In 1992 I was introduced to a new way of training, clicker training. The more I learned, the more I realized I was a believer this was my way of training. As the years went by and I slowly worked on changing my old training ways, by 1997 I was completely dedicated to train with as much with +R as I could. I'm not perfect and no one else is either.
I had been to a lot of training seminars. The one that allowed my clicker training skills to become light years beyond any other instructor, was attending chicken camp in Hot Springs, Arkansas with Bob and Marian Bailey. The deep insights, the problem solving, the timing, the criteria and the rate of reinforcements was an epiphany like no other I have experienced. Training a chicken was a humbling experience and taught me that I am an emotional trainer. The chicken taught me how my emotions will not get me what I want. Emotional training interferes with a dog since they do respond to emtoions.
In the past ten years I have been off and on my training. I still use a positive way of training, but my clean skills have gotten weak. I know deep in my heart if I can get back into my discipline of focusing on a clean goal of training, along with all that I have learned in my life, I will get back on track.
I strongly believe that clicker training has a lot of responsibility. Not only do we need to be incredibly focused on +R with training of our animals, but we need to be this way with our whole lives as well. When I have been in a negative environment, I get off track. I get back into the nagging of my dogs, my focus of clean training looses its presences. I need to catch myself and get focused again. This is me getting sloppy. Self awareness is one of the most difficult things for a handler to do. This is why Bob and Marian Bailey said video tape yourself.
I see a video as something that doesn't lie and you can't deny the confrontation. To be true to yourself, you need to realize what and how you train to improve. No one is perfect and I have seen self acclaimed all positive trainers use some form of aversion one way or another. This is not a criticism, but a realization that we are all human. The key is to focus on your goal and have a good self awareness.
We must remember to not criticize someone for getting off track or even using corrections or aversives. It is tempting to get into this judgemental criticism because we think they should know better. I fall in this trap too sometimes, and it actually is counter productive. The key isn't to criticize someone for using it, but to make them aware and figure out why in a coaching or supportive way they have chose to do their actions.
With learning clicker training for 19 years and dedicated to it for 14, I now can go to any dog trainer's seminar and learn, regardless how they train. I had a recent experience having a private lesson under a well known trainer. She has achieved 200 scores in competition obedience and even has achieved getting an OTCH on her dog. She has a lot of knowledge that is valuable. However, her method of using correction was as if that is the only way to get the dog to go where you want. She cannot see that you can shape, lure, prompt or any other positive method to get to competition obedience. I don't fault her as she hasn't learned the insight enough to see how she can get there. At this point, I don't either, but I know there is a way. There is no need to argue or get emotional that she feels correction is the way to go. My goal is learn what I can from her, which I have and my journey is open enough to find another trainer to fill in the gaps she cannot fill. I may end up going back to her, to fill in the gaps others could not fill. Don't burn your bridges.
For me, to really believe in +R (Positive Reinforcements) means you apply it to all your life. You focus what you like and what is useful for you. It is about your whole body and existence. Not only train your dog with +R, but learn kindness with humans and yourself. It is hard when life sets in. We fall back to old habits. Especially if we are around a lot of cynicism and judgement, it is very difficult to keep track on our strong beliefs. Recently I have had to face this. I had previously been in a very positive environment, being positive with my dogs, people and life in general. I had to change jobs and now work in a very cynical and judgemental environment. This has been my biggest and truest test for me, can I continue to be a positive perosn when in a difficult environment? I need to ground myself in who I am, and not let the world affect me. It is hard, we do tend to conditionally respond to our environment. That's operant conditioning.
With the whole mind and body embarsing positive reinforcement, it also means not to find fault in these judgemental and cynical people. This is also true for correctional based handlers. Find the good they do where you can learn. In dog handling, if they use the correction too much, move to the next trainer and learn from them. Criticising them and complaining they do not train like them is hypocritical. You are bringing negative toxicity to yourself and it will not help change those who train with correction, in fact, it will just solidify their beliefs in how they train. Everyone is sovereign to their beliefs. Arguing or criticizing is only introducing more correctional based ideas. Hypocritical. The irony is, you are not staying focused on your positive reinforcement mind set. It is like not keeping focused on peace and spreading your peaceful word. Similar to how the Dalai lama sets out his life.
I do believe we need to point out when something is aversive, but keep the emotions and the criticism at check. It just brings toxicity to your body, just as when people criticize and demean others for their religious beliefs, political beliefs, or some other strong beliefs they may have. Focus on what you believe, don't bash others.
It is hard not to get caught up in a discussion or debate and then loose your focus on positive reinforcement. Its wasted time. As Gary WIlkes has said over the years, "I don't have time to argue, I need to train my dogs."
As far as competition obedience, when you perfect your skill and win at high levels, you will then get noticed for your training methods. People want to go with the winners. These are the change makers. If they happen to train with corrections, then that is where people go. If you can rise above and show it can be done with positive reinforcement at high levels of competition, then you can show it can be done. People listen to winners, not wanna be-s. I'm right now a wanna be, but hope that my journey will put me at the winners. I experienced with one trainer she felt correction is how you get there. But I did learn from her. She taught me where my dog's place should be in a sit/heel. She helped me understand the figure eight and how to walk around it, I was going too wide. It was valuable information and I'm grateful for that. I know how I can keep focused on what I want to learn. That's because I'm secure in my +R training.
In less than a week, I will work with another trainer who is strong with motivational methods and very minimal to no corrections in obedience training. She knows already I won't use them. This trainer does see how you can use +R only in training. I can take what I learn from her and keep true to my thinking of +R. My journey is moving forward. They are helping me in my journey. I want guidance as I do not want to be overwhelmed with too much in the ring. Coaching for me is invaluable right now.
You can learn from anyone. It is we, the people who need to look at people with an open mind and see the lesson. So many people loose out on lessons in life because their critical judgements get in the way seeing the light and enlightenment.
I am getting closer to my dream. To use 100% +R for competition obedience. I have the dog that is capable of achieving my goals.