The Difference between Training and Behaviour

dogchairsThe answer for me seems simple, but there is more to it than first meets the eye.  My answer may seem rather radical, controversial or “out there” – but it comes from many years of experience in both training horses and their humans and from studying equine behaviour.  Because the common factor when working with either horses or dogs is the human, this is the element that I feel is often missing in the knowledge of some behaviourists and certainly most trainers.  In reading Kevin Behan’s book, “Your Dog is Your Mirror” there were so many things that rang true because I have experienced much of what he discusses for myself – over many years with horses and more recently with dog owners.  The quote I have used at the very end is taken from one of Cesar Millan’s newsletters and for me answers the whole question in a few lines, but let us first explore this question a bit further.    

In my opinion, a dog behaviourist does not necessarily need to know how to train in its more literal sense.  They should of course know the basics and ideally have more than just the basics, because in order to help owners and their dogs, it is useful to have such knowledge.  However, they can work in co-operation with good trainers and become a “team”.  They may also need to recommend to an owner some specific training that might be of use in order to focus a dog – for example, sled work or sheep herding (where they are available) and where the owner has a breed that would really benefit from learning how to do its job in order to release energy and fulfil the breed requirement.  Training the specifics of these skills is likely to require a trainer who is focused on that work, regardless of whether a behaviourist also has good training skills!

With regards to trainers however, although there are many who focus on specific skills – obedience, agility, fly ball, attack training, early training and so on, they do not always understand dog behaviour and sadly, owners often find themselves being asked to leave a class if their dog has an issue because the trainer is unable to help them.  To my mind, a trainer really should have a greater knowledge of behaviour than perhaps a behaviourist needs to have of training.   For me the behaviourist also works to get the dog to a point where the owner can decide what kind of specific training they might like to do and can take the dog forward from a state of balance.

Sometimes it is not possible to train if the dog is very unbalanced because there is no focus and the owner and dog are under some stress.  As an owner will not usually be experienced in how to deal with issues, it can be quite disheartening for them and if they are struggling with their dog their emotions and frustration just escalate.  It is only made worse if an owner and their dog in this situation are thrown out of a class, something that is not infrequent in training classes.  Owners are not often thrown out of behaviour sessions although they might not necessarily always be present for every step of the way because their emotions can influence the animal, but the general idea is to help the owner.  It is not without reason that Cesar Millan says that he “rehabilitates dogs and trains humans”!  Once the dog is in balance and has some understanding, then it is easier to help the human because the dog helps them too.  Breaking down the problem into solvable chunks helps everyone.  One horse trainer I know teaches the principal of “separate, isolate and recombine” and it’s a good mantra for a behaviourist helping both dog and human too.  If one thinks about it – it is also a very useful mantra for training a dog to do specific things!

Having said this and made a broad and sweeping statement defining the roles of both trainers and behaviourists, I really don’t think it is quite so straight forward.  From starting out as a “trainer” of horses and working with students to improve their horsemanship skills in order to have a better relationship with them – one thing became increasingly clear over the years:  it was very little about training and very much about “who the owner/handler needed to be” for the horse.  This involved initially helping them learn more about horse psychology and learning theory.  What it also showed was that the owner is actually a trainer too – it’s not just the person taking the class!  Every time we are near an animal and influencing it – we are training it.  As both dogs and horses tend to reflect something about us the human, we need to understand ourselves – so from this, came the development of what I now teach as Leadchanges Workshops.

These courses teach the students more about themselves and who they need to be for their dog (you can find out more on the workshop’s page).  Even in every day lessons, I have increasingly found that to help people effectively, I have to help them understand themselves and so study starts to involve human psychology, not just that of the canine!  Some people just require some simple help – but there are those who wish to take things further and the bigger the issues that come up – the more they need to understand that by working on themselves, they will also be working on their dog.

Over the years, newsletters and training clinics I have given have incorporated more and more about the human psyche – how we learn, how we develop fears, why we have self-doubt and how we develop our own issues.  Understanding more about this means that although we might not necessarily solve someone’s deep seated issues (that’s not what the workshops are about) we can get them to start the thinking process about why they are the way they are.  By becoming more aware, they already start to make a change and in that change – their animals change.  By understanding where their own anger or frustration or fear comes from, they become more tolerant of their animals and don’t blame or take it out on them so much.  They understand when their dog (for example) pushes their buttons and over time they buy into the emotion less and therefore become more effective.  They also understand that being human, they make mistakes and if they do, they should not beat up on themselves, but just work at making it better next time – as the Zen saying goes, “there are no mistakes, just opportunities to learn”.

Kevin Behan, in his book “Your Dog is Your Mirror” explains this whole question of how we the human are so much part of our dog’s problems.  For those of us that want to help dogs, it reminds us that we don’t just have to be dog behaviourists or trainers – but human behaviourists and mini-psychologists!

Mark Rashid in the horse world covers the same subjects – and it is Mark’s work that led me to consider more on the subject of mindfulness, meditation and the study of Zen and Martial Arts.

To quote from the Foreword in Mark Rashid’s book “Horsemanship through Life” he says:

“It is not a journey for everyone, because it is far from easy.  It takes time and hard work and means sometimes having your very breath taken away from you.  It is neither for the weak of heart or spirit nor for those with a closed mind.  Instead it takes a willingness to learn, be humble and acknowledge, at times, just how much you don’t know.  We must learn from the journey and not the destination.”   

This applies as much to working with dogs and humans as it does with horses and humans – because of the common element – us.

Mark says that being good with our animals is not just about how we are when we are with them, but also “how we do things when we are away from them” – it means improving “who we need to be” for our animals even when we are not with them.

By combining behaviour work into training and understanding the bigger picture – we are able to work more outside the box and this gives us an edge over those that are training alone.  I actually don’t believe that to be either a good trainer or good behaviourist, you can possibly focus on one thing and not see the interconnectedness of other skills that will benefit the animal one is working with.  I do not think that it is truly possible to give the animal the best if one is a “trainer alone”.  This was certainly true of the horses and I’m finding the same with the dogs – we need so much more.  Ultimately all parties (with their specialist focus) should work together in co-operation for the good of the animal as at the end of the day – it’s the animal’s well being that is important.

It is possible to learn to train with very little knowledge of behaviour and owners themselves can easily get a puppy and work on say, obedience techniques and get good results, especially using reward based training.  However, it pays dividends and we get even better results, if we understand behaviour also, and if we understand more about how dogs learn and how they might think or interpret things.  Without this information, if a problem occurs or we meet something out of the ordinary, then we can come unravelled and hit a wall because we don’t know what to do.

Dog pullingBecause of our own human inadequacies, we can hugely influence a dog – even accidentally.  People do not generally mean to create a problem – but it can occur – and it’s in cases like this that understanding more about behaviour will help us solve issues more quickly and thus with reduced stress.  What the behaviourist needs to do is address balance – in both the human and the dog from there, everything else will follow.

Cesar Millan answers the question about the difference between dog training and dog behaviour in his own way.  The excerpt quoted was taken from his book “Cesar’s Rules” and he puts it in a very easy to understand way:

“Training vs. Balance: What’s the Difference?

There is so much confusion about dog training out there—what works, what doesn’t, what’s best, what does it even mean? And for me, training is about conditioning. What I do is not “training” in the traditional sense, as what I care most about is “balance.” That means fulfilling the instinctual needs of the dog. And when a dog is balanced (thinking), training (learning) is much easier to perform.

(Note:  the bracketed red words are my own and do not appear in the original)