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Self Control in Dogs – a seminar in Italy

Today is my first day back in Ely after spending a few days in Italy giving a two-day seminar on Self Control in Dogs. In the UK, I usually present this topic with friend and my former MSc supervisor Dr Hannah Wright, but in Italy I was on my own, and included a day of practical work with dogs belonging to the people attending the seminar.

My Italian is non-existent, so my hosts DogTrainingTeam arranged for Dr Stefano Marelli a researcher, geneticist and dog breeder, to translate for me.  His excellent English, and sense of humour, made it possible for me to speak with the audience and know that they were able to understand the science and concepts I was presenting.

 Dogs and Self Control Italy

Self Control in Dogs Seminar with Translation

I have never worked with a translator before, and it was certainly an exercise in self control for me. I rapidly discovered just how much I like to talk, and how much my presenting style relies on jokes, illustrative examples to help the audience understand the point I’m trying to make, and also how much I like to move around (my Fitbit recorded over 12 000 steps during the seminar). With a limited amount of time, and with everything I said being relayed to the audience via Stefano, I had to limit my talking. Theresa McKeon and the rest of the TagTeach team would have been proud of me; a good reminder of the TagTeach principles of clarity and simplicity. And, it worked; by the end of the first day the questions raised definitely suggested the audience and I had reached a common understanding of the principles of autonomous self control in dogs.

As I said earlier, I am a magpie when it comes to learning from other people so I was pleased to meet a trainer who introduced herself as a ‘cognitive trainer’ and to understand more of what she meant. My initial internal response was ‘that’s good, I’d like to think of myself as a trainer who respects and responds to the cognitive abilities and framework of the dog I’m working with’ but it was explained to me that there is a particular branch of training popular in Italy, developed by Roberto Marchesini, and graduates of his school call themselves Cognitive Trainers. I am now reading and trying to learn more about the model of training he proposes; my initial thoughts on reading one of his papers is that he is expressing a concept not unlike Steven Lindsay’s concept of Cynopraxis, although Steve Lindsay does not reject the principles of operant conditioning as Roberto Marchesini appears to do so. Definitely more reading required.

Pizza, self control

An exercise in automous self control. At dinner after the first day of the seminar I chose tuna steak and green salad while my host devoured this amazing pizza.

Day two was a practical day, putting in to practice the concepts we’d discussed the day before about building daily habits, self relaxation and control and giving the dog the responsibility to manage themselves in the face of things they want. While the sun shined and we managed the dogs around each other, and the available shade and paddling pools to keep them cool, I increased my knowledge of Italian as, despite using sunscreen, my skin turned from Mozzarella to Aragosta, much to the amusement of everyone else there. With a mixture of demos, work in small groups and individual coaching from me, dogs and owners learned how to help their dogs learn daily habitual behaviours, such as sitting automatically for the food bowl until released to eat, and how to build their dog’s ability to self settle and relax in a variety of situations. We also worked on their abilities to manage themselves around food on the floor, toys, people and other dogs. The emphasis in all situations is that the dog is not placed in a situation where they cannot manage themselves, and that we build their self control ‘muscle’ in small increments to increase their success.

Eye Contact, auto check in

Jack learning that eye contact pays off, giving him a way to say please and a default behaviour when uncertain about what to do next.

Self control dogs and people

Jack practising self control around people; managing himself on the way to greeting his owner

By the end of the day we were all tired, but happy. Working with small groups is so rewarding as everyone gets individual attention and multiple opportunities to practice. I can’t wait to go again – apparently next time it’s going to be winter so I can go skiing and also feed my addiction to the wonderful, thick Italian hot chocolate. Thanks for inviting me, and being such a great group.

Packing my bag with Ciobar

Doesn’t everyone line their bag with Ciobar (hot chocolate powder) when leaving Italy?

For details of seminars and workshops on Self Control in Dogs, and other topics, click here.

Sian Ryan

Sian Ryan

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