Another fantastic class came to a close last night and was finished off (after some fun training) with the popular Grad Photo session. The class was a group of four (sadly one did not make it last night) who have all previously taken the basic “Manners” class and now continued on with their Education and thus subsequently graduated from “More Than Manners”. 

My favourite thing with More Than Manners is that I can really customize the program to meet the needs and desires of individual groups, so the content can vary greatly from class to class – depending on where the interest lies! 
This flexibility makes it great fun for me as an instructor, too – as the class continually re-invents itself and keeps evolving! You could be in “More than Manners” class several times in a row, and the curriculum would always be different. Which makes it one of my favourite classes to teach!

This particular group has been working on a host of different things, ranging from heel-work, recalls, stays with distractions to some flat-work for agility handling as well as TRICKS! We’ve worked on lots of tricks, and there has been lots of fabulous results with the trick teaching in this group! It’s really been fantastically Fun!

We’ve built a lot of the tricks through “free shaping”, but also experimented and tried different ways of achieving results. Here’s an article from the Whole Dog Journal that will explain shaping and “hybrid” methods in more detail if the term is not familiar. 

In my experience, some things are easier to shape than others, and I am not opposed to “Shameless luring” to get some behaviours started, if it seems very difficult to find a starting point for shaping. (Teaching a dog to spin left or right would be one example where I find a lure works just perfectly fine, whereas free shaping a spin, I would say is: admirable, but not necessary 🙂

However, if luring – the key is to understand that “shamelessly luring” any behaviour for too long has the risk of resulting in “shameful luring” (if one can call it that) – as the bribe will be hard to fade if you stay with it for too long.

In this More Than Manners class we have thus used a combination of methods for teaching tricks: some have been lured (spin left and right, roll over as well as weaving through legs a la Freestyle dancing), some have been “prompted” (backing up and sit pretty) and other tricks have been free shaped (pivot work on a stool for rear end awareness, “get onto something”, and “get into something”, we also went from having prompted the “Back up” to free shaping the same behaviour). 

The take-away message in all of this is three-fold and I think was well demonstrated by the dogs and people in this group as well as in some of the challenges we have been trying to work through:

1. Free shaping really is a FANTASTIC tool to have up your sleeve. If you and your dog both “get it” – there is So Much you can use it for! The more tricks and things you teach your dog using free shaping, the faster the next behaviour will be to teach. Dogs really truly become our partners in the process and LOVE experimenting and trying! AND the learning becomes very powerful and well understood!

2. If free shaping does not seem to work for you or your dog – instead of giving up – go the “shameless” route or try prompting! (being aware of dangers of staying with a lure too long…) Regardless of which one of these techniques you use for trying to teach your dog something – as long as you are not hurting your dog or accomplishing things through intimid
ation – isn’t it better to go through all of these tools in your tool box, and try to find something that works – rather than stop teaching new things or say “only Free Shaping is true dog training” (because yes, there are schools of trainers out there who have very strong beliefs on this matter).

and finally and maybe most importantly 3. Often times it is not even the final product that matters, but the journey for how you got there and what happened in the process! There is much valuable insight to be gained from these (sometimes seemingly silly) exercises and what happens in the process as we teach. What we are really doing is teaching our dogs How To Learn and ourselves How to best Teach. The more you know about that process, the easier it will obviously be for both you and your dog to “get it”. And a partnership where you both “get it” is obviously going to be one where it is fun and enjoyable to spend time together doing more new things! 

And maybe that sums up a big part of what I think Dog Training classes are all about and what I certainly have seen develop at a deep level in all of these recent More Than Manners graduates: they’ve all been building the Learning and Teaching partnership, where the Journey itself starts to become so enjoyable, that the Destination does not so much matter! 
(It gives me goose-bumps:-)

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