Work with who they are.

Not instructive, just food for thought.

So many claims out there.
Teacher/trainers have magic wands.
If you have a dog with an issue of any kind you are a crap trainer.
Some trainers would sort any problem if the dog was theirs. REALLY???

Work with who they are.
If life was a big circle and knowledge was the centre point radiating out to the edges as learning happens, what is needed by the individual to put them in the best place/state to help them settle in the centre, grow and fill that circle.

If this was a child, would they enjoy getting creative with painting, scrap books and coloured paper, or modelling clay, to be in a good place, or do they need to run and explore, climb trees, play football, girl or boy.

If this is a dog what out let does it need around the out side track in order for it to settle down in the centre. I think this is where understanding the individual is really important.

Springer spaniel - what you need to know about this gundog breed
Understand the individual and their needs.

For hundreds of years we have selectively bred dogs to work for and with us.

Different breeds and cross breeds have inherited traits which can make training more challenging, especially if these dogs find themselves in homes that don’t provide the work and mental stimulation that they need to live in our world.

We need an understanding of the challenges that inherited instinctive traits may pose, and look for ways to help them live in today’s world.

There is now more research, including MRI, specifically designed to better our understand of canine friends.

Lots of information out there about on going research, below is a small section from one such on going research project.

Canine Behavioral Genetics: Pointing Out the Phenotypes and Herding up the Genes
Tyrone C Spady and Elaine A Ostrander

“For years the dog has been suggested as an ideal system for studies of behavioural genetics. With the genome now mapped and sequenced and tools for building haplotypes and studying expression at hand, it is time to tackle the hard experiments. Why is the basset hound less effective at herding sheep or an Anatolian shepherd less effective as a hunting dog? More importantly, why do Australian shepherd dogs herd and greyhounds chase, both in the absence of instruction? Why did the domestication of dogs lead to a level of loyalty and devotion unrivalled among modern mammals?”

“For many geneticists, the most interesting behaviours in dogs are those that are highly breed associated, such as herding and pointing. For others, the challenge is to understand the genetic variation that contributes to the individual variation between dogs (personality). Still others see in man’s best friend a mirror of our best (loyalty, steadfastness, train ability, strong work ethic) and worst (stubbornness, aggression, and anxiety) qualities. An understanding of the genetics of all of these traits is likely to produce a better understand of not only the canine species, but the human species as well”

Dogs are often taken on without research or guidance.
Cute puppies bred to be working in one area or another, a few months in and it all starts to hit the fan.

Instinctive behaviour. Choosing an alternative behaviour
Finding suitable alternative behaviours that work, is going to depend on how deep and strong the instinct is when out in the real world, and how that individual balances with the ability of the trainer to channel that behaviour into working as a team.

Training and becoming trained is allowing someone else to guide, call the shots, make the rules, take control of the situation, give the instructions, however careful, kind and fair that training is, instinctive behaviours can take over and depending on the individual can block out all else.

This can be hard for dogs that get triggered easily when they are out in the real world too. The feel of needing to be in control of their situation and fight flight etc.
We can surmise but we can’t mind read, much as we’d like to.

Sensory systems
Within each sensory system there is an enormous amount of data being processed all the time. Attention to what is important in the moment is what takes priority. This is known as selective filtering or selective attention, and gating. (NOT selective as in deliberately ignoring) We have bred dogs for specific tasks. Strong instinctive behaviours take priority here.

The role of alpha-band brain oscillations as a sensory suppression mechanism during selective attention
“Evidence has amassed from both animal intracranial recordings and human electrophysiology that neural oscillatory mechanisms play a critical role in a number of cognitive functions such as learning, memory, feature binding and sensory gating”
John J. Foxe and Adam C. Snyder


Remembering we can set up the environment for success in training. But we can’t set up the environment in the real world. It’s the real world that can bite you on the bum.
This is where we need thought out management for possible situations. Obviously this will depend on the individual and any issues involved.

Choosing alternative behaviours
Choosing suitable alternatives for instinctive behaviours can be a hard one.
Chase a ball is a good stand in game, reward through movement, chase and capture. But a dog with an eye and instinct for squirrels or rabbit movement and run, is unlikely to give the ball a second look in that moment.

I think we don’t give enough credit to the differences in individuals, and the innate strength of the draw. Once an experience has been found to be rewarding, in same situations, environments etc episodic thinking and anticipatory pleasure is likely to kick in, as will the seeking.
Hallford, D. J., Farrell, H., & Lynch, E. (2020). Increasing Anticipated and Anticipatory Pleasure through Episodic Thinking. Emotion.

Some adapt beautifully to the alternatives offered.
Does that mean the ones that don’t are bad dogs?
Or the handlers are naff trainers?
Or are they dogs that are just living in their world in that moment not ours?


If only all things were perfect.
If all things were perfect, we could know, when we take on a gun dog, that if we follow to the letter this or that training route, we will get this result. The same with a farmer and his home bred sheepdogs bred from long working lines. But in reality its not always the case.

Dogs bred and raised and trained for a job by experienced trainers in their fields are sometimes passed on.
The care/service dog that doesn’t make the grade. The sheepdog that has no interest in sheep or even appears wary of them (and I have met some) The gun dog that shows no interest in retrieving and hates water. The youngster that starts out with great expectations to be the next light shining in the competition ring, may soon be put to one side when the glitter just doesn’t happen, and the next pup is soon on the horizon.

Have never quite worked out how buying in success makes a good trainer. I must be missing something.

Modern canine sports and activity training are a great substitute/outlet for many dogs.
Work with who they are.

No photo description available.

Living in the real world
I think I must have been extremely lucky with the people I’ve worked for in the past, the clients I’ve had and the friends I have in the animal world.

Maybe that’s because my early working life was very involved with horses and equine folk as well as dogs. Animals of size and capability, so already having an understanding of treating with respect.

I often hear how reward/reinforcement based training suddenly came on the scene as a revolution, and before the clicker landed, people training animals were all hard and heartless.

In my experience this was not the case. I think many of these statements come about from what was seen in the obedience world, that was pretty much the only dog sport to be seen by the public in the past, consequently copied by many, but not all.

They didn’t think then that the training world revolved around what terminology you used. It was more, observation, living with, feel, understanding, and hands on experience, doing.
Of course with research and science we can add the up to date data and clear explanations of the processes. We can also argue the terms that should or shouldn’t be used, and we do.

The clicker was/is a welcome addition to the training tool box, and has been in my tool box, pockets, rooms and vans since the mid 90’s. Introduction to the clicker thanks to Kay Laurence. I clearly remember buying my first bulk buy of 200 clickers in 97 for the classes I had at that time.

Now there are so many different dog sports and activities that any one can take an interest in to suit their dogs and life style, and with a more diverse range of people and characters getting involved in these activities.
Lots of choice when it comes to training establishments, workshops and classes that specialise with trainers that are current in a specific canine sports.

Today, even in the so called “positive” reward based dog sports communities, people can be pretty cutting and cruel to and about each other.

No one has all the answers.

Nobody should feel guilty if they are doing the best they can.

No one should feel bad about asking for help.

Dogs with strong instinctive behaviours have no concept of embarrassment, neither do dogs that get triggered.

Another point to think over. If some dogs bred for the job in hand, trained by experienced trainers in their field, don’t make the grade, there will also be dogs that get the lions share of the genes.

Having had many rescues (not the best title) throw outs, pass through and many that have moved in rather than on, over the years. I have been rewarded by witnessing many light bulb moments, and none of those moments have been started through formal style training. These moments have come about through teaching simple cognitive skills, my words for “brain training” or “tricks” (I’m not hung up on the title)

Most of these dogs have been shut out or shut up somewhere, or have hit adolescence and then ousted. Some have been dogs bred with strong instinctive traits, that have landed in homes that didn’t provide the outlet, that dog needed and was bred for.

These dogs often have learned through experience, that there is no way and no point in trying to communicate with people, but by taking the simplest of moves/tasks, like simply targeting a carpet square with the paws, so easy to set up so it happens for them to start with, and the light bulb moments that tell them we can communicate. I’m all ears and you can enjoy training me to listen, building team work and trust.

Just the start of that conversation and that light bulb moment is so rewarding. It also give them a small starter toolbox when they move on to a new home, a conversation starter for their new family, along with what ever skills we have been able to add to there life time toolbox.

I think also, simple cognitive tasks are just as rewarding to novice or new four paw guardians, to feel confident that they are capable of communicating and teaching their dogs, and it doesn’t need to start with a formal traditional list, but it does need to start with two way communication.

This is often a good start to stepping back and mending the cracks in a relationship that’s been bruised, because of those real life, real world moments.
Dogs with strong instinctive behaviours and dogs that get triggered have no concept of embarrassment.

Image may contain: one or more people, outdoor and nature
Work with who they are.
A repeat.
If life was a big circle and knowledge was the centre point radiating out to the edges as learning happens, what is needed by the individual to put them in the best place/state to help them settle in the centre, grow and fill that circle.
If this was a child, would they enjoy getting creative with painting, scrap books and coloured paper, or modelling clay, to be in a good place, or do they need to run and explore, climb trees, play football, girl or boy.
If this is a dog what out let does it need around the out side track in order for it to settle down in the centre. I think this is where understanding the individual is really important.










4 thoughts on “Work with who they are.

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