Empowerment: A Key Factor in Dog Training

Jul 13, 2016 | Pet Guardians

Report from PPG’s Four-Day Pet Care Technician Certification Program Workshop (Part Two of Eight)

Louise Stapleton-Frappell explains how pets learn

Louise Stapleton-Frappell explains how pets learn

The Pet Professional Guild recently held a Certified Pet Care Technician workshop at its Florida HQ. Topics covered included: How Pets Learn, Canine Behavior & Social Communication, Canine & Feline Anatomy and Physiology, Canine & Feline Health and Handling, Pet First Aid and Emergency Protocols, Pet Care Tools, Equipment, Toys & Supplies, Consent and Preference Testing, and Pet Care Policies and Protocols.

In this series of blogs I will endeavor to share a few of the highlights from the workshop along with some of my own personal ‘take home’ points from the viewpoint of both an attendee and a presenter!

Day one had begun with PPG founder and president , Niki Tudge, getting the workshop off to a great start with a short opening address followed by the first presentation entitled Caring for Pets – Protocols and Procedures Part One.  You can read the first post in this series, Pet Care – The Force-Free Way here.  The end of a short break saw me, Louise Stapleton-Frappell PCT-A. DN-FSG. CTDI. CAP3., author and instructor of the  TrickMeister program, presenting on the topic of How Pets Learn in which I gave an overview of Operant and Respondent Conditioning in the context of pet care processes.

The presentation focused on how our behavior impacts the behavior of the pets in our care and also covered safe handling skills, mechanics and protocols.  One of the subjects I discussed was the importance of empowering our canine clients.  I believe that in order to understand empowerment, we must first understand disempowerment: A lack of control, a lack of effective and productive behavior patterns, behavioral depression –  a reduction in responses…

Louise Stapleton-Frappell with Neil  and Sally - two of the CPCT workshop attendees who are also taking the comprehensive online training program - TrickMeister.

Louise Stapleton-Frappell with Neil  and Sally – two of the CPCT workshop attendees who are also taking the comprehensive online training program – TrickMeister.

Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action. Unfortunately many people do not recognise learned helplessness. Some even mistakenly point to it being a sign of a calm dog! I placed much emphasis on the fact that harsh training, management or care can all result in learned helplessness and that this was not a state anyone should seek!

We should all strive to empower our canine companions by building up a history of positive reinforcement. We need to teach the animals in our care that they can operate safely within their environment.  We need to develop a relationship with them that is based on mutual trust and safety. We should share fun experiences.  We need to ensure that all the pet’s physical & mental needs are met through an enriched environment and physical activity.  We need to avoid frustration, aversives and punishment and minimize any stress.

It would be impossible to do a presentation on how pets learn and not discuss both respondent and operant conditioning.  Respondent Conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or classical conditioning) is a learning process in which an innate response to a potent stimulus comes to be elicited in response to a previously neutral stimulus.  Respondent or classical conditioning involves forming an association between two stimuli, resulting in a learned response.  Respondent conditioning will occur regardless of our intervention but, if we step in, we can make good use of the process.  How can we do this?  The answer is quite simple:  We must strive to ensure associations made with the tools, equipment and toys we use are all positive ones! We pair the piece of equipment for example a leash, a head halter, a muzzle with something amazing; we pair new situations and new encounters with other dogs or people with something the dog loves; we pair new toys with something fantastic…  We create a positive conditioned emotional response!

After taking a look at operant learning & the quadrants and increasing our understanding of primary & secondary reinforcers and punishers, a series of short Dognostics’ TrickMeister videos were put to good use to help explain further explain operant conditioning.

The How Pets Learn session ended with some fun luring exercises where different dogs were lured forwards, backwards, onto a mat, under an object such as a chair or a table and into a crate. The attendees all had lots of fun perfecting their luring skills and they also learnt the mechanics of using a hand target – the Touch game can be lots of fun but is also a brilliant behavior for positioning or moving a pet!

The last presentation on day one was by Angelica Steinker.   Canine Communication and Social Behavior was packed full of information that all pet care providers should know!  In the third post of this blog series I will share some of the key points from Angelica’s presentation!

As you can see, the four-day workshop in Wesley Chapel covered all the necessary skills you will need to become a Certified Pet Care Technician (CPCT) and much more.  A DVD will soon be available of all the presentations from Tawzer Dog.  That means you will be able to watch the entire workshop from the comfort of your living room and submit your application to become a Certified Pet Care Technician online!

Virtual Summit Logo PNG

If you would like to know more about pet care, why not sign up for The Pet Professional Guild’s Virtual Pet Care Summit taking place on Thursday, August 11 and Friday, August 12, 2016 ? There will be more than 25 hours of educational webinars across a variety of topics geared towards the pet care professional!  More information and online registration here