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Training Tuesday - But I'm Already an Expert!

For today's installment of Training Tuesdays, Shannon Viljasoo of McCann's Dogs, reminds us about the importance in training of being a lifelong learner.

While sitting at one of our weekly staff meetings, the conversation turned to basic skills and adjustments we had recently tried with our own dogs. This happens often at our meetings. We are constantly talking and exchanging ideas about dog training and not necessarily on difficult training concepts, typically it's on the basic skills for day-to-day life with dogs. Now picture this - this meeting includes the co-owner/co-founder of McCann Professional Dog Trainers (established 1982). Our behaviourist and lifetime Instructor of 25 years. Our Office Manager, Instructor and long time employee of 20 plus years. The eldest McCann daughter, a world-Champion several times over in Agility who has spent her whole life training dogs, and two 15-year Employee/Instructor/Trainers. We are the experts and yet here we are, having an open, frank and easy discussion about how to improve on training the basics.

It got me thinking. What exactly is an expert? Webster definition: having or showing special skill or knowledge because of what you have been taught or what you have experienced. Perfect! That clarifies exactly. Our experience has taught us that we'll never, ever know all there is to know about dogs and training and that is the best knowledge to serve us as experts!

One might think that with the century plus of experience sitting around this table, we would have all of the answers already. That is the perception. In fact, Deb McCann was recently questioned by a student as to why she was in a Foundation Agility class. The student's perception was that because she was looking at Deb McCann, she and her dog should know all of this already. So, why would we, the experts, need to take foundation classes or discuss the basics? Because in dog training, if you think you know it all, you're in for a rude awakening. Dog training is fluid. Methods and trainers are constantly evolving. We consistently critique ourselves, via results in our dog training, to improve ourselves and thereby make things better for our dogs. We understand whole-heartedly that what works for one dog may not work for the next and with 700 family pets coming through the doors of every week, there's a lot of opportunity to learn. We are constantly troubleshooting and learning through dogs in our classes. Our weekly staff meetings consist of us talking about every class currently running from Puppy Head Start through Grades Four and Agility. We spend hundreds of hours a year in meetings discussing and sharing ideas so we can better deal with problems. The following week, we either share solutions or head back to the drawing board to try again. It's not always easy, but it is important and it helps us continue to be experts in our field.

Right about now, you may be asking: how does this effect me and my dog? It's always shocking for us when we hear people suggest they KNOW how to train a dog because they've done it once or twice before. Or that because they've had a puppy before, they can skip puppy classes. People are always surprised when we tell them that despite being experts, we still put our puppies through Puppy Head Start and continue their training through the family dog program. We spend hundreds of hours on the foundations of training so that when we get to agility and other sports, our dogs have exceptional listening skills and we can excel passed the basics. As experts, we understand that thinking we already know it all is the biggest mistake we can make. Dogs are not born knowing anything about our expectations and as experts, we recognize and embrace that. Every new dog is a new opportunity to learn and grow as a dog trainer.

Anyone who's been a dog trainer for a while has heard the phrase, Second Dog Syndrome. In the industry, this is what kicks in when a trainer gets their second dog. They think that because their first dog is so good, their second will be a piece of cake. They often head into training thinking that they and their dog are an expert team and don't need to build on the basics, they go right to the gravy and things often fall apart. There are no dog training fairies that will drop by while the household is sleeping and train the puppy. People forget how much work goes into making a dog a good member of the family. A good trainer can certainly streamline the process, but nothing beats the human recognizing that they need to put solid effort into the foundation training that every dog needs and they need to be willing to adapt to the needs of each new dog. This one will be different from the last.

With all of these details about the word expert in mind, I've added a permanent note to my dog training bag. It contains the following four rules:

1.  Always be willing to learn regardless of the number of times you've fallen in love with and raised a new puppy.

2.  Build a solid foundation of skills in an effort to be fair to each dog.

3.  Treat every dog as an individual and be willing to adapt your approach.

4.  Continue to evolve with every new dog as they transition from puppy stages  through adolescence and adulthood to become a well-loved member of my family

I would encourage every expert out there to add a similar note to your dog training bag. It will serve as a good reminder that you will never know it all and a good trainer knows that that is what makes them an expert!

So, happy training to all of the experts out there.

photo credit: Jumping dog via photopin (license)

This blog was reprinted with kind permission from McCann Dogs.

Shannon started her life in dogs with a Rottweiler named Quincey in 1999. Quincey was enrolled in Puppy Head Start at McCann Professional dog trainers when she was just four weeks old - still four weeks before she came home. Shannon was hooked on dog training from the first moment at McCann's. Learning how to communicate and make Quincey a good dog became a passion. They went through the three subsequent levels of the McCann family dog program and immediately joined the Apprenticeship program. Within a year she became an Associate instructor and shortly after, started working full-time for the business after graduating college as a Computer Programmer.

After her start with Quincey, she fell madly in love with Tollers and have shared her life with three: Jayden, Tyler and Reggie. Shannon actively competes in field events (WC series and Hunt Tests) , Obedience, Conformation and Rally. She has also competed in Agility, Dock Diving and Flyball.


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