Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just One Student

This week marked the last session in the 6-week Control Unleashed course I teach through BehaviorWorks.  I always like to take a look back and reflect on the journey that was made during the class.  Each class I teach is made up of a unique mix of students and dogs and this session of Control Unleashed was no exception.  

During each of the courses I teach, regardless of the topic, I make a personal goal to help each and every student succeed in the best way possible.  As a teacher, I find it immensely gratifying when I get to witness the moments in time where a true, honest connection between human and canine are made.  Helping people get to this point and recognize they have gotten there is wonderful feeling.  Following closely behind, almost as wonderful, is when I see a student take the initiative to push themselves to make that connection even better.  Whether it's by upping criteria at exactly the right moment, ending the training session after a perfect response or recognizing when their dog is getting stressed and respecting that communication to stop training.  Any of these pure forms of observation and involvement from the human partner make my heart glow with delight and respect.

Over my relatively short "professional" training career, clients who respect and desire a true connection and open communication with their dog are few and far between.  I don't think this viewpoint is rare, but I do think it's unfortunate.  There are many dog owners who just want their dog to sit, lay down, stay and come on command without care to how they get there and don't get me wrong, I like working with these folks.  It's those rare gems that truly want to be with their dog that I love working with. 

There were both ends of the spectrum in my most recent CU class.  

First the I had a well-meaning student who had a reactive dog.
The few times his dog reacted in class, he felt embarrassed and his own mode of thinking became reactive; he jerked the leash.  I know he was embarrassed and frustrated, but I could tell he wanted to change his own behaviors and help his dog.  If I would have only had a few more weeks with him and his dog to help him get to a better state.  Convince him that his dog wasn't being an asshole...he was just acting the best way he knew how in the given situation.  This dog was so food motivated that it easily could have had developed a different CER (conditioned emotional response) with a little bit of extra work.  I mean, c'mon a dog that will literally work for Kibbles-n-Bits dry dog food!  Easy!

Then there was the student who really got it.
A wonderful lady who, admittedly, has been training with BehaviorWorks since her dog was a pup.  She had her timing down for marking correct behaviors to the millisecond.  Her reward delivery was near perfect.  She upped criteria exactly when and where it should be done.  I continued to push her where she needed it, but I gotta tell ya, it wasn't a lot.  She's the one...The One Student...who worked with her dog as he was in the moment.  They grew together over the 6 weeks and blossomed into wonderful partners.

It's a beautiful thing and extremely rewarding to have such a student in class.  Someone who just "gets it."  Someone who wants to push themselves and their dog in a mutual, connected relationship.  This is more than training, this is real life relationship building.  And it's wonderful to witness.