I had an epiphany! When recently stocking up on decorating supplies I decided to include a small step ladder in my order. Don’t know what prompted me to do this, but as I clattered it out of the van I wondered if I’d made a rash purchase. As the preparation for decorating commenced, the ladder started to work it’s magic. Ascending to the third/top step of the ladder, I was able to take my curtains off their rails and remove lampshades from the ceiling light with unfamiliar ease. As the project went on, I found that painting the dreaded line between wall and ceiling markedly easier than during previous painting endeavours.
I’ve no doubt you’re sitting there wondering why you’re reading such drivel. It’s bleedin’ obvious that a ladder makes decorating easier. But wait, have you never balanced precariously on a swivel chair to reach something in a high cupboard? Or gingerly put your weight on a chest of drawers to change the curtains? Or even tiptoed on a footstool to change the lightbulb of the ‘big light’ in the living room? And wouldn’t it have been easier to use a stepladder? I rest my case.
Right tool for the right job
During the many boring hours I spent rolling paint onto the walls, I considered the importance of using the right tool for the right job. My housemate always laughs when she asks questions like ‘what should I squeeze the lemon with’ only to be handed a lemon reamer. Or ‘do you have such a thing as . . .’ a pair of long nose pliers? A picture hook? A silicon mat? And I calmly look them out of the cupboard. However obscure the item, I’m likely to have it somewhere. I explain that these things accumulate with age. At some point I’ve needed the right tool for the job. Hence my well stocked home ironmongery.
Teachers are vital
Having the right tool makes the process easier, the finish cleaner, the job well done. This applies across the board, with every job, every trade, every project benefitting from the right tools. The job of dog training is no different. Finding the right harness for scentwork the most appropriate technique for your dog and the best teacher are some of the essential tools that help you teach your dog the task in hand.
For me, the most vital tool in training is the teacher. Whether it is you teaching your dog or a trainer teaching you, without the correct support, knowledge and understanding the job can end up half-assed. In scentwork it can result in dogs not really understanding what you want them to do. Or handlers being afraid to handle for fear of getting it wrong. And teams losing the love for scentwork. All because they chose the wrong teacher.
My perception is that this can be an ever bigger minefield when it comes to online learning. I sometimes see online courses that have wonderful marketing, a great ‘spiel’ but very little useable content or skill to back it up. Courses where the provider promises more than they deliver. Be that their inflated view of themselves ‘the (insert country/discipline)’s No. 1 Dog Trainer’ or the promises that their course is all things to all people when in fact it’s just a vehicle designed to advertise more courses or more dreary hyperbole.
When I started offering online courses back in 2018, I studied more than just the marketing aspect (something that I still struggle with now). I wanted to learn how to make a difference to how people interacted with their dogs – something I’d been doing for decades in-person but now wanted to share online. One course creator that I admire very much teaches watercolour painting. While the topic of her courses is rather different to dog training, her ethos for how and why she works chimed with me. Angela (Fehr) doesn’t have reams and reams of promotion. She skips the BS and moves right to the main event – what students can realistically achieve when they sign up to her courses. She is generous in her help for other course creators, me included, and has an understated and genuine passion for what she does.
Sort the wheat from the chaff
For me, key to sorting the wheat from the chaff is to do your homework. Ask the trainer what their actual experience is in the field. Ask how they can help and what they can offer. Don’t simply accept their website marketing as gospel. If they say they’re members or affiliates of organisations, find out if that is true and what they had to do to gain their certificates/membership. There’s a big difference between an attendance certificate and a process that actually assesses skills and knowledge.
In a previous life I studied to become a Trading Standards Officer. It was there that I learned about the many online scams that have become all too common these days. Add that to my time in HM Customs and I’d say that my BS detector is pretty damn strong. I can sniff out a ‘wrong ‘un’ faster than Cherry can catch a treat. My pet peeves include those who say they belong to organisations when they do not. Or belong to organisations that are nothing more than rubber stamps offering nothing more substantial to either members or the public. I bristle at those who offer refunds but when you apply for them are hit by all sorts of obstacles designed to oppose the refund. And courses/workshops where students are pushed into techniques or practices that don’t deliver what was promised.
What I love
What I love is transparency. Honesty. Skill. Value. Effort. I love to see what’s inside the box before I open it. I love to be able to ask questions before signing up. And to have access to my trainer. Being able to ask for clarification is wonderful. In order to feel supported, I think it’s essential to be able to engage with the tutor, whether by phone, zoom or even in person! (We will return to in person workshops one day – keep the faith!) Even if you choose not to engage the opportunity to do so is powerful. To know that somebody has your back, wants the best for you – that is so empowering.
When I think about my other favourite tools (dog-wise) I’d list (in no particular order):
High value, low value, they all have their place
I love how many uses they have, from occupying a lively puppy to helping a worried dog cope better with vet visits.
I’ve written about these before, I love them.
A good lead
This very much comes down to personal preference. My preference is for soft, light leads that are comfortable to hold, not too short, not too long, have a d-ring on the handle (great for securing dogs during pub lunches)
My all time favourite safe, secure travel cage.
Dog shampoo bars
So much easier to use than bottled shampoo. No plastic packaging, low lather and seem to last forever.
I prefer to use a whistle to call my dogs. It is without emotion, carries through wind and rain, and is used with all my dogs. (You can learn how to teach your dog a whistle recall in my Support Skills course.)
And of course, I can’t list my favourite tools without mentioning books. They are my go to sources of information, inspiration and ideas. But I’m just giving them a quick mention here. I’m going to dedicate a blog post to them and share my recommended reading list. Watch this space!
I wonder what your favourite tools are? Have you any recommendations? We all find value in different tools when looking for the right tool. We need to continue to evaluate resources, to see if they will deliver what they promise. Or do we use the same tools as we’ve always used through habit or peer pressure even if they’re not serving us well? As long as we are doing our homework and making informed, smart choices about the tools we use, we can’t go wrong!