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!

Unicorns, myths and fairy tales….

As the father of a 3yr old, I am constantly engulfed in the world of make believe and story telling… the adventures of characters created in the minds of others, designed to take my daughter on adventures across the globe, or to far off lands, and capture her imagination. This world of make believe is both inspiring and influential.

I say influential, because we are now learning of the far reaching impact of these subliminal messages. The princess empowerless, waiting for her prince to come save her… or the imaginary of man and woman being the ‘norm’. Whilst I can see these now for what they are, and enjoy the magic of ‘Disney’, I am conscious of the irony. Indeed so are film makers, as they slowly amend their messaging to align with the way in which the world is and should be. For example the latest ‘Frozen’ movie has been created with this in mind. Debarking the stereotypes of men and emotions, self love being one of the most important loves one can experience.

Deep right? Bit too heavy for a kids movie? Thats what I thought prior to having a daughter… and the awareness of what we ‘are told’ via these influences.

In my observations, this is exactly what we are under going in the dog world.

We have a distinct misalignment between what we are told of how dogs should behave, versus what they are and how they are meant to behave.

What was your first imagery of dogs, in the media? Lassie? Rin Tin Tin? The littlest hobo? Old yellow?

All the above have a common theme, dogs that behave ‘very non dog like’!

There is nothing normal about Lassie befriending a random dog, and helping that dog over come adversity… or helping Timmy get out of a well, by barking to signal this…

In both instances the reality would be somewhat less endearing.

The meeting the strange dog would probably involve some posturing, possibly minor acts of aggression or defensive behaviour, scent marking and possibly some casual interaction with clear rules being set… and the incessant barking?? Probably a disgruntled neighbour complaint and a spray collar!

Often we are so indoctrinated to believe the messaging presented in media and wider society that we prolong the much needed reality check to see dogs for what they are.

The sooner we align ourselves with what dogs are, the sooner we will be talking less about reactivity, less about separation anxiety, less about behavioural problems in a manner which demonises, and more about proactive training, education and socialisation, more about how our dogs behaved like ‘normal’ dogs and how we trained them to behave ‘totally abnormally’. How we taught them to behave in a manner acceptable to functioning in society, just as we do our children.

Let’s take the example of the ever so problematic ‘Beethoven’… the loveable St Bernard that blundered into the lives of the Newton family.

The story follows the journey of first time owners taking on a rather fun loving puppy, and then the subsequent escapades as a result of his antics. The laugh and smile as these, as the story shows how he ingratiates himself to the ‘head of the house’, saves their daughter from near drowning and ‘outs’ the black market dealing of the veterinarian.

So hold up! What part of this is ‘real’? And what are we being ‘told’?

In truth and somewhat less dramatic viewing, the problem issues were actually easily resolved. Some simple crate training, reinforcement of desirable behaviour, management and education!

Perhaps not a box office hit, but def a happy ending for the dog….

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack on the latest canine capers to be presented on the silver screen… I can appreciate the story of man and dog, and be as entertained as the next person.

However, we need to remind ourselves that they are movies… movies designed to entertain. Not necessarily reality.

When delivering seminars across the world, specifically on reactivity, one of the most common examples of what people qualify as ‘reactivity’ is by explaining that their dog doesn’t ‘like dogs in their space’….

This always strikes me as a perfect example of the misconception of what dogs are versus what we are told they should be.

Why would your dog like another dog that it doesn’t know, in its face? Would you like a random stranger to come straight up to your face? What would your reaction be? Aggressive? Worry? Fear? Avoidance? All perfectly acceptable and perfectly ‘normal’ responses.

And in reality, the antagonist would be the person who approached you… they would probably be arrested for an offence ranging from public order, assault or worse.

Dogs do what dogs do. Sometimes grossly inappropriate and totally contradictory to what we would like, but it doesn’t make them the villain, or the ‘bad guy’. It makes them a dog, no more, no less. They may lack education, training, socialisation or the endless list of totally reasonable justifications for their behaviour, but its down to us. Its down to us to see them for what they are. Its down to us to stop believing the fairytale, forget about golden unicorns… and save that for 3yr olds bedtime stories….

Reacting right….

So life is full of lessons, and as a dog trainer and sports dog coach, I have had many!

I have been involved in this ‘game’ for close to 30yrs, achieving success at the top level of dog sport, with various dogs, of various breeds, in various disciplines… so its fair to say, I’ve picked up a thing or two along the way… BUT being a new parent is a totally different skill set… or is it!

Last week, my daughter, Neave returned from school in an absolute state… she was hysterical! Crying her eyes out, and clearly distressed about something.

On speaking to her teachers, it transpires Neave had ‘not listened’ when asked, and as a result not received a gold star.

To many readers this may seem trivial, and now in hindsight, I can see things with more clarity.

BUT at the time, my initial response was mixed.

The first cause for concern was the though of my child, my baby girl in a state of distress. This instantly caused the papa bear to kick in, and ask ‘who needs to be shot?’… ‘would I be able to kidnap a teacher and hold them ransom until I get a gold star for Neave?… 

Slightly disproportionate? Just a tad.

Secondly, was the ‘consequence’ my baby experienced for ‘not listening’.

As a dog trainer and professional sports dog coach, my preferred option is always to reinforce. Create a way for the dog to be ‘right’ and reinforce appropriate responses. Whilst, I am happy to have a ‘consequence’, and my dog not being reinforced, I will ensure that they absolutely understand what I want first. 

She had effectively been punished for ‘not listening’. This made my clicker twitch! 

The talk of ‘punishment’ or consequences in teaching and training can divide a crowd, like a skunk in an elevator… and most def this dad! I just didn’t know how I felt about Neave being ‘punished’ for something that I am not truly sure she understood, and is largely out of character. Neave absolutely loves school and loves engaging, so I found it odd that she didn’t listen.

On further conversation, it transpires that Neave was one of 3 children who didn’t receive a ‘golden star’ for not listening… and it was no coincidence that the other 2 girls are her friends.

Neave goes to school with her cousin who she adores! However they are in different classes, and on this occasion the two groups were brought together to read a story. I expect Neave and her cousin were so overjoyed and excited to see each other, they probably got over excited and lost focus.

So essentially, she had both a ‘distraction’ and was in a heightened state of arousal. Two complexities in one.

Now, as a reinforcement based dog trainer, I could think of a 100 alternative set ups to resolve this situation, and create an environment where Neave succeeding. But none the less, she didn’t get a sticker for good behaviour. She didn’t get reinforcement. She was punished.

Now there is so many emotions and responses I felt in that moment, and discussed it with friends and family. The responses were varied as you can imagine.

What should we do as Neave’s parents? Do we talk to the school? Do we intervene? Do we take her from that situation, as they don’t follow the principles of how we wish for Neave to be taught and raised? Do we get irate and defensive?

These are all options. Granted, some a bit of an over reaction, but still options. 

As it happened, Neave had her ballet class the following day. She again, loves to go and gets excited about the prospect. After class, as always I asked how she got on, and to my great approval, Neave had been the child chosen to get a ‘Gold star’ for great listening! I asked if the teacher knew about what had happened, and she didn’t. Neave had been engaged and took instruction and guidance so well, she received a gold star to acknowledge her behaviour. 

It was just coincidence that this happened the day after she had been punished for ‘not listening’.

So the question is, did she learn from the punishment? Did she change her behaviour as a result of the ‘lesson’ the day before? 

To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know if the school experience had an impact on her, trying to glean the details of a situation from a 3yr old isn’t easy, as most conversations dwindle down to ‘pepper pig’ and peanut butter sandwiches. What I do know is, Neave had largely forgotten ’no-sticker gate’… she bounded into class the next time she was in nursery, happy and excited as always. She hadn’t held anything from that experience, even though I may have done, potentially more than she had.

But there were lesson to be taken from this, for me.

We can’t always predict or control the experiences our children will have in life, as much as we would want to. We want to protect them from harm and ensure that every experience is positive, well thought out and productive. However sometimes that just isn’t what will happen. Sometimes, it will go badly, sometimes something will happen you absolutely didn’t want, and sometimes there may even be a few tears. As a parent, it hurt me to see her upset. It cut straight throw the core to think of her being tearful. My response was normal and totally natural. Slightly disproportionate, but ‘normal’. We can’t help but be protective with these little people. But we need to balance over zealous ‘protection’ with allowing life to unfold. 

Now think of this, and the similarities between our dogs. It may not be that your dog has had a negative experience at ‘school’, but it may be that they have had an experience that you would rather they didn’t. It may be your young dog, being ‘attacked’, art may be that you had a poor training session, it may be that you trained something poorly…. But ask yourself, how did you respond? This is where the real lesson will be. 

Being vigilant in your training and making great decisions is the standard we should all aspire to, but sometimes ‘stuff happens’, and it’s ok. It may not be ideal, but it’s ok. Reacting right is a skill set to develop, and it can be learned. Stay calm, think rather than react and you may just get a gold star!

Tribal Affairs

Picture this scene….

Two tribes, standing at the edge of a battle field… the sun beating down, blooded, sweaty, rage in their eyes… weapons poised…. chanting diatribe filled with anger and venom! Their staffs banging on the dusty ground… both blood thirsty and prepared to sacrifice all for the sake of ‘their people’…

The reason? The cause of this inevitable massacre?

Well that could be one of many….

Well it could be, Raw feeding vs Kibble or Vaccinations vs no vaccinations….. Positive reinforcement vs balanced training…. The list goes on… but you get the jest! Whilst I may be using this epic scene fit for the silver screen, to articulate my point… and it is somewhat in humour, there is a lot of truth in the sentiment behind differences and the ‘tribal effect’ of disputes.

As a professional dog trainer, and seminar presenter, I am often asked to deliver talks and presentations to audiences that are filled with people who have a different and sometimes conflicting perspective to that of my own.

When you are fortunate as I am, and travel to various parts of the country and world, this is kind of inevitable. In a time when division seems to be the norm, I am asked how I ‘cope with’ this situation.

Well firstly, I put down my spear! I have been known to be slightly ‘passionate’ in topics of debate and discussion, it has to be said.

Often we all can get defensive about our perspective and beliefs, but it is worth remembering that we are all entitled to our own views. Whether it be diet, training methods, heelwork position, stays or no stays… the endless list of topics that can divide a facebook group like the red sea parting… we are all equally entitled to that viewpoint.

But remembering that whilst you can have a viewpoint, be aware that someone else is entitled to debate it, contradict it or dispute it. And you know what, thats absolutely fine!

Social media, whilst it has its many uses, can often fuel the fire of debate and difference. This difference can often take a dark turn, and cross the boundaries of acceptable social conduct. Debate is healthy, but when discussion becomes personal, we need to take a look at our conduct and remind ourselves of core human values and common civility.

Training methods are a mine field for differences, and debate. Positive vs balanced, punishment vs no punishment, and even within these core groups, there is splinter groups within that then continue to debate amongst themselves! Even under the heading of reinforcement based dog training, there is a huge umbrella… and often there is a tribe within the tribe!

As a professional dog training and someone who puts his head above the parapet, this is a phenomena that I encounter on a regular basis.

So here’s how I view and deal with it:

⁃ We are all entitled to our opinion, and if you have yours and are prepared to defend it to the ends, that you have to anticipate that others will be the same, with views that conflict with yours. And thats ok. It is there right as much as yours, be grateful that we live in a society where this is possible, as there are many where it is not!

⁃ Try not to make your points personal. This will only add fuel to the fire, and deflect from your point. It becomes about the individual rather then the discussion. It may be hard, when you feel you are being ‘attacked’, but stop… take a breath and see the comment for what it is. It is rarely truly about ‘you’….

⁃ Be open to the possibility of dialogue. Change, discussion and growth can often be uncomfortable. You are potentially challenging the status quo and people take that personally. Putting up your barriers and shields, won’t allow communication. And if you truly believe in what you say, and what to get that point across, communication is a necessity.

⁃ Every viewpoint has its strongest and weakest examples. Judging a perspective or opinion by a poor example, isn’t the best way to gauge a true reflection of the viewpoint. And if you are using this as an example, be mindful that you could be subject to the same!

⁃ Agree to disagree. If we all agreed on everything, can you imagine how boring life would be! Having people to challenge your beliefs is healthy, it will test them! If your opinion can weather a little bad weather, then you can take confidence in them.

⁃ Be respectful. You may not agree, but be respectful of the individual, and if you cant walk away with your head held high. Walking away isn’t a loss, its a choice.

⁃ Listen. As simple as it sounds, try listening to the other persons perspective. But dont just ‘hear’ the words, truly ‘listen’. Often there is far more in common then there is apart. Passion, life experiences, emotional influences… We are far more alike then we are different.

⁃ Whilst we would like to believe that we are so different to those that don’t share our beliefs, when you scratch beneath that defensive facade, you will find we all have far more in common then apart. Often, in dog training, our commonality is our love for dogs. This in itself is sometimes worth remembering.

⁃ Avoid judgement. It just makes people defensive, and whilst it is easy to point the finger at others, you will probably find, that you are seeing in them what you hold yourself. the mantra when you know better, you do better, is often a way to avoid judgemental views.

⁃ You don’t always have to ‘be right’ to be right… Walking away from a debate doesnt mean you have lost, you can still hold your beliefs, and find people with a commonality. It may serve you to put down your weapons and step back from debates, and disagreement. Channel that energy into bettering yourself, and your cause.

Enjoy your dogs!

Kamal