Mountain Climbing!

I have been involved in dog sports for 30yrs, training numerous dogs of my own to the highest level, and competed in various disciplines. In addition, I have coached numerous people to the top level in their respective dog sports, including Crufts, World Championships and International competitions…

But let me tell you. 

That prospect of starting that journey can seem like climbing a mountain!! I have two young puppies at the minute, Jungle my 9month old Malinois and Hottie, by 4 month old Border Collie, and when I contemplate all the lessons that they need to learn it can be quite daunting! 

EVERY time I get a puppy or new dog, I visualise being at the base of a HUGE mountain, so tall I can’t even see the top.. but I can see how steep it is, I know how harsh the terrain is, and how challenging the altitude will be… I may not have been on this exact mountain before, but I have climbed up many others, so I know what is to come.

I know there will be days, when I want to turn back… I know that there will be days when I feel like I cannot walk a single step… and days when I am so out of breath, in tears and at breaking point… I know there will be days when I feel like giving up. There will be days in the rain, sun, sleet and snow! When I mentally and physically feel like I am going to break.

BUT, I look at the mountain in front of me, and I smile. I smile because I know, that in the deepest part of me, I am going to gain more than I can ever envisage. The sight from the summit will take your breath away, and leave you in awe of what the climb has taught you about yourself! 

Make no mistake about it, it’s not going to be easy. BUT it will so be worth it! Trust me… 

When I say this, some people may view this as a negative, but I always offer to them, what in life worth having comes easy’? It takes work to get what you want, whether it be a job, a relationship, financially or a dog sports goal. Its the ‘work’ that makes the goal worth achieving!

And whilst ‘the dog’ may be willing, able, and talented… it is the ‘tests’ along the way that make the view from the summit so empowering. It can be an emotional process to partake in dog sports. 

When my Boxer, Punch was injured and has to undergo surgery and a lengthy rehab process, I am not ashamed to say that it was an emotional time. I went from having a puppy with a future ahead of him, to a young dog that couldn’t even walk without being in immense pain and discomfort. The outcome didn’t look promising…. 

This was definitely a point on the climb up my mountain where I was faced with the prospect of having to concede defeat, and whilst I would have been grateful at that point just to have a healthy dog, I will also admit that, the cruel blow that had been dealt, really left me drained. 

When started the rehabilitation, I took this as another mountain ahead of us… and I reframed this in my mind. I took one step at a time, and Punch did literally and we climbed together. Step by step, day by day, we climbed. We had set backs and diversions, but we go there. We got to the summit of this mountain and I don’t think I have ever seen a view to amazing! When Punch entered in his first competition, my heart was in my mouth…and I have to say it wasn’t the Disney out come you would hope for. It was another mountain to climb. But we did it! We over came! We succeeded and we triumphed. It felt like we conquered the world! The certificate, the rosette, the obligatory selfie were a small mark to acknowledge the Mountains we had climbed thus far! And boy did it feel good! 

I was recently watching the docu-series about world famous Basketball Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and it really reiterated this point.

His success wasn’t just down to talent, it wasn’t just down to luck. It was largely down to perseverance in climbing the mountain! Or Mountains! People don’t necessarily see the hours and hours of work that goes into that jaw dropping shot as the final buzzer goes, or that gravity defying slam dunk… They don’t see the numerous times, he slipped down the mountain, or was on his knees, or his heads covered in blisters from clawing at the rocks…. 

See ‘The Mountain’ isn’t unique to dog sports. And now more than ever, we are seeing Mountains all around us. 

The ‘Mountain’ has a way to show you, who you are. It shows you, how hard you can push yourself and how deep you can dig. 

As a Dog Sports Coach, I have been able to help others as they climb their mountain, and reassure them that we will gets to the summit, that this rough terrain is just temporary and taking the longer route, isn’t a failure, as we are still gaining ground. Let me tell you, there are tantrums, tiaras and tears on the climb up that mountain! Sometimes, I am the person pushing them up the mountain, or pulling them up, or a shoulder to lean on when they need a rest, or even carrying them, when they get tired… I have to say, that being able to help someone else achieve their dreams and ambitions, is one of the greatest privileges I have ever had in my career. There is nothing more rewarding then being able to sit at the top of someone else’s mountain, and share the view, with them! 

When I started my online training, little did I release how impactful this medium would be for connecting with, and helping people on their journey to climb the mountain…

I have been a dog sports coach for years, where I worked with people in person, but working with people online has definitely grown beyond what I had anticipated! I have had so many people contact me about joining the VIP groups, but we after its initial launch and re-opening in 2019, we are only now in a position to re-open again!

SO… over the next few weeks, I will be giving out more details of how you can become part of my VIP groups…. And become part of a community where I can help you to the top of the mountain!!

In joining, you will become part of a community where the energy is supportive and where everyone is rooting for you, makes the prospect of climbing The Mountain, more achievable. We all need that!

Keep your eyes open for more information to come!

For now, stay safe! And enjoy your dogs!

Kamal Fernandez

Juggling knives and squishy balls!

Have you ever tried to juggle with knives?

I have.

Thats right, amongst my many hidden talents… I can juggle knives!

I started when I was about 9. And let me tell you it was a steep learning curve!

Boy, did I end up with some scary moments!!! I expect you can imagine… a 9 year old, learning to juggle with knives!!

I expect you are asking A LOT of questions!!

Where were my parents? Who gave me the knives? Why didn’t I use something easier to start with? Why not use soft squishy balls to learn my craft, so I don’t get hurt?

Well… back then, about 30yrs ago, not many people taught you how to juggle knives, with squishy balls… We just jumped straight in! I can recall vividly my first experience of knife Juggling… there I was at the tender age of 9, and I was handed a knife, shown which was the pointy end, and off I went…. Let me tell you, I definitely had a few cuts. 

And I am absolutely sure that I caused several others a lot of damage and fear by my actions… I made some serious mistakes, but I had to learn fast. I had to learn about the height and ferocity with which I move my hands, the people around me, spacial awareness and being adequately prepared before I started to practice. I had to be ultra aware of these details, as the fall out was so impactful!! Someone could get seriously hurt. I also leant that people would sometimes be anxious about my knife wielding, but once they saw I was capable and I gave them confidence in my ability, they actually really enjoyed what I did!

I am sure you are wondering how I manage to survive into adulthood with my rather precarious hobby, but I also suspect you have worked out, that knife juggling isn’t one of secret skills!

I am actually talking about my journey into training dogs, and using the analogy of ‘knives’ to explain the path that I took. 

I was brought up in an era, where the use of aversive methods and punishment were widely accepted, so effectively I was ‘juggling’ knives, trying to work out what worked and hoping the I didn’t get stab myself, or anyone else for that matter! And although there is lots that I could have done differently, there is a lot that I am thankfully for. And before you reach for your knives to practice, throwing at me….let me explain.

My journey into reinforcement based dog training and specifically utilising positive reinforcement has gone beyond the remit of ‘just’ training dogs. It has shaped every aspect of my life, from my dogs, to my perspective, to the way in which I raise my daughter! It was only recently I was talking to a family member about their child, and I found myself echoing the advice I would give someone with a behavioural problem with their troublesome cockerpoo, or jackinese or bichonchu… Focus on the behaviours you want, build value for desirable behaviours, reinforcement isn’t just a cookie… the list goes on. It that moment, I had a aha moment and thought my ‘knife juggling’ beginnings.

I think ‘knife juggling’ is a fair comparison, because there was super hairy moments in there! And things I look back that ‘we’ did, which makes me cringe… I have moved beyond guilt, and beating myself up over the place I started, because in actual fact, I now realise, it was exactly how it was meant to be.

It pains me to say, I was ‘good’ at the use and application of pressure and the use of aversive. Now let me be crystal clear. I am not saying this as a sense of pride, but more acceptance and understanding. We have all made mistakes and errors in our training, be it intentional or unintentionally, the question is have you learnt from that experience. I feel I have. 

I learnt that using aversive, and punishing ‘effectively’ (and I use that term loosely) required a certain level of skill. To be able to administer corrections with as ‘little’ fall out as possible, you had to have timing. Was I being fair? Probably not to the dog, but I now realise I was developing assets that I could use and harness for good. In order to implement physical correction effectively, and not create the picture of a dog that is trained with punishment, you have to be able to mask that affect. You have to be able to administer the correction and reinforce the dog in a flick of an eye, and you have to be aware of the dogs body language, and how far you are taking them, in order not to cause irreversible damage. Whether it be teaching a dog to simply walk on a lead, the timing of correction and praise, observation of body language and pre-emptive verbal and physical corrections, needs to be so accurate that you have to watch what the dog is doing, thinking and feeling. Now, in the administration of a ‘correction’ you may choose to ignore those subtleties, but rest assured…. You saw them. At that point, I just didn’t know how you could create the same outcome, without the use of aversive.

But I learned fast, and learned the hard way, because of the fall out of any errors I made. I now know, that in actual fact, dogs were shaping my behaviour. The times when I didn’t catch the knife, and it landed somewhere it shouldn’t, moulded me, and shaped me to change. 

I have absolutely no doubt, that there was a lot of fallout for my steep learning curve and countless times, when I make HUGE errors off judgement, but what I can now see, was I was acquiring information, and learning fast. 

I learned that about timing. I learnt about the importance of reinforcement. I learnt about maintaining criteria to be ‘fair’ to the dog. I was developing my ‘feel’ for dogs, and being able to read them, and understand what they were thinking and seeing.

It also dawned on me, when looking back at my training journey, that whilst we did a lot differently… it wasn’t ALL bad. In fact, a lot of how we used to train was actually way ahead of its time. When I gravitated more to dog sports, I had my eyes open to using play as a medium to teach. We broke behaviour down, and we worked on tiny behaviours that formed a larger chain, and ultimately the complete exercise. 

We didn’t necessarily have the sophisticated terms and science to back up what we were doing, but we instinctively did things that would now be considered innovative.

I can recall using ‘play’ and games as a medium to train, well before it was common place. Breaking behaviour down into pieces, rather than chunks…. Being aware of the dogs emotional state, that whilst a dog pay appear ‘calm’ externally, internally they were getting over aroused and over stimulated, and the affect the reinforcement has on this. We even used reinforcement specific markers, in a more basic manner. Using a word just before you dropped your ball, to get your dog to look up, was a very primitive RSM. 

It often makes me smile when I read the latest in-depth study or profound new finding…. Adolescent dogs struggle to listen to you, just like teenagers… The emotional state of your dog matters, errorless learning to teach… to varying degrees, we we doing it, understood it, or consider it 30yrs ago! We just didn’t have the extensive studies and data to support it. It was all based on ‘trial and error’ and ‘throwing knives’. One particular instructor always insisted that everyone tied their dog up away from them, around the hall before anyone got up to train them. Whilst now we would probably use a crate and be more aware of the safety around this, he very much insisted upon this, to allow dogs to acclimate to the environment. No dog was allowed to be trained until it could settle and relax in this setting. Again, it was a basic approach, but I he intention was correct. He also insisted that ‘If your dog won’t play, it won’t work’. He used a knotted hanky as a toy, and talked about ‘never allowing’ your dog to go wrong. Again, a form of ‘errorless’ learning. He used guides, aids and props to reduce to failure rate for the dog. Again, all thinking that we see prevalent in modern animal training.  

If we see dog training as a science and an art, it is reassuring to know that there are so many overlaps to the conclusions that we draw. I am able to draw on my past experiences and combine them with the science and data. It’s just a shame that the two ‘camps’ don’t communicate more, and as a result make greater strides forward, rather than duplication. It is ironic, to see many of the studies and conclusions being drawn today, were ones that were made decades ago…all be it, without data or studies, but learning was happening… by trial and error, we were drawing the same conclusions that we see being drawn today. 

The commonality between how I used to train and present day, is that at the root of it all, I am constantly striving to understand my dogs better, to be better in my training and refine my approach. The advantage I have now, is that I have a cheat sheet to save myself so much time energy and wasted effort. I can either refer to the science to give me a blue print to what may help or work, or I can call on past experience and skills to help me when I need to ‘feel’ my way through a problem, and go off the beaten track. 

Juggling knives served me well, and whilst I wouldn’t want to do this again, I have made peace with the ‘me’ off old. It is never too late to take a different path, and how you started doesn’t dictate where you end up. 

Reinforcing Religiously!

As a professional dog trainer, Dog Sports coach and online coach, I am privileged to be able to work with people across the Globe, in a variety of sports. In addition to http://www.kamalfernandez.co.uk, my online training platform, where I offer course for foundation for dog sports and Heelwork training,  I also teach for the Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, and every 6wks I deliver a ‘handlers choice’ class. I LOVE this class, as people come from every part of the globe from every dog sport imaginable, with training challenges and issues that stretch me as a teacher and trainer. 

Recently, one of my online students posted a video in which she was working on a particular skill. Her dog was doing this skill absolutely beautifully. She had trained the piece that I had suggested working on and was absolutely nailing it.

However, she was also clicking the dog in between when the dog was offering to re-set and start over. The dog has an issue with barking through frustration. I asked why she was doing this, and she essentially said that it was a habit and that she felt the need to reinforce him. I proposed to her, that this could be what was contributing to the lack of clarity and possible frustration. 

Her response was a definite ‘aha’ moment and she articulated the response beautifully! She essentially captured the very essence of the discussion. 

As trainers that gravitate to reinforcement based methodology, we do so for range of reasons, but I would confidently say that a primary attraction for many, is the desire to ‘reinforce’ our dogs. WE love it! WE get reinforcement from reinforcing!

WE see the dogs expression and joy when we deliver reinforce and it creates a little ‘high’ for us. WE don’t want to see them fail, or the expression on their face when they don’t get a treat. Or worse still, hear them bark at us out of frustration or shut down, or start to worry, or wander of… Or anything else that may occur If we don’t reinforce.

Let’s be honest, none of us want to see our dogs not succeed… BUT are we actually helping them grow?

This is a trap that is SO easy to fall into, being handcuffed to your reinforcement! And even other methods, there is similar parallels. For example, when I used traditional methods, we were taught to ‘never let the dog make a mistake’, or ‘don’t put it together until you are in the ring’, or ‘only do small pieces, so they cant go wrong’, or ‘allows use props in training’.

It actually fact, the core root of this approach is exactly the same. We are fearful of our dog making errors. 

And the real core root not wanting our dogs to fail, is that WE don’t want to fail. We don’t want to ‘risk’ our dog NOT doing as we ask, or failing in competition.

So inevitably we avoid this.

But when we break down the ‘fear’, we are actually making a rod for our own back.

Whilst dogs are ‘not human’ there are so many parallels to behaviour.

Consider this a child or person learning a new skill. As someone that has trained martial arts since I was 5, we would be taught set patterns or ’Taegeuk’. We would spend hours and hours in ‘training’ working on each piece, and then slowly linking them all together. At home, I would practice and practice the routine, so that I could recite it without even thinking. Even to this day, I can go over each pattern as if by instinct. 

In my practice, I was allowed to go wrong. We would just try again. In my practice, I initially did the sequence in parts then linked them all together. I would practice the whole thing, and then to test my understanding I would do it back to front, or start half way through. At first I was hesitate and slow, and often started over. As I grew in confidence, so did my execution and deliver of each movement. I knew I knew the pattern and I was able to do it fluidly and without fail.

  • I didn’t ‘only do sections and not put it together till the exam’…
  • I didn’t get reinforcement for each single movement….
  • I didn’t have sheet in front of me, to follow so I never went wrong. 
  • I didn’t have someone tell me each movement so that I just followed their instructions.

And yet I worked it out, I gain confidence and ultimately received reinforcement. The sense of satisfaction and achievement were beyond anything I could have gained from immediate reinforcement or continuous rewards.

This is something that I encounter regularly, with students and clients across the world. They struggle to fade the use of constant reinforcement. But often it is more for them, than the dog. 

Often we perceive that constant reinforcement is ‘nicer’ or ‘better’ for the dog, but consider how fragile we are making our dogs understanding and how fragile we are making their confidence. 

There is a balance between appropriate ratio of reinforcement for the dogs to learn, but in order to create confidence and clarity, certainly for dog sports we have to strategically move beyond that. Asking for multiple repetitions of a behaviour or a behaviour chain, are necessary evils to prepare your dog for complete. The mantra, ‘Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail’ is so applicable in this situation. 

I’ll be honest… I HATE it!! I hate not reinforcing my dogs frequently or for every behaviour… BUT I know that ultimately I am eroding THEIR confidence but not preparing them adequately. I owe them that much. And think of the sense of achievement YOU will feel, knowing that you have stepped out of your comfort zone and prepared your dog above and beyond!

At the moment, I am raising my two puppies… 7 month old Jungle, my malinois and 9wk old Hottie my Border collie puppy. The ratio of reinforcement for them both is very different. However it is something that I am constant evaluating and evolving to create within them confidence and clarity. They are allowed to fail, and make mistakes. There is no fall out, or negative emotional response. It is just behaviour that isn’t reinforced, they are being taught that of that doesn’t work, just try something else. Simple. 

By allowing them to train without an aversion to failure, as though it is a reflection of who they are or who I am as a trainer, I am able to create confidence in them and the appropriate emotional response to training. 

To join me, as I train my two puppies over the next 12months, click on the link below!

https://www.kamalfernandezonlinetraining.com/the-junglebook

‘Thee Jungle Book’ is my latest online course, where I share the how’s an why’s, or building a relationship with two very different puppies with two very different personalities. How I create confidence, clarity and understanding in all aspects of their life, from dog sports to life skills.

For a glimpse into the type of content you will see in ‘The Jungle Book’, here are two videos of ‘Live sessions’ I have shared on my Facebook page…

https://vimeo.com/404664340

https://vimeo.com/404652541

For now, stay safe and enjoy your dogs!

Kamal

 

Silver linings, staying upbeat and ‘Can do’ mentality!

Hi Everyone, 

What a crazy time that we are in, and it seems to be that everyone is being affected…. In the UK, we are waiting for guidance on what the next steps are, but we have been told by our Governing body, that there will be no shows, trials and competition until till June of this year!

I absolutely understand everyones frustration over this, but our primary concern is to be safe, stay safe and keep each other safe! 

My own plans over the forthcoming week have been drastically altered, as I was meant to be making a trip to the USA and Canada, but given the circumstances, the decision was made to cancel this trip…. I can’t lie, and say I wasn’t disappointed and frustrated but these are challenging times and uncertain, so we are all taking each day as it comes. I think many are in the same position. 

When you read the sea of media post, it is easy to feel anxious, concern and worry about what is to come. We are faced with the unknown, and it’s easy to feel a level of fear and apprehension. 

So, as with everything in my life, I want to find a positive slant on it his situation!! And parallel this experience to how I would deal with a dog that had anxiety and concern, and how I choose to train my dogs.

Here are some simples tips, and ‘silver lining’ sentiments to keep you positive!

  • Reinforcement based dog training is about find ways to use positive reinforcement, but this also extends to the way in which you live your life and engaged with your dogs and each other. Being positive is beyond using ‘positive’ methods, it’s also about your mindset and the way in which you behave and treat others. In a time when we are all under stress, be kind to each other.
  • Focus on what I can control! There are always factors beyond my control, that I have to accept may happen, but by taking preparatory steps to put the odds in my favour, is not only smart but effective training. Taking ‘precautions’ isn’t about being ‘anxious’, its about being smart!
  • Use your time wisely. THINK, PLAN, DO is a mantra that all training should be guided by. Be prepared for time when you may be at home. Be creative. I primarily train all behaviours with my dogs ‘in short hand’ initial’ and breaking behaviour down into tiny pieces makes this easy. I can train so many behaviours for dog sports in a tiny space. Each room in your home is a different environment, and you can generalise behaviour in and around the home. You can control more of what happens, and strategically add challenges and distractions. Fitness work can be done in small spaces, strength and conditioning, balance work and proprioception work can be done in small spaces. 
  • Kongs, snuffles mats, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, milk cartons, yoghurt pots, ice cube trays, netted bags… all these can be used to create interesting ways to feed and enrich your dogs life if you are housebound. It is so much fun to see them engage and interact with these items, have your phone on standby, as you may get some cool vids fort TikTok!
  • This is the time to work on skills, proofing games, weird and wonderful set ups, out of context behaviours and cues… Look at your environment as a smorgasbord of training gems!
  • Be mindful of the contend of YOUR social media… you are in control of your social media content, and you can Police what you want to see. Being inundated with posts filled with fear and apprehension will only further enhance that within you. Follow uplifting groups, share positive post and see your newsfeed change! Uplift yourself and uplift others! 
  • shape a random trick, like nose target the kitchen cupboard door handle, or put a foot on the steps, but do it whilst sitting in a chair and not ‘moving’. This is a great way to home your timing and observational skills!
  • Download some podcast, by your favourite dog trainers, or watch some webinars… or even sign up for some online classes… this is the perfect time to up skill your training, without having to be somewhere o do something… check out http://www.kamalfernandezonlinetraining.com for some great online training!
  • Create a private Facebook group with friends, where you can share videos, and training… even have your own competition! This is a great way to stay motivated and focused!
  • Above all, whilst it be not be your ‘choice’, you may HAVE to stay at home with your dogs… and that is definitely a silver lining in my book! Any time with them, is quality time.. it helps keep my mind healthy and my soul at peace…. 

I have some exciting news coming over the next few weeks, with the first ‘BIG NEWS’ on Saturday, 21st March 2020… Keep an eye on your email and my Facebook page for that!!!!

And trust me, its going to be something’ HOT’ 😉

For now, stay safe, stay healthy and stay positive!

Kamal Fernandez

Words from an Oscar winner…

In my vocation and profession, I have had an incredible amount of good fortune and luck. I have travelled the world, stayed in the most amazing places, met thousands of people and their dogs, helped people get to World Championships, win at Crufts, overcome their obstacles and achieve their dreams. I consider myself so blessed to be able to follow my passion and do what I do.

And whilst I have been lucky and blessed in so many ways, I also know that whilst ‘Lady Luck’ play’s her part, when she comes knocking, you need to be ready!

Oscar winner and world renowned superstar, Denzil Washington, delivered a talk to young aspiring actors about Dreams and Goal…I stumbled across this years whilst in the rabbit hole that is Youtube, and it really resonated with me, about how I see my work, life and character….. he has so many other inspirational talks, but this is one that really summarise everything anyone needs to know about achieving your dreams…

This is part of a longer speech but this portion truly hit a nerve….

I know no other way to achieve dreams, then to work…. to have discipline and commitment. We can all say ‘I don’t have enough time’, ‘the weather has been bad’, ‘it gets dark early’… and the endless list of perfectly justifiable reasons for you not to do the work…. But it all comes back to that question… ‘How hard are you willing to work?’ ‘How badly do you want it’ and ‘how committed are you?’

When you start talking about discipline and commitment, it sometimes can be over whelming. But starting with a daily commitment to 5mins of training is all it takes. When the kettle is on, or that 5mins before your favourite program starts, pick up your dog and work on something.

Discipline and commitment is something that only you can make the decisions to invest in.

There are times that I don’t want to go to the Gym, or weather that puts me off training, or knowing that I have a challenge to work on… and I want to avoid it, not do it or simply not bother… but then I think of the goal I have, and the thought of knowing that I didn’t give it my all, and not reaching my goal because I didn’t have discipline and commitment, and that provides all the motivation I need. Its ok to not achieve your goals, if you have tried and given it your all. This isn’t a ‘failure’ as the very essence of your commitment is a success.

Dog Sports is a testing endeavour. The highs and lows, the emotional and financial costs, the challenges, the set backs… all for that one day, that one moment when it all comes together, and all the tears and dramas are worth it… LOL! Its quite a rollercoaster!!

Without discipline and commitment, that rollercoaster is bound to go off the rails… without embracing discipline and commitment the pot of gold at the end, will seem worthless, without the discipline and commitment, the destination will never be reached.

Unconsciously Competent…

Recently, a student sent me a message prior to a lesson sharing her concerns, thoughts and feelings about training journey. I listened intently, and it struck me how common her thinking and feelings were.

This particular student, has trained with me for a relatively short period of time and in that time, has been on steep learning curve. She has changed the way she trains, and now teaches in tiny nuances of behaviour. She has raised her expectations and her standards beyond all recognition and in doing so, has broadened her horizons and her potential.

And in doing so, has paid a price.

The price that has been paid is, in being enlightened and informed, she has realised the more you know the less you know, and the more you train, the higher the bar. 

See what you first start upon this weird and wonderful world of dog training, you have no comparison. So because you don’t know what you don’t know, you are largely on the rise, irrespective of what you do. But when you become aware of what you want, and have an inkling of how to get it, the work and magnitude of the task at hand, can often be overwhelming.

In addition to that you go from being ‘unconsciously incompetent’ to ‘consciously incompetent, then ‘consciously competent’…. and once mastered, ‘unconsciously competent’.

That second and third phases of learning are the killers! They are the ones, which make of break you.

You go from being naively joyful unaware of the pitfalls, and errors ahead… to seeing every ‘mistake’ and flaw.

Then you enter the frustrating period of being aware of your shortcomings and inadequacies…. you become self deprecating, tearing yourself apart for what you can’t do…

If you ‘survive’ those phases, you finally enter that state of ‘unconscious competence’… where everything flows, you instinctively know what to do, when, and how to do it… You are confident that anything that is thrown at you, you can handle any situation and you act without thinking….

Well, here’s the newsflash!

We have all been there!!!! And in some way, shape or form… we are all constantly going through those 4 phases. 

Thats part of what makes it so interesting! 

As a professional dog trainer who competes at the highest level, sports dog coach to people who have competed at World Championship level dog sports, and  dog owner and trainer for nearly 30yrs, every time I get a puppy or new dog, be if my own or a dog that I am training residentially, I feel like I am a complete beginner all over again. 

This new canine Rubik cube, to try and figure out, un-ravel and persuade that a) I exist! b) I am fun c) have confidence!

Every dog will ultimately present you with challenges that you haven’t encountered, behaviours you haven’t faced, and problems that you haven’t had sleepless nights over! And after nearly, 30yrs.. I still thrive on this part of the journey!!! 

Just when you think, you have worked it ‘all out’, your dog throws you a curve ball, that makes you look to the skied and say ‘What the…..!!!!

I can recall vivid moments with every dog I have ever trained, and that is in the thousands… where I have had to stop and think…. Wrack my brain and figure out another way, a better way, a cleverer way… I am always learning. I still get a rush when I overcome a struggle… It has to be said, I would rather not have that struggle!!! BUT overcoming it, is worth its weight it Gold!!!

The ‘thing’ that keeps me reacting this somewhat sadistic pattern of,  boy finds dog, dog causes boy stress and frustration, boy considers getting koi carp, boy overcomes problem, boy gets another dog…..is that, ultimately I believe that I will learn from this experience, no matter what….

There is no failure, just feedback! 

I feel confident in saying, that with every dog I have ever owned, I have managed to build a bond, create a relationship even when there wasn’t one to start with.. we were both strangers to each other and from that I forged a bond that ends up, unbreakable. Any challenges I have had, I have learnt from. 

Those lessons have either been to benefit my subsequent dogs, or my students, whether it be the experience and wisdom I have gained from going in the ‘trenches’, or the empathy to be able to relate to what they are facing and their struggles. 

Through this endless learning and desire to improve, and be better for my dogs and my pupils, I have collated a number of key findings that I want to share with you all….

To access my “FREE” e-book on creating an amazing relationship with your dog, and ‘Setting the tone’ for a phenomenal bond, just click the link below!!!

https://www.kamalfernandezonlinetraining.com/setting-the-tone

Above all, as corny as it may sound… it is all about the journey and not the destination!

Enjoy your dogs!

Kamal Fernandez 

Premature preparation…

As a teacher, coach, competitor and judge in dog sports, I see a lot of dogs in competitive environments and I am constantly amazed by what we ask of them.

I’m not talking about the requirements of the actual test, as that is a small part of it.

But those of us that compete in dog sports, really do ask a lot of our dogs.

Turn up at a random field/hall/indoor riding school/large busy building, and be thrust into a multitude of strange dogs… male and female, of all shapes and sizes… not to mention to people, ‘things’ smells, sounds and sights you’ll encounter. Its a lot!

As a competitor, I have done this is numerous dog sports with various dogs, and coached countless people to do the same.

There is one phrase that countless echoes in my mind.

Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.

The key to success in any dog sport is to prepare for every eventuality you can think of. Sounds obvious, right? But the biggest glaring issue for dogs that drastically change when at competitions, are either identified in the preparation or the reinforcement history.

When considering what can happen at a competition, the endless list of experiences your dog will under go, it is a vast list of skills your dog needs to be educated about. These skills will not only benefit your competitive prospects, but also your dogs confidence and life skills. 

For example, a sound recall under any circumstances will under pin your dogs focus and desire to engage with you, being able to wait patiently, will help to prepare to compete. These are just a few examples of where the intention to partake in competition, benefits my dogs well being and relationship. However, its these basic and simple skills that get over looked in favour of the ‘sexy’ stuff, and as a result, affect the performance in competition. 

The most basic skill of engagement on cue, will serve you fair greater then trying to progress to teaching more complex behaviours without it. Can your dog switch on and focus any time you ask them, anywhere and under any circumstances? Can they get themselves in the right head space to focus and ‘think’? 

With my current puppy, this is where all my emphasis will be until I feel she can switch on, self regulate and focus irrespective of the environment, whenever I ask. This is a feat of training in itself, but without it, is like having a immaculate house with stunning decor and interior design, but not bothering putting a roof on… and waiting for the inevitable rain. 

I frequently urge people to revisit their foundation, and remove any rust and polish up the pieces, on a regular basis. Going back is often the best way to move forward.

The second largest area of error, is reinforcement.

That dam thing can really bite you in the backside of you don’t understand it, respect it and honour it, because whether you like it or not, its going to happen!! Just ensure its working with you, rather then against you.

Often in the pursuit of competitive goals, and aims we sacrifice details, lower criteria or inevitable reinforcement behaviour we don’t actually want. We all do it! We let those details go, in exchange for a title, rosette, prize or award… and there is nothing wrong with that… as long as a) you aware this is what you are doing b) don’t grey the lines so much, the picture totally changes.

Dogs are masters of picking up patterns of reinforcement, and also changes in criteria. For example, my dogs are trained to sit and not move their feet at all, allowing a subtle paw movement is a change of criteria. This may seem like ‘nothing’ to an on-looker, but to the dog, it is a signal. It is a signal to say, the deal has change. The dog is now ‘allowed’ to behaviour differently to what I have said for the other 6 days in the week, but in this situation and circumstances, the rules are different. So the progression from this is like the domino effect. One change of criteria signals to the dog, that changes and lowering of criteria is the ‘soup of the day’… this can create conflict, when the handler isn’t aware of the subtle change, but when the dog makes a glaring mistake, it is now an issue. 

So the slight paw move, becomes a total break. And NOW you decide have a problem. But to the dog, this was the new ‘rule’. This was what you had signalled. But the real kicker is that you pick and choose which ‘error’ was acceptable. Before you know it, you have a dog that ‘only does it in the ring’….  

It is so EASILY done!

So what is the answer?

Be proactive. Be vigilant. Be honest.

Being proactive, means to maintain and reinforce behaviour in the environment that TRULY matters! I give this advice to countless people who rebuke this as an option, saying that their ‘sport’ doesn’t allow reinforcement in competition.

Fine. No problem at all. A dog sport is just a field with people and dogs, so fake it! Employ the good will of others, and recreate the ‘environment’ with as many triggers as you can think of. Merge the picture between reality and pretend, so masterfully that your dog can’t tell the difference. Do a warm up before ‘competing’… wait around for your ‘go’, go through your ritual before hand. 

Be vigilant to any changes. Rosettes and awards don’t necessarily mean your dog was mistake-free… it just means your dog made less mistakes then all the other dogs, but trust me… they were there. So be vigilant to what they are.

Be honest with yourself. This doesn’t mean to tear your performance apart, but be objective to your own performance. Not everyone will see what you are aiming for, so ensure you are honest with yourself. Honesty is always the best policy when talking competing!