FE395: The Art of Training: Developing Confidence and Flow

Instructor: Denise Fenzi

Course Details

Science has done much to bring our training techniques for companion animals out of the dark ages. Scientists greatly expanded our knowledge of humane and effective training techniques. They have given us a framework for training that is thorough, evidence-based, kind and replicable. It is now commonplace to teach our animals behaviors with the use of a clicker and a pile of cookies. We have motivated animals who understand the training process, and we can create desired behaviors with amazing speed and accuracy.

At the same time, we need to acknowledge that training existed long before scientists took much interest. For example, many of us can probably remember teaching our dogs to shake hands by picking up their foot repeatedly. After a time, the dog complied by raising its foot before we had a chance to grab it.

How is it possible that people have successfully trained dogs for so many years, well before trainers knew about the science? How did they do it? Most important for our purposes: what can we learn from them? Was there any advantage to this pragmatic and traditional, ‘get it done’ approach over the more structured scientific one that we advocate today?

How does one confidently blend what is known of science with the applied art of training a dog before you've actually trained several dogs? What does one do when a perfect training situation cannot be set up, because of insufficient skills, or the lack the locations and resources? How does the trainer avoid paralysis and maintain the joy and flow that comes with a mutually engaging training session? How can we work with our own artistic temperament, yet include science, so that each of us can truly enjoy our training at whatever level of competence we are able to muster?

We can develop our skills as competent and engaged leaders. We can focus on our relationship with our dogs above our actual training goals. We can add work to the relationship, rather than developing the relationship after or away from work. We can learn enough about dog behavior and emotions to prevent our dogs from reaching unacceptable degrees of stress. We can take advantage of the fact that dogs can meet us more than halfway, and often bail us out. We can learn to focus on watching our dog’s responses to our training rather than focusing on our technically correct execution; we can work towards becoming  "in the moment" with our dogs. We can accept that errors are a natural part of the learning process, without unduly worrying about them.

In short, we can focus on reality over ideal and then let the dog fill in a few gaps. When the session is over, we can look back and reflect! That’s when we use science: to help us figure out where we went wrong – or where we went right. Next time we’ll do a little better.

I want people to explore and appreciate the joy of training -- the art of training -- in the same way that I do! We start here, in this class. We start with the assumption that you already have a basic grasp on the scientific principles of training. We focus on execution of our knowledge; moving what we know from our brains to our bodies in as joyful and fluid a manner as possible. Let’s make it happen!

Note:  There are a wide variety of written assignments in this course.  Video is OPTIONAL at the Gold level and for those who do submit videos (totally great!) there will be stricter video limits to reflect the fact that many of the assignments are written, and those will receive feedback.  Plan on two to six minutes of video per week.