Wellbeing or comfort behaviors

Publicado el 19 de March de 2015

Today we know that many animals, once their survival needs are covered, look to improve their wellbeing or comfort (Korttland 1940 makes the pursuit of comfort in animals explicit). The discovery of this characteristic showed us that the way of generating behavior -both social and individual-, and the learning of animals that have secure resources (food, water, resting place …) in sufficient quantity and quality and that also live in continually safe conditions is different from those without these guarantees. Thus we have the same species showing differences in their ethology as found in an ecological niche in the struggle for survival or pursuit of wellbeing.

There are a number of behaviors or movements that are indicators that a dog is in a state of wellbeing (Baerends 1960 coined the term “comfort movements”). The appearance of these behaviors on a frequent basis is an indicator of the quality of life and mental and emotional health of the dog, more reliable than the absence of signs of appeasement or the active pursuit of external reinforcements. Among the comfort or wellbeing behaviors of the dog are playing (social or individual), invitations to play, “wallowing” in the grass, resting upside down with the paws in the air, resting in open places instead of corners or closed places, seeking contact with the paws or nose, an “expansive” attitude, movement with jumps and sharp turns …. If these attitudes are continued and common, our dog will be in the optimal situation: its behavioral objectives will be intended mainly to “enjoy life” and not to fight for survival. Obviously a dog in a state of wellbeing will be able to enjoy training and living with us to a greater degree.

One of the characteristics of the comfort movements is that a large number of cases have no communicative purpose, a dog can wallow in grass without anyone watching it and of course when sleeping one way or another it makes no attempt to inform anyone of anything, of course if another dog or a person with knowledge sees it, they will know that it is happy and relaxed, respectively, but compared to behaviors of appeasement or aggression that are always made to transmit information to another individual, comfort movements do not necessarily have this informative objective, except in those cases where it wants to share its wellbeing by inviting us to play well!

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Points to consider to satisfy a customer

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Sometimes good work is not positively valued, if we are offering a quality service but customers are not happy we have a problem. And it’s a big one.

Although it is common to hear commercial trainers complain about this, they almost never feel responsible: Because the training is good, they think it must be the fault of whoever cannot appreciate it. This assumption is often false, of course there are cases where this is true, but not often.

Customer satisfaction is the third key to commercial success (the other two are quality work and optimizing training), to achieve it remember the following things:

  1. Do not make deceptive advertising: A lot of the time in advertising we include everything that could bring in the customers and we do not stop to think about it later. The customer remembers and expects: If you do not do good work, do not say you do because it seems more commercial, however if you consider it best to leave a high percentage of failure rather than use negative techniques do not advertise 100% successful results. If you’re not really a specialist in a race, do not say you are. If what you say and what you do does not coincide, your customer will not be satisfied even if the training is good.
  2. Make it clear where you think the training will get to: Individuals often want their dogs to never fail, even if the heavens open and Troy burns down. This can not be achieved, if dogs did not fail there would be no training competitions as every participant would get a hundred points! Let the customer know where their dog can get to, and you must be clear about it, don’t respond with phrases like "we’ll see what happens", "I’ll do everything possible" … These ambiguities are often taken for fear of not being hired, you must be clear from the start. It is better to not hire us than to feel cheated.
  3. Make sure you know what the customer wants: Just because most people look for the same thing in training, do not assume that training is the same for everyone. Maybe the dog not coming into the kitchen while making dinner is more important than a perfect performance on the obstacle course. Take time to find out the priorities and objectives of each customer and before the end of training make sure you consider what has been achieved. It is better to give a couple of extra sessions than to leave a customer feeling like training has been interrupted.
  4. The dog must work with the customer, not with you: Perhaps the phrase that I hate listening to most as a trainer is "with me the dog was perfect, but from the beginning, I knew they would not obey them," Well if you knew it would not, don’t accept it! It is easy to forget that we do not charge for training the dog, but the owner(s)/dog team.
  5. Do not promise unnecessary things: One of the most frequent reasons for dissatisfaction is that the trainer says that "in a few days we will give an overview" or "see how it’s going," which arouses interest… and he doesn’t do it. When training is completed and there is work, it is easy to forget these things, which are often offered lightly. But the customer will have taken it as a commitment and if we don’t do it, the customer will feel that we have neglected them. Even though the dog has had exemplary training.
  6. Do not badmouth your competition: Sure you have arguments to defend your services without having to say how bad the others are, doing so gives a bad impression. We are also all in the same boat, let’s compete but let’s not fight.
  7. Be formal: Delays, cancellations of classes, changes of the agreed schedule… give the impression that "yes, they know a lot about dogs, but they’re not a serious person" Do not do any of the above unless it is unavoidable, feeling like a nap does not count as "inevitable"!
  8. Make it clear how much, how and when you charge: Being ambiguous in this raises susceptibility rapidly, and more as it is.
  9. Make sure you receive your money: Getting paid is not only important for eating every day and paying the mortgage, if someone does not pay you can be sure that they will speak badly about you to justify it. It can come to cause you a lot of damage, so avoiding it is a priority.
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Learning and thinking through mental images (introduction)

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Unlike we humans, dogs do not have a linguistic code that allows them to mentally operate with symbols (words) that represent things. We must therefore assume that they operate with sensory mental imagery (uni-sensory or multi-sensory) of those things that they know or learn. This is what makes our work most difficult, their way of thinking is totally different to ours, only some mildly autistic people (e.g Temple Grandin) who have the inability to think with words can tell us what the mental experience of working with sensory images is like. We can take a lot about how dogs really think from their experiences.

Much of our extraordinary ease in thinking about complex things come from our ability to encode information in symbolic form and process these symbols in our heads instead of directly using mental images, to illustrate this I would like to give the reader a little exercise: mentally evoke the image of a person you know, do not think of their name just picture them, ok, now imagine that they are riding a horse, when it gets there imagine that this horse, with your friend in the saddle, is jumping a fence. Well, if you did the exercise you may have noticed that, as more elements were incorporated into your visualization, it was more and more difficult and the image was not all as accurate as it could have been. Now think of the name of your friend and mentally repeat the phrase: Fulanito riding a horse and jumping a hedge. This really has not taken much effort, as these images have become symbols, processing them is easy, fast and restful. Dogs operate in the first, more laborious way.

Handling symbols is a way to optimize the computing capacity of the brain, this is what makes computers so smart: with a binary combination of simple symbols (zeros and ones) they can perform a lot of very complex mental processes. Why does this happen?When you think of images your brain has to devote a lot of effort to build the image: You must put some kind of clothing on your friend, think of a color for the horse, the shape and arrangement of the hedge, even though I did not request any of this, you need to do it to build the image, however this effort is not necessary to symbolize it in words, we don’t need to know the clothes, the color of the horse or any other data except the minimum that I have asked: Fulanito riding a horse and jumping a hedge. Dogs do not have this ability to translate symbols, thereby minimizing the amount of information relevant to that time, so their thinking is slower and requires a significant amount of sensory memories.

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How to optimize our commercial training sessions

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I see many commercial trainers that are just starting out (and some that take time in getting started) asking for extra trouble and work by not optimizing their sessions. Training is a very vocational profession and it is often those who dedicated themselves to it that tend to look for training only in the technical area, that is, how to teach the dog, however in commercial training, like in any professional field, you must have some optimization keys to avoid having to work more in situations we have created ourselves.

Of the three variables of commercial success: quality of work, customer satisfaction and optimizing time, I will focus this article on the last, how to optimize training time? Here are a few clues.

  1. Train the call from the first dayIf you train the call from the first day, you will see the potential problems that may arise beforehand and will be increasing the volume of work on the most important exercise training in commercial training.In my opinion this is a fundamental point, the call is often the most problematic command and it is usual to start initial training with the simplest actions (sit, down..) and teach the call after several sessions with the other actions. As a result we often have to extend the training to finish training the call, more sessions that we could have saved if from day one we had given it training time. We must invest in what matters – what dog doesn’t sit or lie down as bad as the training is?None!, but don’t spend too much time on it, go directly to the core.
  2. If something in particular does not come off, don’t get obsessedIf the training goes well and the dog gets stuck on something concrete, it is best to leave that action for a few days.One of the best ways to stretch good training to infinity and beyond is getting obsessed when we fail to make the dog perform the actions we have to teach it (perhaps the action that most happens with is lying down).This is where many trainers get concerned and focus the sessions on “solving the problem,” this is a serious mistake: you can make both you and the dog nervous, neither will think clearly, thus exacerbating the problem at each session, you can generate learning blocks in the dog (and you). Remember that the whole is stronger than its parts, if the dog sees clarity in teaching and achieves results it will be more willing to learn and perform other actions that are less easy or comfortable, at the end of the day during a successful training session the dog is learning to learn.
  3. Work on the dog’s concentration before the behaviorThe first thing you have to achieve is that the dog has a sufficient level of concentration in class, do whatever is necessary: take it to a quiet place, use a disruptive stimulus when it is distracted… but do not work an unfocused dog.When doing commercial training it is difficult to devote two or three full sessions to only teaching concentration and not behavior, it seems that you’re wasting your time and do not progress, this false perception is our enemy: if the dog is not focused, its learning is slower and lower in quality, it will be dependent on all the help that you give to get the behavior and will never try to achieve the action, training will become much longer for you with those two or three sessions and will be lower in quality. Believe me, everyone has gone through this error at first (and some have failed to overcome it.)
  4. Split the session into three partsDo not put forward a session of forty minutes or an hour, think of three sessions of ten to fifteen minutes separated by a few minutes break.You have to “squeeze” every session so that your expense of time does not end. We all know that the best training sessions are very short, ten or fifteen minutes, which is commercially viable (especially if you work at home), so most professionals opt for sessions of between half an hour and one hour of work, the problem is that these long sessions tend to work with the criteria and techniques used for optimal sessions (of ten or fifteen minutes), lengthening the sessions is possible in dogs that are used to working, but a dog that is brought to commercial training will never have that habit, so the results are concentration and quality loss in its behavior.You must put each session forward as the sum of three different sessions and with concrete objectives: The first part with all the actions you are teaching except the call, not having to do the calls will prevent the dog from running out of energy when coming (many dogs of customers do not have a suitable physical condition) and provide the concentration to be maintained within the area of social care. After this first part a short break and we dedicate the second part to the call, as the dog comes to assist us and already has it in mind to work with us it will be much easier, we use the technique we use and belong to the current training to which we belong. The third part is dedicated to stays (stay, go), the dog is more tired mentally and physically, so it’s a good time to make progress in this area. It seems easy and obvious, and it is.
  5. Control bodily aidsIdeally, it is the customer who trains their dog under our instructions, but if for any reason (training in residence, inability of the owner …) we are the ones who do it we have an added risk that can really drag out the work: bodily aids.It’s easy to help the dog without realizing it, by accompanying the movement we teach with our body, this is not a problem if we are aware of doing it in a precise moment in which the dog needs extra help progressing, but if it becomes something involuntary it can happen that the dog associates the action more with our movements than with the command. For almost any trainer with the minimum experience, it is easy to lead a dog with the body (in fact the problem is when you come to a test and do it involuntary), but these movements, so natural to the professional are imperceptible to the owner, who normally stands still like a stick repeating the command. Has it happened that you have to tell a customer “not like that, don’t be so rigid, does it help the dog out at all”?Because you’re spending more time than expected because of your poor planning: You have taught the dog bodily commands and now you have to teach them to the owner, or get rid of them in the dog, in any case: double work. Train without bodily aids (or keep them to a minimum and always remember that they are a scaffold which you must quickly remove) from the first day. If you already have the bad habit of doing them and you don’t notice them, record it on video and when you see it (it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s worth it) note all the involuntary aids that you do and eliminate them. You’ll surely save three or four sessions.
  6. Properly evaluating the frequency of the sessionsOne of the most common reasons that make us need an excessive number of sessions is that they are too frequent or too infrequent.If you train the dog every day you’re not giving it time to consolidate the progress; you’re building on wet cement! Thus you will need more sessions for the same result, remember that learning is a complex process that restructures the dog on many levels, including neurologically. Have you never been to one of these intensive workshops when on the third day you can’t take in any more information? Well the same thing happens to dogs. But if you separate sessions too much, you will have to devote some of your time to regaining the level of the previous session so that you are also working double. Although every dog has its rhythm, three sessions a week is a safe bet to not overwork it.
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What makes for successful commercial training?

Publicado el 20 de May de 2009

Success in commercial training depends not only on the technical competence of the trainer, there are two more factors that are often neglected: customer satisfaction and the positive balance between hours worked and the price of training.

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Welcome to “The Green Box”

Publicado el 1 de April de 2009

LA CAJA VERDE (The Green Box) is a space to share my insights and analysis after twenty years of studying, training and working with behavioral problems in dogs and cats.

I will comment on dog training, commercial dog training, relationship in between humans and dogs, therapy dogs, sport work ….

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