At the 1st International Conference on Animal Training Methods in Warsaw from November 18-19,2017, OneMind Dogs Coach Magdalena Ziolkowska and PhD Anna Reinholz showed how we use the results of scientific research to train future agility champions.
Theory and Practice Bridged Animal Training Methods 2017
Scientists do research and make theories in isolated conditions without ever seeing them used in practice, while people frequently train their dogs relying solely on intuition and feeling. It was a great experience to see the two worlds confronted, making references between the OneMind Dogs method and actual research.
"Nature or nurture?" – how to communicate with the dog effectively in order to improve sports results (based on the example of agility).
Communication is a process by which information is exchanged between the sender and the recipient. It can be done through the use of universally understood, instinctive behaviours, genetically based or acquired and transformed in the process of evolution (Sadowski i Chmurzyński, 1989, Wilson, 1980). For the message to be understood both the sender and recipient must use the the same code.
How to communicate effectively with our dog?
We can teach the dog to understand and obey our verbal commands. However, we can also use a system that is more in-born and natural for the species, therefore requiring less teaching. As animals naturally use body language to communicate in a group, it will be clearer to them than verbal communication. The body position and the position of specific body parts e.g. head, eyes is of relevance (Abrantes, 1997, Bradstad i Bakken, 2003, Goodall,1968,). Employing this means of communication can accelerate training and make it more efficient. In the process of domestication (see e.g. synergistic hypothesis Gácsi and colleagues, 2009), and due to the exceptional bond with humans (Topál, Miklósi and Csányi, 1997), dogs have become extremely sensitive to human-like social behaviours. There exists research showing that they demonstrate behaviours constituting the theory of mind (Cooper and colleagues, 2003, Miklósi, Polgárdi, Topál and Csányi 2000, Petter, Musolino, Roberts and Cole 2009, Range, Virányi and Huber, 2007).
Being aware of these abilities and the ability to use them is extremely important in training agility. From the direction of the handler’s motion, position and body language dogs must read the direction they are supposed to drive in. Clear communication and good timing is the key to a fast and clean run.
OneMind Dogs 7 Handling Elements Scientifically Broken Down
There are 7 elements of handling that communicate to the dog where he should go next. The elements are connected with each other but are of different significance to the dog. The hierarchy of these elements according to the OneMind Dogs:
- Motion - the dog responds to the handler's motion and the rhythm changes. The dog will attempt to chase the handler and slow down when the handler stops. The dog is a predator so a moving object activates the chase instinct (Coppinger and Coppinger, 2002). Additionally, animals living in groups, especially those hunting in groups, like wolves, are sensitive to the motion and position of the other members of the pack as it affects their behaviour while hunting.
- Position - the position of the handler with reference to the dog and the obstacles. For example if the handler falls behind on a straight line, the dog will turn towards him. Also, if we are closer to the dog, we have more control over the dog, whereas if we are further away, the dog extends its stride and as a result tends to have wider turns. Again these behaviours are natural, deriving from hunting behaviours.
- Eye connection - similarly to human communication, eye contact helps keep the attention of the interlocutor. Looking at the face (in the eyes) is important in initiating and maintaining communication amongst people (Carpenter and Tomasello, 1995, Tomasello, 1995, Trevarthen,1979). Researchers claim that it is this ability that is the foundation of the complex communication between dogs and people. Dogs, unlike wolves (even socialised ones), look at people's faces. Faced with a difficult situation dogs search for eye contact with their owners (Polgárdi, Topál and Csányi, 2000, Topál, Miklósi and Csányi, 1997). Where the handler is looking is also information for the dog which line to follow and which side of the handler to approach. Dogs follow human gaze. (gazing; gaze-following response) (eg. Miklösi, Polgárdi, Topál and Csányi, 1998)
- Chest laser point - the chest laser point tells the dog where to go. When we move, our chest laser point naturally points to the path we are planning to take. However, when we are in front do the dog, our chest must be turned so that the dog can still clearly see the line our chest laser point is showing. Otherwise the dog goes behind the handler's back. Rotating the shoulders allows the handler to turn their head and be able to see the dog.
- Feet - from the position of our feet the dog can predict where the handler is planning to go next as normally people move in the direction their feet are pointing. Knowing the natural position of the feet and chest laser point of a person when moving, a dog can predict where the handler is going next.
- Arms - hands are a significant part of human non-verbal communication. There is numerous research on pointing and its varieties like "touching“, 'proximal pointing', 'distal pointing', 'cross body pointing' (Győri and colleagues, 2009, Hare, Call and Tomasello, 1998, Ittyerah and Gaunet, 2009, Miklosi and colleagues 2003, Udell Dorey and Wynne, 2008). It is undeniable that dogs read gestures, however human lack of coordination and inconsistency in the application of the 7 Handling Elements creates misunderstanding and chaos in communication. Pointing often turns the chest laser point, or legs and affects the speed. In training a dog it is crucial to observe the factors affecting the animal's well-being, eliminating them to prevent unwanted consequences in training. It is also worth knowing that conspecific signals animals send each other can also be used to communicate with humans. (Firnkes, Bartels, Bidoli i Erhard, 2017)
- Verbals - the central element of human communication, yet least natural for the dog. Research has proved that a dog is capable of learning numerous verbals (Kaminski, Call i Fischer, 2004, Pilley and Reid, 2011). In training the dog is taught to respond to verbals, however it being the least natural element of communication for the dog it requires most teaching and it is difficult to substitute other elements of handling with verbals. For example, if our whole handling is cueing the weave poles and we give the verbal for the tunnel the dog is sure to do the weave poles. The aim for the verbals is to help the dog predict what handling is going to follow. A good understanding of verbals is crucial in situations where the dog has to discriminate obstacles close to each other or when the handler has to work at a distance.
It appears that OneMind Dogs method is not only applicable in agility. Dog trainers in various fields (tracking, search and rescue, cancer detection, obedience) approached us commenting how they apply it in their work and how structuring communication can improve their future training to achieve better results.
Guest blog post by OneMind Dogs Coach Magdalena Ziolkowska