The Quadrants!

The Quadrants! For those of you who are not familiar with this term, it is used to describe four (not all) of the elements of operant conditioning, which explains how animals, including us, learn.

The quadrants referred to are positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment. Go on to any dog training group and you will almost be guaranteed to find discussions (often very heated ones) on this topic. You may also see it described as a graphic with four boxes and the terms R+, P+, R-, and P-. I’m not sure who first came up with the term “quadrants”, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t BF Skinner as I’m hard pressed to find reference to this word in the works of his I’ve looked at. It is a useful teaching aid for learning four (not all) of the aspects of operant learning, but I think it has its limitations and if we want to be better trainers and teachers, we need to understand it’s limitations, what it was designed for and how to think outside these four boxes. If you want to understand these terms, please Google “operant conditioning”. Look for an academic site, I’d link one here, but FB algorithms will kick in and this post might not be seen by many people if they do.

Trainers who train dogs with a progressive, positive mindset, often say they only use positive reinforcement training. While well intentioned, they are wrong. I include myself in this group and I design all of my training choices to weigh heavily in favour of positive reinforcement training, but the world isn’t under my control and other facts will influence the learning of the animals and humans I am working with. What I can state absolutely, is that I will never use certain training tools or intentionally use fear, intimidation, coercion, pain, or discomfort to change behaviour. Other trainers who are willing to use pain, coercion etc, freely admit that they dip in and out of the four quadrants whenever they feel they need to. I don’t hide my opinion on the use of all four quadrants, I think it is unnecessary and counter productive.

A couple of examples…

It’s a hot day and you are working outdoors. You get too hot and decide to take a break and go indoors where it is cooler. Are you adding coolness to your body (positive reinforcement) or are you removing the heat from the sun (negative reinforcement). The answer is both. Both contingencies are al play at the same time. Remember, the natural world doesn’t care about the quadrants, these contingencies are at play regardless of how we (humans) describe them. Does an atom care that it’s an atom or is that the world we have assigned to it to explain its relationship with the world? Similarly, if your dog moves away from a smell they don’t like, are they accessing clean, fresh air or escaping the rancid smell. Both.

Second one. Your dog is uncomfortable around other dogs. We can reinforce the behaviours of being calm around the other dog (positive reinforcement of other behaviours) or we can allow the dog to move away from the other dog if they get closer (Negative reinforcement of the moving away behaviours). Which one would they dog prefer, do you think? Which one is amore ethical option? Which one is less aversive for the dog? I’m very aware at this point that some (many) may jump on this and criticise me or take that I am condoning the use of negative reinforcement protocols. I am aiming to make the training protocol the least aversive, most positive experience I can for the dog. In this second example, I think it would be questionable ethically if I were to deliberately move the dog back to where they were uncomfortable in order to reinforce the calm behaviours by moving away. I’m not suggestion we do that. But there is every likelihood that they dog will have learned that, given similar conditions in the future, they can move away.

Good (ethical, progressive, positive) training is nuanced and needs knowledge of both the theory and how to apply it. There is a human element involved and we need to understand that these human factors, and all the judgements, prejudices, belief systems, world views etc which are part of the human condition, go along with training the animals in our care and influence them. The quadrants are the very start of that understanding and only a very small part at the start. I think these terms should be used only as the start of our knowledge and we should not limit ourselves to the expanse of operant learning by trying to explain everything in 4 boxes. The world, and our minds, are much bigger than that.

Lastly, I can never tell which posts people will find contentious and which ones won’t. I’ve been doing this long enough to realise that this one might, but I’m often surprised. If you are inclined to react immediately to this, please take a moment or an hour to review the information in this post. If you are unsure of any of the terms, please research them before commenting (from an academic source). The world is a very divided and partisan place at the moment, I don’t allow my page to further people being angry, cruel or unkind to each other, there’s already far too much of that as there is. If you really disagree with what I’ve said here, that’s totally cool, you are free not to express that disagreement emotionally on this page.

Love and peace.

Which would you prefer?

When I was a police officer I performed various roles. I did half my service in uniform and half in plainclothes. Two of the roles I carried out were as a public order trained officer and as an foundation undercover officer. Public order cops are what most people refer to as “riot police”. They are the police you see wearing riot helmets, limb armour and carrying shields at public protests. In Scotland, they also have responsibility of arresting VDPs (violent and deranged persons – yes, the nomenclature probably needs updating). As an undercover officer, I was tasked with buying drugs such as heroin and crack, stolen property and an number of other covert policing activities. Both rolls require different skills and the officers applying for these roles are selected and trained quite differently from each other. They are both voluntary roles so motivation (at least at the start of training) is a given, we all wanted to be there.

The purpose of this article is to illustrate how various teaching methods affect your emotions and performance.

Initial training for PO is 5 days. You are taught the tactics, put through your paces (HOLD THE LINE!) and given various scenarios where the instructors give you a hard time by throwing heavy things at you, barricading themselves in rooms and hitting your shield with pick axe handles. It’s all good fun. You then have to requalify twice a year for a couple of days to keep your skills up. You may or may not have been deployed in that role in the interim. On one requalification, they were running scenarios where we had to enter a building and arrest the instructor who was playing a violent person. They asked for volunteers for team leader. I put myself forward and was given the scenario. The instructor asked for my plan and I told him what I was going to do. He acknowledged my plan, told me it was a good attempt and then reminded of a couple of things I had forgotten about. With the additional information, I revised my plan and went to work with the team.

Learning points

  1. My efforts were reinforced. I felt good about volunteering. Everyone else on the course say that my decision to volunteer and my attempt at the plan were reinforced. They would be more likely to step forward for the next scenario having seen that. If they had witnessed me being berated or mocked for getting it wrong, do you think they would be more likely or less likely to step forward on the next round?
  2. Certain knowledge was assumed but it was also recognised that I didn’t know the tactics fluently so I was reminded.
  3. Having been given meaningful feedback, I revised my plan. Having a plan which was safe and effective, I was given the greenlight to proceed. Job done.

How do you think I felt about that experience? Good? Bad? Happy to volunteer next time? Overall, great teaching from the instructors who were running the class.

A few years later, I am on my foundation undercover course. I won’t go into it in too much details but over the course of 8 days, you are put through your paces. Long hours, taxing learning scenarios, being put under pressure emotionally and mentally. The teaching is very different. They want to select free thinkers, people who are dynamic, can react quickly, tactically aware, can think on their feet, sharp witted. Due to these learning objectives, they have to put you through lots of unpleasant situations to see how you will react. Your life could depend on it when deployed, quite literally. The key reminder here is that everyone wants to be there. Every officer on the course asked to be considered for the role. Over a hundred applied, 12 got on the course and only 6 of us passed. But we were all volunteers and we could quit at any time. The instructors also monitor you all the time to see how you are doing and you are repeatedly set up to fail to see if you can spot the traps. All good fun.

One morning, maybe day 2 or 3, we went for our tea break. The classroom was left unlocked and everyone of us left our notes on the desks in an unlocked room. The information we are given is restricted so our notes are now restricted. We had failed to notice this, made assumptions and made the mistake. When we returned form break, all our notes were gone. One of the instructors (who is now my friend), cam in with a black bin bag full of our notebooks and folders. He threw the bag onto the floor, the notes scattered all over the room and then shouted at us to pick them up and told us the reason why they’d been taken. Point made. As the 11 of us (we had a faller on day one) were on the floor, I could see a couple the the younger cops’ faces flash with anger and humiliation. I whispered to them to just take the telling and not show they were upset (I had my own moments through the course too). We got ourselves together and went back to our desks.

Scenarios like the second one littered my career in the police. Being shouted at by our driving instructors for not cleaning the cars to a standard which was unknown to us is hardly fair. Being shown something once and then assumed that you know how to do it and getting sanctioned for getting it wrong. Supervisors not recognising that you make mistakes because you have been working for 16 hours, three out of the last 4 days, not eaten properly or seen your family in that time and then not being aware enough to recognise this may affect your performance.

Given the two scenarios, which way would you rather be taught? Given that you are not training your dog for undercover work, do you need to shout at him or be harsh with him for getting it wrong? Do you assume that he “knows” or that he can perform that behaviour under all conditions all of the time? Can you? People who compete in dog sports might say that these “corrections” prepare your dog for the ring. Do they? Is your dog a volunteer in that scenario the way I was above? Are we doing it because you want to win, because we need that perfect score? How does your dog feel during the process?

I think our dogs deserve us to consider whether we are assuming that they are motivated to do the behaviour and whether they know what we are asking them to do. Surely if they were, they would do it and not need corrected for not?

Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 9

Cultivating calm and stillness – letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle

I recently read “Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday. In the book, the author espouses the Stoic practice of stillness into our lives. We can do that with our dogs. How?

Firstly, what’s the rush? Look at the difference in height between you and your dog. The bigger the difference, the bigger the difference in your stride length. If you are out walking, and walking quickly, your dog is moving very fast in order to keep up. This means no to time to sniff. Imagine going for a long hike and getting to the top of the mountain, a beautiful vista in front of you and your walking companion immediately jags you to start moving down the hill again with no time to enjoy the view. Or if you are reading the newspaper and your wife or husband doesn’t give you the chance or peace to read. We do this all the time with our dogs by not allowing them to stop and sniff on the walk. Sniffing is both enjoyable and enriching for our dogs. It’s how they perceive the world, much like how we perceive it visually. Slow down and stop, allow your dog to sniff. I think there is a very real danger that many of us equate distance with progress on a walk. We have a specific route to walk along and due to our busy lives, we have a certain amount of time to do it. If you have 20 minutes to walk your dog, why not go for a really slow meander through a small part of your neighbourhood and allow your dog to stop and sniff at everything they want to for as long as they want to. If that means 3 minutes on a particular lamppost, let them. Can you give your dog 3 minutes of your stillness? It takes practice but everything worthwhile does. While your dog is sniffing, cultivate an attitude of fascination in what they are doing. Be present with them. Be still. Breathe. Breathe deeply into your belly. Relax your jaw. If you make this a habit you and your dog will reflect this new way of being onto each other.

How do you put your dog’s lead on? How do you put their food out? How do you get them out of the car? I think anxiety plays some role in how we live our daily lives. The constant pressure of time and not having enough of it. The need to get things done quickly and move on to the next thing. Slow down. Take your time. Prepare their meal with care. Even if that meal is a bowl of kibble, think about what you are doing. Tell the dog her dinner is coming and smile. Move slowly and thoughtfully. Put your dog’s lead on and take it off with the same care. Think of a loved one helping you on with your jacket or dressing you when you were a child. Act carefully with love, attention and thought while you do it. Think of what your dog is experiencing and make it as best as you can.

When I’m meeting my clients I ask them to leave their dog in the car and we bring them out this way. I give clear instructions “bring your dog out slowly and silently. Stand still when they come out the car and relax your arms on the lead”. I think many are anxious. Anxious that they don’t know what they are doing, that their dog will bound towards the trainer and jump up, will embarrass them. Shame rears it’s ugly head again as I’ve talked about in previous posts in this series. Despite my requests, many clients rush their dog out the car, repeatedly ask them to sit, sit nice, wait, eh eh, no. So I remind them. I am more practiced at these still behaviours (still a work in progress) so I guide them. The greater care we take at this early stage in the session, the more thoughtful and deliberate and less reactionary we are in our action, the better the session is. By slowing down, we make more progress in a shorter period of time.

As a society, many of us (including me) as so hopelessly emotionally illiterate and everyone around us suffers as a result. We don’t even know what we are feeling let alone able to describe it or identify the causes but it doesn’t need to be like that. We can learn. your dog and everyone around you will thank you for it. Start with being still.

I mixed up parts 8 and 9 in this series. I’ve edited part 8 to reflect that. Last part to come.

Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 8

Cultivating meaningful work – letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”.

Many moons ago, a close friend of mine got a summer job working for the parks department while he was studying. He was working with men which, in the West of Scotland, would be described as “bears”. A bear is generally a man in his late 30s onwards who has had a lifetime of hard work, maybe likes the simpler things, maybe likes to drink too much, reads the tabloid newspapers always starting with the sports section, can’t express any emotion, in constantly sarcastic, can be toxic to be around but can also be good company doe to their wicked sense of humour. My friend was reading a novel one lunchtime, maybe John Grisham or Stephen King, and one of the bears asked him about the book. Next week, my friend is reading again at lunch, a different book, maybe a different author. The same bear asks “are you still reading” to which my friend, at 17 years of age, replies, “aye, I’ve not finished them all yet”. Touché. If my friend had taken notice of the inference that “men aren’t really supposed to read” or some iteration of that he may have changed his behaviour. He didn’t let self-doubt or how he was supposed to act in the presence of these men influence his reading. He was bettering himself.

We are playing at the park with your dog and being silly. We receive a look from someone who disapproves of how we are behaving and we stop being childlike in our attitude towards our dog. The relationship suffers. We become less playful.

Thing our dogs are “supposed” to do.

  1. Sit before crossing the road.
  2. Sit before getting out the door[JM1] .
  3. Sit before getting their lead on or off.
  4. Sit before getting out the car.
  5. Sit nice.
  6. Never jump on anyone ever for any reason.
  7. Never chew any of our stuff.
  8. Sleep on the floor or on their bed but never in your bed or on the couch (as I’m typing this, Logan is lying on my bed behind me, gently snoring).
  9. Walk next to your left leg at all time and never waiver.
  10. Not stop and sniff on a walk.

This may seem extreme and many people won’t be that strict with their dogs but some will and many will do some or many of the above points and more will do them sometimes or often. Now let’s adapt that list and instead of saying that our dog is supposed to do these things, change the perspective. These are things we are supposed to be able to get from our dog. If we are supposed to be able to (by whose standard? The “dog behaviour police”?) and we can’t how do we then feel? How do we then act towards our dog. If we act that way, then how does our dog then feel? How does their life change?

I know there are many different philosophies on how to train a dog but let’s say you employ the services of a dog trainer who bullies your dog in some way. I’ve heard accounts from clients whose dog’s have defecated during training sessions with other trainers because the dog is so scared or confused. They said they knew at the time that it wasn’t right but didn’t say anything. The doubted themselves and because they didn’t intervene, they then felt terrible shame afterwards. The flip side of that is that it takes courage and boldness to do so in the presence of someone who is meant to be the expert. That’s difficult but we need to do it.

How do we get round this? We decide what we want for our dogs and why. For me, and what I try to teach, is that all our decisions are for the dog’s welfare. With these in mind, we now train those behaviours in the most positive way we can. This takes effort and knowledge and our dogs deserve that work.

Please let go of what we are supposed to do or be able to do with our dogs. If you feel something is right, do it, if it’s not right, speak up on behalf of your dog.

Final part to come.


Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 7

Cultivating play and rest – letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth

A tired dog is a happy dog. Is it?

I have heard that comment many times in my 20 odd years of dog ownership. You need to keep them enriched, engaged, you need to mentally stimulate them, to exercise them, to keep them tired.  I do think we have dogs who are chronically under employed and enriched but I also come across a tonne of dogs who are over exercised, over trained, over walked, sleep deprived. Clients buy “working” breeds and then run them ragged. Tonnes of walking and off lead play around other dogs and on the lead. They end up with no rules, no frame of reference of how they should behave, over tired, the inability to sleep and settle indoors and outdoors. Most of the behaviour problems you see with your puppy, such as zoomies and constant biting, barking and snarling is a symptom of the pup needing more sleep. They are growing and the need rest. Significantly more rest. I interviewed a vet behaviourist I know a few years ago and the doc told me that dogs need 16-18 hours of sleep per day for optimal health. Puppies need more than that. Logan sleeps toward the top end of that every day and if we have had a strenuous day of outdoor activity for two days in a row (and strenuous for him isn’t a lot) then he definitely needs more rest the next day.

Many of us are chronically overworked and sleep deprived. We boast that we can go on 6-7 hours of sleep per day. News flash – you can’t. You are literally killing yourself, knocking years of your life. Chronic fatigue is as bad or worse than smoking, we are just able to do it because too much screen time stimulates our brains into being awake and we top it up with caffeine. If your dog doesn’t have a quiet place to settle in your house and the ability to do so, they will not be getting the sleep they need. If you are exercising them often throughout the day, they don’t get the chance to switch off the same way we don’t through too much time on devices.

How to we play ? Play is actual play – goofing around with your dog, chasing him from one room to the next, rolling around on the floor with him and being silly. Actual play. When I am sparring at Jiu Jitsu with a good sparring partner, you can hear the play. Because we laugh, we joke around, it’s light and playful. Not everyone can do it because competition and fight kicks in. That’s what happens if you are too heavy in your dog. It’s like me having some 120kg 25 year old weight lifting white belt trying to kill me because he doesn’t know who to play and wants to make his mark on the old man. I’m hanging on for life. That’s how your dog can feel if you are too rough.

How do we rest? Can your dog settle? I mean really settle? Do you hear that big exhalation of breath when they lie down? Do you see soft muscles? Do they stretch off fully (up and down dog) when they get up from their nap or rest? And I’m not talking about the stuff you might have seen online where the dog is wearing a shock collar and “stimulated” every time they move from their bed. That’s not rest, that’s a prison. Can your dog sit or lie in a relaxed manner if you sit on the floor or all they all over you? Do they invite play and massage if you do? If not, they are likely bored or over tired. Forensic examination of your lifestyle might give answers.

Your dog needs rest, play and enrichment. Lack of or two much of any of these leads to behaviours we don’t want. Provide her with what she needs.

Love and peace.

Par t 8 to come

Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 6

Cultivating creativity – letting go of comparison.

A couple of years ago I posted a short video of me working with a client and her two unruly dogs. A two-minute video which summarised all the information I had gleaned about this woman, her lifestyle, the amount of training time she could do with her dogs, her level of knowledge and ability, her stress levels, her dog’ current learning etc. Two minutes. I had to be creative in my approach to the solutions I could offer her and for her to get the results she needed. The video I showed wasn’t like other training content which was out there and then the “I wouldn’t do it like that” and “Would you not be better…” comments started on social media. I had been creative, worked towards a solution but it was not what others did. If I took those comments to heart, do you think I would be creative next time? If I compared the work the four of us did in that hour to work which other trainers did or do (given that they didn’t have the information I have) do you think I may have acted less creatively?

You are walking through the park with your dog who is going through a particular training issue, pulling on the lead for example and you see a dog walking beautifully with their human on a loose lead. What is your thought process? “I wish we could do that” “I wish my dog walked like that” “Why can’t my dog behave like that?”. Perhaps even more judgemental towards your dog “Why don’t I have a good, well behaved dog?” I think these thought patterns are pretty insidious. Let go of that comparison to others and be creative. Know your path, ask the right questions to get there. We know that having negative thought patterns gets in the way of creativity. It blocks that part of our brain. Comparing your journey to that of others is counterproductive. Don’t do it. Take advice from those you have greater knowledge than you do and reflect on it. Learn. Study. From many different sources not just from one field.

I started looking at tonnes of interactions through the lens of behaviourism. When I started to, I would then notice the little things which people did with each other and their dogs and would put them into my repertoire. It could come from anywhere; film, literature, interactions with a person in a shop, documentaries. As soon as I started opening up my perception to it, I started seeing more. Weightlifting schedules helped my understand how often to train with my own dog and for how long. I also celebrate when my clients have understood the principles of what I have taught and been creative into how they implement it in their lives with their dogs. These are great moments. They don’t compare what they do with what I do, they see the commonality in it and adapt it to their lives. It’s glorious.

Lastly, again, I think shame is the reason why we do compare ourselves to others and one of the s we are not creative. To be creative is to be bold and brave and courageous and to take a chance. And with that, you leave yourself vulnerable to failure, to it not working, to the comments of those on the internet who use your journey to vent their frustrations about their own life. You can’t control what they think, feel and do but you can control what you think feel and do. Quoting Brene Brown again

“Stay awkward, brave and kind”.

Part 7 to follow.

Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 5

Intuition and Trusting Faith: letting go the need for certainty.

The whole future lies in uncertaintylive immediately. ― Seneca

Two things which are certain in life – everything lives and everything dies. That’s it. We thrive on certainty and on predictability as do our dogs. Our dogs need have both the need for certainty in their lives (so that they can rely on us to act in ways which meet their needs) and the need to be fluid and adaptable. But I’m going to talk about us, our stuff.

Years ago, I worked with a couple who had a young Beagle. He was around 10 months old. This dog had never been off the lead. Not ever. He had spent his whole life in public on a 4-foot lead. I did some gentle questioning (well, as gentle as I could be at the time) and the woman told me that her breeder had told her that Beagles cannot be recall trained, that they would find the scent of an animal and be off and wouldn’t come back. She also told me that her friend’s dog had been struck by a car and killed a few years earlier. We now understand her reluctance to have her young dog off lead. We started training, puppers on a 10m lead and harness, lots of reinforcement through toys, play, treats and cuddles for coming back and after a short while, we had the dog moving away to greet other dogs, being an adolescent dog and eagerly coming back when called. A great start. So, problem solved? You may think so, but maybe not.

The clients and I continued the consultation and even though I pointed out that the dog was willingly standing near us when he had the option to run off and enthusiastically coming back, she still said she would never have him off lead. Not ever. She needed the certainty that he would never run away. Her need for that certainty, needing to know her dog was always safe and in all circumstances was crushing for her dogs future. He didn’t get to be a dog. I have great empathy and compassion for this woman, I get whatever trauma she has been through in her life affects her deeply but it also affected her dog too. He never got to enjoy being a Beagle as much as he could/should have. That hurts.

I recently watched the amazing series Band of Brothers. There is an exchange between one of the officers and a terrified soldier. The officer tells him the secret to not being scared in war is to accept that you are already dead, that you are on borrowed time. This allows you to act fearlessly. I’m not making comparisons to war and living with your dog but the point is that when you accept what you can control and what you cannot, it is hugely freeing. Having lived fearlessly for a long time and realising the damage it can do, I urge you not to. Living courageously is different and significantly more difficult. It is realising that you have something to lose and taking the chance on it anyway, because there is great benefit in doing so. Yes, your dog might run off and get hurt. Yes, your dog might get into a fight with another dog. Yes, you can control all of that by keeping your dog on the lead and away from other dogs but what life is that for your dog? Is risking a full life and being courageous enough to do so, accepting all which may come with it not a better option that a long, safe empty one? For me it’s a no brainer. Let it go.

Part 6 to come.

Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 4

Cultivating gratitude and joy : letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark.

Lots in this one. What is joy in our lives with our dogs? Where are the joyful moments? What can we be grateful for?

Loving with Logan over the last 4 years has been extremely challenging at times. There have been times where I have been clueless as to what to do to help him, to provide the safety and security he needs when outdoors and to reduce his stress. I had to hit the books, consult loads of trainers and behaviour people to learn and to practice, practice, practice. I also had to learn to accept him for who he is, not for who I want him to be. I am grateful for all of that. He has taught me more about patience, kindness, compassion, empathy and self control than I have learned in a long time. He has truly helped me on my journey towards enlightenment. I thought I was a good trainer before I got him, he taught me to up my game and be better. Much better. I think the universe that he was brought into my life, however challenging it may be.

Where is the joy? We laugh together a lot. He is goofy and playful. His light-hearted pounce on his toys when we are out paying, the way he runs round the flat and bows in front of me and asks me to chase him all make me laugh. He has helped get me through some really dark times. He as the only constant in my life when I was in crisis. I am grateful for the joy he has brought me, helping make me laugh and lighten my darkness when not much else did.

Scarcity. There have been times in my life in the last 4 years where I didn’t know how long his “good” behaviour would remain intact when outdoors. This got in the way of me enjoying those good times. Feeling that way meant I acted a certain way and that was all but guaranteed to bring those good times to a premature end. As soon as I realised this, the good times lasted longer. He is also with me for a finite time. He will be gone (or I will) at some point. I don’t let that affect the present and the times we have just now.

The darkness. I’ll not say much about this but the dark times are there and will pass. Recognise them, accept them and work on making them lighter. Know what they teach you.

Be thankful for your dog in your life, They won’t be here forever. Be grateful for what they teach us. Recognise the joy they bring. That goofiness, that side eye they give you when they think you aren’t liking. The way they deliberately pick their favourite toy and bring it to you. The way they refuse the carrot but will eat the chicken. The way they will only eat a cherry tomato if you burst the skin for them first. The way you experience the early, bright winter, weekend mornings because you have to take them out. The joyful moments are found in the small things, as well as the big moments.

Part 5 to come.

Progress, not perfection

Last year I set myself a few challenges in the gym. One of them was to bench press 100kg. My coach and I worked out a plan based on how many times I could train per week and we started working towards it. We had several setbacks, not least the amount of time the gym was closed due to covid. When the gym was closed, I worked on other things which would help towards my goal. During one training session in December, Scott loaded the bar for me. I didn’t know what weight was on it. 95kg was a success. 100 kg – the bar went down but wouldn’t come back up. An unsuccessful attempt. We then did a couple of partial reps at the top range of the movement at 130kg. The lower range was my sticking point but the 130kg got my mind and body used to a much heavier weight. Next time in the gym, 100kg flew up with lots left in the tank. Did I fail the first time or was I just not ready? Did I fail to achieve my goal or make progress towards it when the bar wouldn’t come back up? It depends on our mindset. Progress towards the end goal was important, not perfection.

This week I worked with two young dogs who had difficulty focusing on their owners when there were other dogs around. They would pull towards the dogs, run around at the end of the lead and bark. No aggression, just frustration. We got some really good progress during the first hour of our training. Lot’s of focused attention when the dogs were further away, less attention when they were closer but no pulling on barking, around 50% “appropriate” social interactions when the dogs were close and greeting each other. Those moments where the dogs pulled and barked? Are they “failures”? Did those dogs deserve to be corrected on the end of the lead, shouted at, told no just because they weren’t doing the perfect behaviour? When the bar came down and didn’t go back up, did I deserve to be given a hard time by my coach? To me, and trainers who trainer like me, the answer is obvious. No. In the space of an hour, we all made progress towards to final, sophisticated behaviours of walking politely passed another dog.

Finally, let’s look at the human client. They are learning a new skill. How to observe their dogs, how to move, how to deliver reinforcement, when to relax and when to be more strict, when to move towards the dog and when to move away. How to move with their dog. When they got it “wrong” do they deserve to be shouted at? Mocked? No, of course not. Progress towards the end result.

Just as in the example of me at the gym, when the gyms are closed, I can work on other skills. So when you can’t work around dogs, can you work on other skills? Can you practice your timing with your dog, your movement, your lead handling? Of course. And the same as with me, practicing these things makes us stronger when we go back out around other dogs.

Progress towards the end goal. Progress isn’t linear. Progress not perfection. Striving for perfection kills excellence.

We have a number of online courses available – loose lead walking, better recall and aggression towards people and dogs. If you follow the lessons, I can all but guarantee you will see improvements in your dog’s behaviour. Please comment for details.

Being Wholehearted with your dog – part 3

Wholehearted – part 3 – letting go of numbing and powerlessness

This one is a little harder as there is some deep-rooted stuff in many of us which affects us being numb. This isn’t for me to deal with as I’m only taking about how these principles relate to our lives with our dogs but I would encourage you to look at your behaviour if you are in the habit of relying on other things to avoid with what is going on in your head. You are not alone in that, it’s super common.

I’ll take more about the powerless aspect of this. I occasionally get a call, very often from a man, who says he wants 100% obedience or compliance from his dog under all circumstances. I always try to book these clients and then educate them when I see them. I remind them of what they said on the call and ask them if they are able to do that themselves. Are you able to respond immediately when your partner asks you if you want a cup of tea when you are full immersed watching your favourite football team in an important game? Do you immediately respond to every text message, email and phone call you receive (please say no, it’s not healthy). Then I ask them to think about if they are holding their dog to a higher standard of performance than they hold themselves. I remind them that they may have a dog who has been in the planet for months and is navigating a mainly human world and ask them if their expectations are fair or realistic. Then we start training.

Stoic philosophy talks about taking control of the things we do have power over and accepting the other stuff completely (wholeheartedly?). An example – we haven’t trained our dog’s recall well enough and they get away from us. We call our dog but he doesn’t respond. We get frustrated and angry with our dog and maybe with ourselves. In that moment, our dog is out of control; we are powerless. What do we have control over in that moment? How we breathe, how we move, how we react, how we perceive. So take control over that.

Retired Navy SEAL commander, Jocko Willing talks about this same thing. Many people know what the SEALs are but not very much beyond that. Google Navy SEALs Hell Week and read some of that. It’ll give you an idea of what these men can do (there are no female SEALs yet). Jocko tells us when his men would come to him with a problem his answer was always the same. Good. Good that we get to deal with this and good that we get to grow. Good that we do and not someone else. Good that we got this dog and not someone who was going to mistreat this dog or use harsh methods in training. Good.

What else do we have power over here? Once we get our dog back we have power over our training plan. Our quest for knowledge (ask if you don’t know). We have power over our own actions of how to proceed.

We cannot do everything, but we must do everything we can. That’s goes for all aspects of being a good human, not just in relation to our dogs. I think this is the key to not feeling powerless.

Part 4 to come.