I have just gotten back from a whirlwind of a weekend in Michigan. Athena and I drove down Friday night, and drove back Sunday night, for our first workshop for the Karen Pryor Academy. There are four which, holy crap – I never thought of it this way before, means we are officially a quarter of the way through.
I went into the weekend feeling equal parts “hell yeah, I got this” and “oh my god, what have I gotten myself into”. I have come out of the weekend still feeling both, but definitely more the former than the latter.
Some high points and low points of the weekend:
High point – by the end of the weekend Athena would let me leave her behind while I went to go to the bathroom and was still quiet when I got back (though very alert and watchful). This is huge for her.
Low point – All of my carefully selected wobble, topple, and puzzle toys, stuffed with wet food and frozen, got confiscated at the border. I was upset for about a minute before I realized that this means I have an excuse to buy new ones!
High point – Meeting my teacher, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, who definitely lives up to the hype.
Low point – Athena’s massive meltdown when I tried to crate her, which we’d been working really hard on. I basically gave up and was allowed to let her settle on her mat next to her crate instead.
High point – The supportive atmosphere. From Laura, to the staff at Leader Dogs for the Blind, where our workshops are held, to all my classmates; not a single negative or critical feeling. After demoing behaviours with our dogs, Laura had us write three positive things about each other every single time. Guess what? It turns out positive reinforcement is effective! (Duh…)
One thing that really stuck with me was a discussion we had as a group about how people learn. We were talking about how we are so societally conditioned to want criticism, yet for our dogs we are all about the positive reinforcement. We know that scientifically, positive reinforcement is most effective, yet with ourselves, we still don’t accept it. At one point, Laura said, “You need instruction, not criticism.”, which really hit me hard. I’m filing it away in my mental rolodex of trainer-things-to-remember, along with Katie Hood’s “It’s not cheating, it’s strategy!” about mat work.
It was a great weekend; it was a long weekend; it was an exhausting weekend. Athena and I both are going to take a day or two to recharge and recover from the brain-fry, then get back to work, starting on the second unit. Send us your positive thoughts – apparently unit 2 is a challenge!