Feelings toward anything are often hard to change, and negativities associated with anything we do can be even harder to change. Did you ever have a teacher you didn’t like so that subject was effectively poisoned for you, and you struggled with it from then on? Or maybe there is a person in your life who has-maybe unconsciously-said the “wrong thing” just one too many times, so now your feeling towards them is more avoidance rather than seeking them out. Or maybe you had a brilliant training instructor but they made you feel incompetent so you never want to go back to them again.
Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you associate a certain food with a warm and comfortable feeling, as I do with my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings. Or maybe there is someone in your life who never fails to make you feel optimistic and uplifted, so you naturally enjoy their company. Or maybe it was a teacher who could always see your progress no matter how slight, and encouraged you every step of the way. For the rest of your life you never forgot how she made you feel, and to this day you still love that teacher and that subject.
These are all examples of Conditioned Emotional Response, and it is something that we have huge influence over in training our dogs. The CER is not always easy to change and tends to stick with us, so as dog trainers this should always be in the forefront of our human-dog interactions. The premise in working with my dogs is that my attitude towards what is happening in the moment directly affects my dog’s CER for whatever they are doing in that same moment.
The thing is, our attitude and how we display feelings IS a choice we can make in situations where we want to have influence. So given that we want our dog relationships to have a positive CER, our choice to project a positive attitude and feelings will cultivate this in training, performance and everyday life.
So just think about this. How do you want your dog to feel about learning to retrieve? Learning a recall? Learning to heel? How do you want them to feel about learning anything? And the bigger picture here-what about learning how to feel towards working with you in general? Learning how to feel about working in any given environment? How your dog feels about it will reflect your conscious choices in approach to teaching it-this includes your attitude and feelings about the kind of relationship you want with your dog. Remember the teacher you wanted to learn from? And the one you didn’t? Or the person you want to spend time with? Or the one you avoid?
I have spent most of my life working with dogs and other animals-always my passion, always learning, but not what I would consider an expert. Now in my 60’s I continue to learn, study and evolve in my training. With an underlying philosophy and goal of positive CER, there are many resources, tools and techniques to help cultivate this in any training process or experience. It is up to us to learn as much as we can in this regard from credible, science based sources. And then, it is up to us to conscientiously apply this knowledge to every aspect of life with our dogs. In most recent years I can thank Fenzi Dog Sport Academy for providing even more learning opportunities from some of the best in the field today, and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a top notch resource to learn from.
With kindness in training we have happy learning=happy dogs and happy humans!