I’ve heard this a few times, most recently just a few weeks ago. And it got me thinking about how I learned about dog training. The vast majority of my learning experience has been reading, listening and watching.
Dog training is a physical and practical activity. You have to work with dogs, and with people if you wish to teach others. No argument there. But I also spent a lot of time attending conferences, courses and workshops where I listened to speakers as they shared their experience and knowledge, sometimes supported by video clips, sometimes demonstrating with real dogs. In those early days when I was young and eager, I’m sure my springer rolled his eyes when he saw me return from a weekend away. He was about to be my guinea pig as I put what I’d learned into practice. These days I don’t attend quite as many events but when I do I come home and consider what I’ve learned, weighing up how useful it is for my dogs and for clients’ dogs rather than automatically trying it out. I know my dogs are grateful for that period of reflection.
These days we also have social media and the internet to help us learn without having to travel. We have webinars and live Q&As on the likes of Facebook and Twitter. And I have learned lots from YouTube, it’s a wonderful resource with some really great trainers sharing their skills. Where I might have learned by watching videos in the 1980s & 90s, now I can go online and find what I need – sometimes. Just as you have to choose events carefully, you have to choose your online resources carefully. Critical evaluation are the key words here. Question everything, see how it fits in with your views and ethics, does it challenge you to think differently, to add to your understanding or does it jar with your personal belief system? For example, I will discard anything that causes a dog distress. While I have studied pain and fear inducing methods and have sadly seen many of them in practice, they are not something that I include in my training toolbox. Just because someone who you might admire or follow suggests a technique, it does not mean that you have to replicate it or even agree with it. You must make your own informed evaluations however you choose to learn.
Books and reading are still my go to method of learning, whether for dog training, baking or photography. If I want to know more and I can’t directly access an expert, I seek out a book in the topic. Again, online resources are wonderful. I can read many more research studies than ever before thanks to so many researchers publishing through open source portals. I’ve had my fair share of disappointments when picking up a much anticipated book only to discover that it’s full of punishment and misunderstandings of how dogs learn and what they need to have full, enriched lives. But it’s all information and it all helps me understand more about why I train as I do, and why and how I make the choices.
I would describe myself as an experience led trainer. I worked things out with my dogs, I learned from them and then went off to study why what I was doing was working, or not. Learning without a dog in front of me has supported everything I do when working with a dog. So can you learn dog training online? Hell yes! But do you then have to apply what you’ve learned, to practise the skills and try out the techniques, also hell yes! I’ve been using online courses to learn all sorts of skills for around 7 or 8 years. What I hadn’t found were good dog training online courses. Back in the day I tutored Think Dog, John Fisher’s distance learning course. I know many trainers who have done the course and so know the value of learning at home in your own time. And so I developed my own online training course. So if you’ve been under the impression that you can’t learn dog training online, I hope you will think again and maybe even give it a go.