Canine cognitive skill training.

What I would call cognitive skills, a lot of people would call tricks. 
I’ve seen just how valuable these can be. Especially as a conversation starter with dogs that have never experienced being noticed, let alone someone wanting to interact in conversation, back and fourth as learning partners.

Or tricks if you prefer

What I would call cognitive skills, a lot of people would call tricks. 

I’ve seen just how valuable these can be. Especially as a conversation starter with dogs that have never experienced being noticed, let alone someone wanting to interact in conversation, back and fourth as learning partners.

Having fostered and taken in dogs for homing over the years, one of the most valuable training Routes, to start the learning process of learning to learn, is the light bulb moments that can happen when learning a cognitive skill, or trick if that’s what you wish to call it.

I have no issues with the name, I just use “cognitive skills” because I’ve seen the cognitive value of starting to think things through, and make connections. I love to see that moment when the cogs first start turning.

Its no good just taking on a dog that’s never had any one bother in the past and expect to “train”  just like any one that has never been fortunate enough to have a good teacher,  the first step has to be “teach me how to learn” “show me how to enjoy learning”  keep it simple, keep it fun. Learners remember the things that made them laugh, they don’t forget the things that made them shrink either.

Always amazes me, how many people are focused on one dog sport/interest or another take the attitude that any dog sport or interest that is not theirs is pointless, or less valuable.
I try hard to give the dogs I have lived with (permanent or long stay) what they need as individuals.

My past dog sport meant weekends, some times a week at a time camped up at agility shows, before completely flipping to HTM and freestyle.  Among the many friends in these sports,  are those that are also into scent work, man trailing, obedience, working trials, search and rescue, gun dogs, canicross and more.

Many of these friends have also found the value in cognitive skill training too, often useful in freestyle as part of story telling.

Why is this still a taboo area?
I still have conversations with folk who seem to think time spent on these skills is time wasted.
Could this be just an “I hate trifle, although I’ve never tried it”  “Its for children’s parties isn’t it”?   A status thing?   “I work proper dogs in proper dog folk land”
(maybe they never had a firm trifle with a crunchy brandy soaked base)

Or is this because people see cognitive skill training as associated with the old style circus training?  Animals being used like performing puppets, over and over,  night after night. So don’t get to see the value of how these skills taught and used properly can have a real impact on the individuals learning.
I’m not talking dogs balancing on their front legs or doing back flips, yes I’d call that circus too. No thought for the possible injury or unseen but long term joint damage.
Just simple basic tasks like learning to go round something,  nose or paw target a mat or disk,  if they pick things up then put things in a bowl, paws up on a box, travel to a station, such as a platform, put two paws in a pot. Once you start the conversation they start to take interest in what else you may have to say.
So why is this still such a taboo area for some?  Regarded as “not proper training”

Teaching cognitive skills can be just as important in helping canine cognitive development, as they are to children who gain so much from family board games, construction games, and jigsaw puzzles.

These games help them to think, understand, problem solve and it helps with learning to communicate and bonding.

Similarly word search, card games, bingo, crosswords and jigsaws, help to improve/retain memory by keeping the elderly brain fit and active. Simple tasks can also keep the ageing canine in the loop as well as adding value and purpose to their days.

So why are trainers that teach these skills ridiculed?

Short video below of clips taken of one of my longer term fosters, I used a little old flip share camera so I couldn’t fit all of this dog in.
When he was given over to me for homing, he had never been in a house and had lived in a compound on an industrial estate for some time.

He discovered tennis balls and was quite obsessed with them, tennis balls are not what I would consider safe for large dogs, they can get stuck in the throat, and lives have been lost through choking.

He never held the ball at the back of his mouth, more towards the front teeth. So this was a perfect tennis ball fix for him, and the start of our conversations, this game helped learning to happen for him. 

Others that have been shorter stay and not interested in picking up I’ve found paw and or nose targets that are so simple to train have been the conversation starter.

We started (he and I) as I do with them all, with a washing up bowl, a tennis ball, a clicker and a pot of chopped up cheese (his favourite)  and then progressively smaller receptacles, never thinking this big bouncy boy would ever master the precision of placing a ball in a plastic wine glass, having started out with no training experience at all.

He was homed soon after we reached this stage. He had became a live in house dog, with many skills under his belt.
It was the very early stages of this ball in a wine glass game (ball in a bowl) that was the start for him of learning two way communication.

Not circus tricks, and no more nonsense than the many skills a child can gain by joining in family board games or playing snap with granddad.

These are not just a waste of time either. There are life skills in there. Two way communication, that’s probably the most important one. The skill of observation from both sides, and working as a team are just a few of the skills to be gained.

How hard it is to travel through life with out being able to communicate with others, two legs or four.
Cognitive skills practice/training, Just a waste of time?      I DON’T THINK SO.
My posts are from the experiences I’ve had and observation. Animal teachers that have made me dig deeper and question. They’re not meant as any kind of instruction.

I‘m Always happy to guide people to good teachers.

So much information out there, never just one way.
If its kind, fair and it suits the individual character in front of you, and you’re both enjoying the process, then your on the right track.

2 thoughts on “Canine cognitive skill training.

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