Actually it’s pretty simple, but when you think about all the applications of the concept, it clearly becomes a huge part of your success or lack of it in training. Basically, how your DOG perceives something is all that matters. Regardless of the handler’s intentions, regardless of what the handler was thinking about at the time, or reacting to, or paying attention to… if the dog isn’t thinking about it at the same rime, reacting to it or paying attention to it – what the handler perceives to be true makes no difference whatsoever.
Practical examples would be:
During the retrieves we have all seen a time when a dog went around the obstacle rather than over to retrieve the dumbbell. When the dog picked the dumbbell up and turned around they immediately showed stress and concern, and invariably walked very s lowly and hesitantly back to the handler – if they came back at all. In this case, a few spectators will always exclaim that the dog knows it made a mistake; the dog knows it didn’t go over the hurdle. Most handlers will make the same statement when they come off the field as well.
But. is this statement true? Isn’t the truth that the dog had no knowledge that it made a mistake, for if it knew the right thing to do it would have done it? And when the dog picked the dumbbell up and turned around, his perception of his performance changed by direct result of the handler’s facial and body expressions. The handler shows disappointment or disapproval or even anger, the dog does not understand why the handler is this way. And I submit that if this continues to occur, the dog will eventually not pick up the dumbbell, rather than simply not going over the hurdle the dog will now fail to complete more portions of the retrieve over hurdle exercise. Why? Because the last thing the dog did before he saw the handler’s expression was pick up the
The dog perceives that THIS must be what I did wrong. For the dog does think like a human can, and a dog does not have the same perception of incidents as a human does. The dog only knows and remembers here and now, which is why repetition is necessary to train a dog.
Another example: Recently a handler had a bad experience in a trial. In the obedience the handler did not think the dog was doing well during the routine, and this affected the handler’s facial expression, body posture, and how they communicated with their dog. The handler later told me that the dog didn’t care about pleasing the handler, didn’t exhibit a desire to work for the handler. The truth was the complete opposite. The truth was that the dog tried very hard to please the handler, to seek approval from the handler. The entire performance the dog was looking up at the handler, with a soft expression on the dog’s face. But at no time in the routine did the handler praise the dog convincingly, or acknowledge the dog’s work ethic regardless of ability to attain perfection. The dog perceived that the handler was not pleased, for a while the dog attempted to try harder. But the handler remained unresponsive to the dog. Eventually the dog gave up trying, and became submissive and unsure instead.
Although it is possible that watching the routine on video would show this handler what the truth was, it is also a truth that just as dogs can only perceive what is in their heads, some humans can only perceive what’s in THEIR own head Success in training depends on your ability to understand what the dog’s point of view is. What you intend to correct or reward your dog for, may or may not be what the dog perceives he is being corrected or rewarded for.
Success in trial depends on your ability to work only in the moment, to remain in tune and responsive to your dog throughout the routine. Regardless of performance. The hardest thing for a handler to accomplish is the ability to only look ahead at the next exercise, and not dwell on any mistakes previously or just made. And to show your dog the picture you want him to perceive.
By Chris Amick