One of the main things that separates a great K9 handler or trainer from a good K9 handler or trainer, is what I call “Canine Intuition.” Canine Intuition is developed through quiet observation, experience, aplying training and problem solving skills with both successful and non-successful outcomes, and a lifetime of being open to learning new ideas and seeking new ways to train efficiently. The antithesis of this ethic in dog training is the “Know it All.” The real experts in our field are self-evident by their accomplishments and the demand for their expertise as teachers, but in my experience these truely accomplished people are open, like to share their knowledge, can admit failure (but don’t associate the failure of a training exercise with a personal failure but rather a learning experience of high value), and they tend to give credit to others rather than heap it on themselves. When they see a good idea, instead of criticizing it, they ask questions, they try to adopt it, and tweak it in their own way, but give credit not just privately but publicly to those who had the intutiion first.
The Know it All Canine Handler – This handler, after getting his dog for approximately 2 weeks, has, by some divine intervention, become the world’s leading authority on training dogs although he has yet to train even one dog to completion. If a training exercise is not successful, he wants to buck the system and try to do things “his way” – even though he hasn’t had enough training experience to anticipate the flaws in his idea of training – usually with disasterous outcome. These handlers go home with their dogs outside of training and usually do exactly the opposite of what their trainer has told them to do. If the trainer says lay off the obedience, the handler does excessive amounts of obedience. He knows so little, he has no idea how what he does will affect the overall outcome of the dog’s training. His one good attribute is his drive to be successful, although it needs to be channelled into openness rather than arrogance.
The Know it All Canine Trainer – This person is in charge of training other people. This person has little humility and a boatload of arrogance. They tend to live in the past of their accomplishments, and do not look to change anything. They most likely started their careers as the “Know it All Canine Handler” and had success and promotion to their present position where they can exercise their authority over others. The know it all feels like less of a success if he didn’t develop a technique, or has to admit that it is time to change something he has done for years, and so it becomes easier to criticize new ideas and stagnate. These trainers are usually people who are “Big Fish in a Little Pond” in some region of the country, out of which they rarely venture, because that would put them in the position of having to be faced with new ideas, techniques and approaches. They surround themseves with sycophants who worship them. Look out for these people, because their arrogance is infectious, and they tend to create copies of themselves when training handlers. Remember the bible proverb: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Humility will, eventually, find you. The fact is that when you open your heart and mind to become a student and not seek to show what you know, or behave arrogantly because you have experience or past success, you grow and change with the times. You add more to your toolbox as a trainer, and you come to realize that there is always room to improve, change, adapt your training to new knowledge of canine behavior, or new techniques that are proven to work, even though you may not have thought of it first or used it in the past. Embrace your own development and learning.
Seek out trainers with real expertise and standing in our profession, and they will tell you that they have reinvented their training programs many times as they have grown and learned new things. This experience, this openness, is what having canine intuition is all about. Training isn’t about “my method” which is an egocentric view of training, but rather training is about doing what is best for the dog and handler team. It is driven by having a successful outcome, no matter who had the idea to fix a problem, or get the dog out of a training issue that was holding the team back. From these experiences a real trainer will simply absorb the experience for the next time.
See Jerry’s new article in Police K9 Magazine “The Power of Reward: Obedience” in the March/April issue, available now! If youa re not a subscriber, go to www.policek9magazine.com and subscribe!
Jerry Bradshaw and Tarheel Canine will be at the upcoming HITS conference sponsored by Police K9 Magazine, in Louisville KY in April 2009. Come stop by the booth!!