Workshop for instructors

I recently did a mini two-day tour during which I met with 140 instructors and, together with my publishing house, I held a workshop for instructors, first in Gothenburg and then in Kungsör. Lena from Klicker Publishing House has written an account of this intensive and fun weekend.

In her new edition of “How a puppy becomes a star” (in Swedish), Maria made it clear that she wanted to make the book a plan for study. The first edition of the book had already become a text-book for many instructors all over Sweden and now she wanted to help those who wanted to go even further in their courses in proposing a plan for their courses. To that effect, Maria has included towards the end of the book a plan for 8 lessons which refer to exercises contained in the book, homework for the next session, etc.

Early we had the idea to organize a workshop or seminar for instructors who wish to give courses entirely or partly based on the book. It is SO MUCH easier to learn to prepare a plan for courses and become comfortable with all the exercises if one gets to hear and SEE Maria, when she explains and shows everything in real life!

Said and done! We recently did a mini tour, first in Gothenburg’s dog arena where we met with 60 eager-to-learn instructors, and then we drove up to Kungsör and met the next day with 80 more persons.

Maria had taken Signe, her 3-year old working kelpie, and Border Collie App, also 3 years old,to demonstrate with. We had also gathered a few more dogs to work with. The criterion we had with these dogs was, first and foremost, that they would be a bit difficult to reward and a bit difficult to motivate. The reason being that such dogs are most often the most difficult dogs to work with and to get into a course!

In Gothenburg, we had Putte, an 8-month old Cocker Spaniel, who did not really think that playing was a reward and much preferred to have food rewards. We also had a Border Collie, Lio, 1 ½ years old, who thought that play was fantastic but considered food nearly as a punishment….

In Kungsör, we had a Beagle, Svullo, 5 months old, who was easily distracted and hard to motivate, as well as a Labrador, Dogge, with whom we saw how easy it is to over reward a dog who is already pretty excited. All of these “demonstration” dogs, together with their handlers, were of course heroes who opened themselves; even more so the puppies, and we could see them grow and progress in front of our eyes.

Maria put a lot of emphasis and focus on the reward and its progression – in fact, this is what that day was all about! “If you have A good reward, you hold the knife you need in order to operate and, while you do need a knife in order to operate, you need many more instruments if you want the operation to succeed.” This is why we work hard at developing many different rewards. Various rewards will also bring forth different frames of mind which in turn will communicate to the exercise which is so rewarded.

In order to make us understand how important this is, she suggested that a portion of each training session should be devoted to working specifically on the rewards. Another point raised by Maria was to teach the participants to SEE what actually happens. What are the
consequences of a reward? Does the dog want to work more? Does the dog want to get away from the situation? When working two-and-two or in small groups, the students can help each other to observe and analyse. Also important in this part of the training, is a good feedback approach; be able to express what is good, ask questions and be constructive.

Before the workshop, we had printed a “training card” which we distributed to all the participants. This was the lead for teaching the students to plan their training session. On the card, there was a “before” and an “after” training. We had also printed checklists for each lesson so everyone had his own. (You can easily download these from the boutique, free of charge; you just “buy” them for 0 crowns and they will be downloaded on your computer. Many instructors download them and share them with their students.)

When training Cocker Spaniel Putte (who was not very interested in play), Maria recommended that his handler drew a toy on the ground, made a lot of play while moving away from Putte and made him curious about what she was doing. Pushing a toy towards a dog who is not interested is a big no-no as it will only make the dog want to avoid the toy. Maria also explained to Putte’s handler how to be careful to express her joy once the dog has taken the toy – and not to use the voice too much IN ORDER to get the dog to take the toy. Once the dog has grabbed the toy, this is when the handler must react and express encouragements, intensely and happily.

The same advice was given to Svullo’s handler. Maria herself worked a little with Svullo and it was fun to watch him choose, after a little while, to go over to a different handler. Svullo followed and played willingly. One of the keys was to do short sessions, to make sure nothing was too difficult for him and to act somewhat mysteriously with the toys, just enough to make him curious. Svullo understood very quickly “the world’s best help”: self-control.

Maria also demonstrated how the prodigious switch game could be used for just about anything. App likes to keep all toys for himself and does not easily let go of them; we were able to see how, after first brainwashing the dog to do a quick switch on the command word “ja”, Maria was able to let go of a toy for one second and immediately say “ja”, upon which App gladly let go in order to take the other toy.

On the subject of COMMITMENT, Maria talked about the importance of having a clear start and a clear end in our training. This also makes it easy to analyse and do an evaluation. If the dog looses interest (commitment), Maria takes a pause and thinks about a way she can change her training so it goes better next time. The dog must not be trained to be uncommitted!

After lunch, we worked even more with play exercises which can produce speed and power. Maria also showed how we can teach the dogs to look outwards (later useful for the cone, a dumbbell, the box and such). In the very, very first exercises for teaching the dog to focus ahead, she holds a treat in her hand and moves it a little away from the dog (who, by now, knows self-control) and when the dog is absolutely still, she gives him the command “take it”, thus teaching the dog to switch between being still and going full speed.

After working on a few target exercises (for example showing teeth or handling), Maria showed some exercises where the dog sits and waits, and then explodes into a run. She also showed some exercises where the dog learns to turn towards me, the handler, double quick after, for example, looking for a treat (a pre-exercise for the scent exercise).

It was a lot of fun to see how interested all the participants were. Some wrote that their pens were over-heating! There were many questions and many laughs in acknowledgement when Maria talked about the various challenges that arise for both handlers and instructors. Many of the questions concerned specifically dogs for whom it is difficult to find good rewards and how to find solutions. Maria insisted on the importance of having different kinds of rewards and she pointed out that developing rewards takes time, and that one should be patient and persistent.
Towards the end of the day, Maria had covered all eight lessons in the plan of study, as well as many of the exercises on the checklists. On both days, the last thing Maria talked about was lesson eight, called “Training for the sharp line”. This covers competition training and the reason why it is important to start this training right from the start. In the beginning, this may mean to do a short chaining of two small details of an exercise; also training with distractions – in competition environment, there are many distractions for both the dog and the handler.

As you well gather, those were exciting days! I hope and believe that most participants were very enthusiastic afterwards. The interest showed by all on both days was very rewarding and it was really fun to see how some Utility Dog clubs were so interested and sent a high number of instructors to the workshop.


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