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Thank you to guest blogger Laura Perkins of Perkins Animal Behavior Consulting for contributing this blog. 

 

If you ask my closest friends, they might tell you that I am a bit of a learning addict.  I loved school and am always eager to attend a seminar, workshop, or lecture.  Whether you are like me and love to learn what’s new, or would prefer to rely on the tried-and-true, education is crucial in the dog training world.  

Our scientific understanding and knowledge about our canine friends - how they learn and what they perceive - is continually expanding.  Because of this, education is not something that you get and move on from, but something that you are always building.

Two types of education

Education comes in many forms, but I find that it helps to consider two major categories.

The first is knowledge.  This includes any written or verbal information - books, lectures, even watching videos.  This is the type of education that gives you a better understanding of the science behind your training techniques.  It pushes you to think theoretically and consider new or improved methods.

dogbookfeatureThe second major category is experience.  Experience would include the hands-on component of education.  This is the applied portion of learning.  This is where you get good at the actual physical skills that you need to use your training techniques.  It requires you to observe and respond to what is happening in front of you.

Without both types of learning, your education will be missing something!  At different parts of my educational journey I have felt “one-sided” in my education.  Sometimes it was all application and sometimes it was all lectures.  But over time, by constantly working to balance the two, it has become easier to build both sides of my education.  

The other major challenge I have encountered in my dog training education is that there is so much information available, and not all of it is good.  Finding good educational opportunities, knowledge or experience, can be a daunting task.

What to consider when seeking new knowledge

Here are a few points I like to consider when seeking new knowledge or experiences:

  • Look to the science.  Evidence based information, such as peer reviewed journals, are a great place to start.  Also, most universities keep theses and dissertations available on their library pages.  If it is not a primary source, does it cite the original research?  Can you go find that and read it too?  Often authors will happily send you a copy of their paper if you do not have access to the journal.
  • Keep building your mentor base.  Although you can always learn from others, it can be helpful to have at least one or two mentors who are at a higher skill level or education level than you.  This might even be topic-specific.  Without feedback from someone who is better than you, it can be very difficult to improve your own skills.
  • Practice, Plan, Practice, Plan.  This is a great way to balance your knowledge and your applied skills.  When you are learning a new hands-on skill, keep practice sessions short and go back to the planning phase between each one.  Re-read the information you are working through, review your practice session via video or notes, and then try again.  This will help you to perfect your new skill.
  • Generalize your skills.  Just like dogs need to learn to generalize their behavior, we need to generalize our skills.  Can you apply your knowledge to various breeds? Various behaviors? While working with various people?  The more variety you seek in your application, the better you will get!
  •  Keep going deeper, but don’t forget the basics.  It is important and often intriguing to learn about new theories, more complex techniques, or more obscure methods.  However, most of dog training relies on the “meat and potatoes.”  The basics are key and you should always be brushing up on your ability to use and communicate the basics of your training program.

These are just the aspects of education that I have found to be most helpful or most important.  I am sure all of you other dog trainers out there have other great advice about seeking education.  Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below!

Laura Perkins Training Cute Puppy

 

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