Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Training dogs and developing people

Mark Berthelemy wrote an excellent post some time back in which he questioned the suitability of the word 'training' in relation to people, arguing that it is more applicable to dogs. It is one I have linked to more than once before, and this post is in no way a contradiction of that, nor am I trying to equate human learners to dogs.

But I would like to explore the analogy from a slightly different angle.

This morning, as I walked Jessie, I passed a woman, a teenage girl and a baby in a buggy. Jessie walked obediently at my side. She didn't pull on the leash to sniff at them. She didn't bark at the buggy... or the people. The woman remarked to the teenager, "Now if I could find a dog like that, I'd prepared to have one. Look how good she is. Why can't I find a dog like that?"

Of course, I was proud of my gorgeous girl, but I was also somewhat puzzled at the woman's attitude. Did she think Jessie was born like that? And that was when my mind dived off down the analogy rabbit hole.

Jessie walks nicely because I have taught her how to do that. And it has been flipping hard work! In order to teach her, I had to learn what to do myself. I didn't pack her off to a training programme and expect her to come back all sweetness, light and obedience. I had to experiment with leads, harnesses and collars. I took her (still take her) to weekly classes, where I am the one doing most of the learning. I learn how to get the best out of her. I watch other dog owners with their dogs and pay attention to the little things they do. I provide Jessie with incentives. I give her encouragement. I praise her when she gets it right. I correct her when she gets it wrong. I praise her for trying.

I don't call her in once a year or once a day and give her an update on her performance. I catch her doing things right and I catch her doing things wrong. I respond to both immediately. When she noms her own toys, I tell her she's a good girl and give her an affectionate pat. When she noms my headphones (again), I tell her she's a bad girl and I take them away from her. I am engaged with her on an ongoing basis.

When we go out for walks, I tell her what a good girl she is when she walks nicely. When she pulls on the leash, I give it a sideways yank to deprive her of her forward impetus (a bit like a horse, really).

Because she has a tendency to steal food off the kitchen counters, I lay baking trays along the front edge of the counter, with the food behind. When she tries to steal the food, she brings a baking tray down with a resounding clatter, which she hates (can't say I blame her - I'm not too keen on it myself), so there are reminders to tell her that what she is doing is wrong.

Because she is a rather dominant bitch (oy, I heard that!), I have had to teach her manners in relating to other dogs. As she goes bounding up to them, all puff and strut, I yell, "Nicely!" and she drops into a sphinx position, waiting for the other dog to approach her, or to indicate in some doggy way that her approach has been noted and deemed acceptable.

It has been, it continues to be hard work. And I have to do it with her. It costs money. It takes time. It takes effort. But the reward is that she knows what she is supposed to be doing, and she does it... most of the time.

So, yes, it is about training, in this instance. But it is also about performance support and performance management... ALL THE TIME.

1 comment:

— Kim said...

Hey, Karyn, love your blog! Interesting post about training, too!

Check out my new blog: Top Dog Blog!

It's still pretty new, but I'll be adding new content and pictures daily.


See you there!