Empower trainers and handlers

My workshops are about empowering trainers, building your training protocols, collecting data, and using more positive training methods. Of course, we go into the newest insights in training. And yes, we train a lot of detection, hands-on. We teach what we just have learned in theory. You will find a mixture of lectures and actual training in my workshops. But the overall goal is the empowerment of trainers, and enjoy training!

The K9 world is polarizing.

Now, the dog training world is polarizing, the same as we see in politics and other places. Politicians give us a bad example by excluding specific persons or groups and using a debate style in their communication. They choose their point of view and defend this opinion without listening to the arguments of others. Or they express themselves in a manner that we call ‘discussion’. Even more toxic because the problem with discussions is that there will always be a winner and a loser. Often the person with the loudest voice or biggest ego will try to become the winner.

So I don’t like to go into debate or discussion. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not afraid to stand for my beliefs. But we can achieve more together if we choose the third option, the dialogue. Because then there is respect between both opinions. Now participants will listen to each other arguments. In the dialogue, there is respect, patience, and curiosity for each other. They try to position themselves in each other’s situation. See the world from their perspective.

Stoic philosophy

I would love to bring a more stoic philosophy into the K9 world. The Stoic approach to dialogue was based on logic and rationality, and Greek philosophers believed that rational conversation was the best way to resolve disagreements peacefully. They also believed that dialogue should be conducted without emotion, as it was more likely to lead to a successful outcome. This communication allowed them to break down complex arguments and reach a fair conclusion. Additionally, the Stoic approach to dialogue enabled the philosopher to remain calm and composed, even in the midst of a heated argument. This allowed them to stay focused on the task and ensure that the conversation remained productive.

Has this anything to do with dog training? Well, we can learn from this. It is about judgment and labeling each other as punishment trainers, balance trainers, force-free trainers, or pure positive trainers. In the K9 world, I see people choose sides. It’s black or white, left or white, and yes or no. They debate, discuss and argue. And if you want to avoid choosing, it seems you have a problem too. Before we know it, we start a debate or discussion to convince the other side about why this side is good and the other side is wrong.

You don’t have to choose a side

For me, the training world is not about choosing sides, labeling, or excluding people. Everybody is welcome because we can all learn from each other. Yes, I have my opinion, my values, and norms. And I wish people would use more positive reinforcement and be much more thoughtful and careful about punishment.

But that doesn’t allow me to exclude people. We must understand the principles and power of inclusion, and we all have a responsibility. Because if we don’t ban people, we can keep the dialogue open. We can learn so much from each other by staying humble and curious. That helps us understand others better and gives us more insight into why people choose a specific dog training approach. Then we can ask about their motivation, intentions, and what they want to achieve. It can be challenging. Of course, I also have moments when I’m not feeling well and take some distance. Then silence and not responding is often better. Please don’t get dragged into a debate or discussion. The key ingredients are environment, context, timing, bystanders, specific topics, mental flexibility, and emotions.

Train yourself in communication

While we are so busy training new skill sets in our dogs, we need to remember to teach the skill of communication ourselves. These days, many people communicate by text, Facebook, or other social media channels. Texting your opinion without watching or hearing how others receive it is easy. And often start this because we see, read, or hear something, don’t understand the whole picture, and assume we know what happened and how to solve it. The risk is that we lose our capability to have a good conversation with the other person. Because now there is only a keyboard and a screen between us. We miss the body language of each other if we only use technology to communicate. And as trainers, we know that body language gives us so much essential information.

Body language

Body language is an essential form of communication in human conversations. It can be used to convey feelings, attitudes, and emotions and is considered more important than verbal communication or text messages. Studies have shown that up to 65% of communication is nonverbal, with body language making up the majority of that. This is because body language can be used to convey information that words alone cannot easily express, such as emotions, intentions, and reactions. Additionally, body language can create a sense of connection and understanding between two people, which is difficult to achieve through text or verbal communication.

Building motivation by empowerment

My workshops are motivation builders for participants and their dogs. I love to empower both. It’s hard work, but that’s my job, and that’s what I like so much. The technique I’m using for this is FeedForward. I’m not too fond of feedback because it always goes back to the past. And we can not change what happened. Feedback is dangerous, can ruin relationships, and people tend to defend. FeedForward is focusing on the future. That is the only moment in time that we can influence. We can see significant differences after just a few trials by changing the subtle small details like body language, movement, position, action, timing, reinforcement skill, or handling issues.

It’s good to realize that, for me, there is no difference between trainers and handlers. Because they both are busy with influencing and manipulating the behavior of their dogs to get the best out of these dogs. They train their dogs to the most effective and efficient level within their reach. And if you want to make a difference between a handler and a trainer, well, I expect from a trainer that they are super creative! A trainer must be able to solve the training problems in multiple ways quickly. A trainer must be able to work not only on the animal’s motivation but also on the motivation of the handler at the same time. And the trainer must be able to make decisions to change the training protocol if that is necessary.

Enjoy making mistakes

I met a lot of handlers that had awful experiences with not-so-nice trainers. They are so afraid to make mistakes that they no longer enjoy the training. They are under constant pressure, like the dogs working with them. And when they make mistakes, they excuse themselves to their dogs and me. You don’t need to explain yourself to the trainer or your dog. I love mistakes. I ask and encourage my students to make mistakes! We must dare to make mistakes. Because then we can grow. It’s the way how we learn. Trial and error, just like our dogs!

So please remember, don’t judge too quickly or label each other. Be curious in the other, use the style of dialogue as our Greek philosophers did rationally and include others so we all can grow in this K9 world.

Enjoy training!

Any questions or comments?

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to send me an e-mail. 

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