Dogs, life and learning. They’re all intrinsically intertwined if you enjoy the companionship of dogs and having them as another member of your family.
The definition of ‘pedagogy’ is the art or profession of teaching. Pedadoggy reflects on the process of learning for both humans and their dogs. Whether it’s the revelation of a new skill, insight into what drives us or simply doing what we enjoy doing best, spend any amount of time with a dog and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Modern dog training is based on well-established learning principles that have been chartered by scientists and psychologists over many years. While some dog trainers still advocate punishment in various forms to change behavior, it simply is more fun and builds a better relationship if you focus on reward through a positive approach.
And in the process you may learn something about yourself too. So welcome to Pedadoggy – where the dog is both the student and the teacher.
My name is Grazia and I am one of the lucky people who get to call Sydney’s Northern Beaches home. When I was growing up I dreamed of becoming a vet but as mathematics wasn’t my highest-scoring subject, I followed a more natural talent for words and writing when it came to deciding how I was going to make a living.
While I gave up the dream of working with animals, I pursued a career in public relations, corporate communications, and later the development of sustainability and diversity /inclusion programs. But it was news stories about dogs or passing them by in the street that I always paid attention to. So I thought – why not do both? After first doing voluntary work at the local animal shelter, I rescued my own special friend. At the age of 10 months, Zac (an English Staffordshire terrier – though even with being ‘English’ his command of the language is somewhat lacking) came into my life. The tragedy is that we were then to be his third set of owners in his very short time on this earth. However we struck canine gold as he is the most lovable companion, with a contagious and never-ending love of life.
We spent our first rainy winter nights after work in the garage, bonding by learning tricks and new behaviours. Zac was always happy to work for food and soon he had a little repertoire of cute tricks to show off, such as stick ‘em up and bang bang (surrender and play dead).
At the time I also wanted to do more volunteer work in my local community on weekends but wanted an option where Zac could join me, rather than stay home while I went out. The options were limited but the Delta Therapy Dog program appealed to me. I worked with a local Delta certified dog trainer and we got him in ship-shape for the bi-annual assessment day. And he made it on the first go as a Therapy Dog! We were matched up with a local aged care facility where we arrived every fortnight and gave ‘love therapy’ to the local residents who were only too happy to have such regular and enthusiastic visitors. And Zac didn’t mind endlessly doing his tricks for everyone as he was rewarded with pats, treats and lots of praise!
Working with Zac, however, got me thinking about his story and how a dog that has such potential for training and good manners ended up with his third family at a mere 10 months of age. What could I do to help people build strong and long-lasting relationships with their dogs so that people don’t surrender them and they become one of the thousands of dogs unnecessarily euthanized in Australia each year?
So I spent two years doing the hard yards on achieving my Delta Canine Good Citizen certification (Certificate IV Companion Animal Services), which is Australia’s only positive-only training course. Anyone can train dogs, but being accredited means a lot and people should start asking who is training their dog and what methods they use.
As a positive trainer I believe only in rewarding the behaviour you want (with lots of treats) and ignoring what you don’t. I don’t believe in any form of punishment as it breaks down the relationship with dog and owner (and can be cruel and punishing at its worst), and gives the dog no direction as to what you want at its best (e.g. what does “no” mean – stop doing that, sit or turn your head away?).
Pedadoggy is the next step in my journey with dogs, as I learn as much about life from the canines and their humans that I encounter, as hopefully they learn from me!