them, they’d be delighted at that as it shows I’m challenging them and thinking for myself.
Here’s the “however”. I saw a social media post from a “pack leader” trainer defending Cesar’s actions. Any reasonable person looking at the Simon and the pig scenario objectively would see that letting a pig killing dog off lead in the same area as a restrained pig is not a good idea. If you were t ask a 7 year old they could tell you that. But we have blind faith from some trainers who can’t see anything wrong with what happened. This is wrong in itself. As trainers, and owners, interested in the welfare of our dogs, we should question everything all the time. Only by doing that will we continue to learn and improve our dogs’ lives.

Positively Excellent Dog Training Part 2 – Reinforcement Part 1

Positively excellent dog training. We continued today, Saturday 27th February 2016, looking at reinforcement. Reinforcement is such a huge topic that we have split it into 2 workshops, the next one being in the 19th March. Even then, 4 hours of learning can be only an introduction to the topic, which, as positive reinforcment trainers, sits at the very heart of what we do.

After introductions, Clare presented a short input on reinforcement, mainly to get the students thinking about what reinforcement is. What is reinforcement and how does it differ from rewards and treats? Is there a difference? These are not semantics, if we don’t know the difference, how can we expect to apply it to our dogs?

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We divided the reinforcement into three categories; food reinforcers, toy/play reinforcers and life reinforcers.As modern dog trainers, we looked at positve reinforcement, rather than negative reinforcement.

Each of the categories was divided further to identify the pros and cons of each of them, when they could be used, and what behaviours they could be used to reinforce.

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Toy reinforcers pictured above. Divided into chase, retrieve and tug toys. Remember, it’s what the dog gets to do with the toy which is reinforcing rather than the toy itself!

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After discussion on the merits and disadvantages of each, the groups the devised training plans to test the value of various reinforcers.

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Building on the work done in the last workshop, ethical considerations were taken into account for both the handler and the dog, with welfare of the dog being at foremost in our minds. The attendees showed real thoughfulness in their design.


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Homework assignments were given with ongoing support between workshops. If you are interested in attending these, or are interested in hosting us to run these workshops in your area, please contact me at glasgowdogtrainer@hotmail.co.uk.

Part 2 of the reinforcment workshop is on the 19th March 2016 in East Kilbride.

A model for learning – 70:20:10

Guest blog by Clare Russell. Clare and I are running Positively Excellent Dog Training for trainers and enthusiasts throughout 2016. For more information, email me at glasgowdogtrainer@hotmail.co.uk

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Being part of an international group of on line learners brings certain advantages. One is that we are often exposed to information that we would never have considered relevant to our dog training.

Following one Tuesday evening lesson, Leanne Smith a fellow student from Australia introduced us to the model of 70:20:10.

The 70:20:10 model for learning and development is being used by organisations across the world and I see application for us as dog trainers.

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The concept of the 70:20:10 framework is extremely simple to understand it suggests that only 10% of our learning comes from attending lectures and seminars or other formal training events. 20% of our learning comes from networking and speaking to others. 70% of our learning comes from experience.

Charles Jennings who has popularised the model reminds us that it is a model and not a recipe. The numbers are not a rigid formula. They simply remind us that the majority of our learning and development comes through experience, the 70; and networking and discussion, the 20. Jennings points out the model suggests we learn least, the 10, from structured courses and seminars.

Like most of you I have benefited from the 10. I have attended many formal seminars and taken part in courses that have been structured but I agree with Jennings that they ‘rarely, if ever, provided the complete answer’.

So why do I feel the 70 is important to us as dog trainers? Firstly every learner is different, no matter the species. If I am honest my attendance at seminars in the past, has been to seek solutions, find some answers to current training issues. I’ve absorbed the speakers information, written up my notes, prepared my training arena, started training with my learner and then ‘ah I didn’t expect that’! Either the speaker didn’t cover this eventuality or I didn’t make enough notes! This was the limitation to learning in a formal environment, especially before we had easy access to the 20, in the form of social media and email.

I started out on the journey to help others train their dogs over 15 years ago. I was excited by the things I was learning and thought it was important to give people as much information as possible as quickly as possible, usually much more than they had asked for.

With all the new information under my belt it was so obvious that clients needed to change so much, change the dogs diet, change their approach to training, change their toys and training equipment. On top of all this I would teach them how to use a clicker, teach how to use positive reinforcement training techniques, enthuse about where their dog and their training would be in 2 years time and usually try to cram it all into one lesson!

The approach was to talk and talk and then talk some more, always carrying on beyond the allotted session time and then sending out pages and pages of notes and links. Looking back I was firmly in the lecture mindset and I suspect my learners were only getting the 10 of the learning they needed – hmmm! Good for my ego but not necessarily beneficial to the learner.

So how do I approach training these days – firstly all training is a conversation*, a conversation between the learner and I. The learner may be a person, someone in a class or along for a private lesson or one of my own dogs. Teaching has become much more about listening to what the learner is saying, changing strategy as the conversation develops or realising it is time to take a break.

These days classes and other teaching opportunities begin with dog free, small group discussion. Small group discussion provides an opportunity for questions to be asked and conversation to develop. It allows for practice and rehearsal of protocol before working with a dog.

Whenever possible we train dogs with peer group training. Plenty of breaks for the dogs and plenty of opportunity for questions to arise. Classes are student led with participants being urged to shape their own learning. Students experience the 70 not only by training their own dog but helping others in the class to train, working together to problem solve.

Questions drive learning, rather than send people home with lots of fact sheets we have utilised Facebook to set up a small closed group to continue discussion between classes. The ease of posting information in a group means that additional material can be added at a pace that suits the learners. Small groups allow for opportunities for those ‘ah – I didn’t expect that’ moments to be discussed in real time rather than waiting a whole week before the next class.

Making the change away from the traditional class format wasn’t an easy decision but I can honestly say I have thoroughly enjoyed the last year of training.

Some more examples as to how the 70:20:10 model can benefit learning.

At the first session of the Positively Excellent Dog Training series John and I gave a presentation for the first half  and then set the participants a practical training task for the second half. Within each team everyone had a defined role but that role allowed the whole team to work together. As we reflected on our learning at the end of the day participants had many ‘aha’ and ‘I had never thought of that’ moments to share which had come from the practical exercise. We agreed that these were things they may never have learned from a more traditional presentation based seminar.

The Training Thoughtfully event presented by Jesus Rosales-Ruiz, Alexandra Kurland and Kay Laurence showed similar results. As participants we were treated to some wonderful presentations, packed full of valuable information and we also played several rounds of the game of PORTL. Again as learners shared their ‘take home’ point, so many came from playing the games.

So the challenge for all people working with dogs – trainers, dog walkers, groomers is – how will you build the 70:20:10 into your own learning, development and teaching?

Happy Training.

 

*With thanks to Alexandra Kurland

 

Positively excellent dog training – Workshop 1

January 30th 2016, Clare Russell and I held  the first in a series of workshops for trainers named “Positively Excellent Dog Training”. These are wokshops aimed at anyone who has an interest in learning about how dogs learn and how we can use that knowledge to change our dogs’ behaviour for the better. Yesterday, we had 12 attendees, ranging from pet dog owners, dog walkers, dog day care operators to dog trainers and enthusiasts.

The format of the afternoon, and of those to come, aims to be conversational. That is, the agenda is not strictly controlled but we have a set framework of those topics we want to cover. This way, the attendees can be involved in their own learning process and steer  (within reason of course) the way they want it to go, with Clare and I offering guidance. Presentation

 

Yesterday, we covered personal and professional ethics, how they are formed and how they influence what we will do and will not do in our own practices. The attendees were divided into three groups and had to critique a piece of training equipment, in this case the Pet Corrector compressed air can, being aware of whether the were evaluating, assessing or judging it’s application in training.

 

Group discussion

After a short break, there was the preparation for the practical part of the workshop which looked at setting the envrinment and the learners (both human and dog) up for success, taking into account safety, stress levels (of both) and levels of knowledge and ability.

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The next two workshops will be held on the 27th February and the 19th March and will look at the massive topic of reinforcement. If you are interested in attending contact me via my Facebook page (search Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant) or email me at glasgowdogtrainer@hotmail.co.uk