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Learning Theory / Canine Body Language and Communication Seminar

  • Dec 9, 2012 · 9:00 AM
  • This location is shown only to members

9:00 A.M. to 1:00 p.m. - Learning Theory / Canine Body Language & Communication

Understanding the way an animal learns from its environment is often the key to successful training. After all, if you are not using a method or technique the animal you are training can grasp and understand, then you will more than likely confuse the animal. When animals are confused they will either tune you out (shut down, start active avoidance) or become anxious to try and understand (become nervous, offer behaviors it already knows, etc.). Many of these situations frustrate both the animal and the human! Some training “coaches” will call this confusion “disrespect”, “stubbornness” and even “willful disobedience”. In most of the cases I’ve seen over my long career in animal training, its confusion. The easiest way to end this confusion and get reliable behavioral responses, especially in the initial learning phase, is to use approaches that animals grasp quickly and easily.

The first part of this seminar will address the way dogs learn. We will examine their ability to grasp cues and pair then with behaviors. Then how the consequences that follow behavior dictate whether the behavior will be repeated or extinguished. Getting good, reliable behavior is really a matter of getting the animal to understand what we want and what the outcome will be for them. If we control the environment and rewards to a certain degree, this process is learned quickly and easily for the dog! We will not only explain this system in dogs in an easy –to-understand way, but it will be demonstrated with some dogs we will provide at the seminar. In addition to the learning process, we will also explore intentional thinking, a cognitive process animals use to understand and manipulate their environment.

In the second part of this day-long seminar we will look at how dogs communicate through subtle body language and facial expressions. These are easily recognizable signals that broadcast the dog’s feelings and intentions—once we know how to decipher the code and respond appropriately. Reading what our dogs are saying and paying attention to enables us to avoid misunderstanding and conflict. From the dog’s perspective, conflict avoidance is what it’s all about: achieving peace before an encounter escalates to the point of no return.

Some facial signals that serve to diffuse discord include avoiding eye contact, looking or turning away, yawning and lip licking. Not all signals involve body language. Sometimes communication is through behaviors such as standing still, sniffing the ground, shaking (as in drying off, not trembling), or even urinating. And then there are movement signals such as moving slowly or curving to approach at an angle rather than straight on. These are all “calming signals” designed to communicate a non threatening approach and to diffuse hostility.

The profound differences between human and dog communication can lead to tremendous misunderstandings. We often misinterpret our dogs’ actions. The result is that we blame the dog for what we see as misbehavior, when in reality it was the dog’s attempt to deescalate the situation. A common situation most dog owners have experienced is the frustration of calling your dog and having him take his own sweet time in coming. Here’s how it may play out:

You call your dog. He hears you, but doesn’t respond immediately. You call again, this time a bit louder and sharper, expressing mild annoyance. Still no response, you call yet again, this time communicating exasperation. After all, he knows what “come” means; you’re late for work, and have to get him in the house so you can leave.

Hearing the annoyance in your voice, your dog tries to diffuse your frustration through universally understood (by dogs) movement that means “Don’t be concerned—I’m OK.” He approaches at a measured (not hurried) pace, arcing in a wide curve. This slow, indirect approach fuels your anger. Now steamed, you holler, “Get in here ... darn it!!”

Your dog’s natural reaction to your anger is conflict avoidance: “I cannot approach an angry human.” So in addition to the curving approach, he slows even more. He shakes his coat. He stops to sniff the bushes. Then he urinates. Now furious, it takes all your self-control to keep from hauling him into the house. The dog was right, it was not a good idea to approach an angry human!

Paradoxically, the more upset we get, the more the dog is compelled to diffuse our wrath with body language (one of their best ways of communication) that serve only to make us even more upset. The answer: We need to get the dog’s message—to learn and recognize what our dog’s signals are communicating to us so we can respond appropriately. Mutually understood communication can take our relationships with our dogs to even greater heights—a win-win for both species!

To learn more about dog body language, including the subtle signals your dog sends you on a regular basis, we will again watch dogs interact with each other to see just how this communication between like species works. If we read and understand this system of communication, then understanding our dogs and their emotional state and intentions becomes much easier. Join us for a day of learning to understand and train with our dogs!

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  • A former member
    A former member

    Absolutely wonderful!! Information was great and Ken is a wonderful speaker

    December 9, 2012

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