Past the simple notion of thresholds, dogs exist in a complex web of relationships and environment, expectations and abilities. As a species, dogs can find themselves at odds with or pressured by life with humans. As an individual, each dog is unique in his capacity for adapting to life with humans, in sensory processing and sensitivities, and in the nuances of temperament and personality. The individual dog’s abilities, skills and needs are brought together with the expectations, skills, needs and understanding of the handler. Each handler varies in their understanding of dogs as a species, dogs as specific breeds or types, and of each dog as an individual. While love is a good thing, it is not enough to assure that the handler will act in ways that are supportive or fair to the dog. The dog and handler live together within specific conditions which may or may not support the dog or the relationship. This shared life can be a beautiful meshing of abilities and needs, or it can be a frustrating, disappointing and difficult mismatch. One common question that arises from this complex interaction of dog, handler and environment is: “How do I know what is too much, or not enough?” Handlers want to do right by their dog, providing them with a “happy life.” But what constitutes a happy life? What is enough? what is too much? what is not enough? What size world is right for this dog? We are always seeking the Goldilocks Effect: we want it to be just right. But even professionals can struggle to find that “just right” balance for any specific dog. It can be challenging to know what technique or equipment or methodology are right for an individual dog. Trainers are often puzzled by why an approach that is – in theory – appropriate is just not having the desired results, particularly if it has been helpful with other dogs. Are they applying it incorrectly? too soon? too often? not frequently enough? Should they keep working at it for another session or week or month? Training techniques and equipment are effective only under specific conditions. The question is which specific conditions are necessary for success? Very often, the answer hinges completely on the dog himself. Trainers are also frequently faced with the challenge of handlers who have expectations or needs that are not aligned with a dog’s abilities, temperament or skills. For the ethical, humane trainer, the question becomes a tricky one: “How can the dog be protected and supported while still allowing for improvement and development of new skills?” For some dogs, there is a limit past which they simply cannot go, regardless of how positive, humane or well intended the training. Knowing how to recognize that limit is critical. How far can this dog go?” Handlers and trainers both ask this, hoping that there is a crystal ball answer somewhere. None of us have crystal balls, but we can learn to utilize nuanced assessment tools for understanding the individual dog and making informed decisions in the dog’s best interests. This presentation offers trainers a number of ways to ask the dog himself: “What size world is right for you?” It turns out that the dog himself can provide the answers, if we know what to look for, and how to place it in the proper context. Emphasis is on using video, a variety of assessment tools and interactive exercises to help attendees understand what a dog’s behavior can tell us about:
• Arousal & resilience o Intensity of arousal and its effects on learning o Importance of resolution
• Temperament & personality o “Who are you?” o Personality = temperament + experience o What’s mutable?
• Skills & training o What skills does dog have? o What skills need to be developed? o Skills & training vs. abilities
• Handler/dog dynamics o Realistic assessment vs. hopes & dreams o Providing context and scale
• Monitoring progress o “How is this for you?” o What size world? o Testing the fit The assessment tools I have developed will be demonstrated: