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How To Be a Concept Trainer

How To Be a Concept Trainer




Subtitle: Shaping Your Dog's Personality Through Games
Author: Tom Mitchell BSc BVSc MRCVS
Format: Paperback
Length: 204 pages
Release Date: 2017

  • Does your dog get so excited that he struggles to focus and process what you want him to do?
  • Does your dog get frustrated when you are training a new exercise?
  • Does your dog go into a new environment fearing that something scary may happen?

These three differing scenarios, which can apply equally to both performance dogs and companion dogs, are real barriers to learning, and can also harm your relationship with your dog. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In this new book, How to be a Concept Trainer, vet and behaviorist Tom Mitchell reveals his novel approach to training—and it’s all about playing games!

Mitchell has thrown away the rule book on behavior problem solving and shows you how to mold your dog's personality just by playing with him. He has developed specific games that work on underlying emotional issues and encourage dogs to make the "right" decisions. In this book, Mitchell equips us with the tools to manipulate our dog’s mindset and turn negative traits into positive ones so our dogs can reach their full potential.

Question all you ever learned about preventing or managing undesirable behavior and embrace the world of concept training—a positive solution to age-old training problems. Best of all, it is fun, both for you and your dog!

About the Author
Tom Mitchell BSc BVSc MRCVS is a leading dog trainer, veterinarian and behaviorist, consulting internationally through his behaviour consultancy service and online teaching. Tom, alongside Lauren Langman, heads up absoluteDOGS and is co-founder and creator of the Naughty but Nice movement and Leash Off!, Game On. Their training academy is world renowned for its innovation in dog training games and the real-life results they bring.

Tom graduated top in his year from the University of Bristol with first class honors in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, followed shortly by a degree in Veterinary Science. He has collaborated with international experts in canine behavior and neurology, and his own contribution to these fields includes published research projects.

Tom’s casebook includes all kinds of dogs and struggles, ranging from those specific to competition sports dogs to those relating to companion dogs. Not forgetting those more severe problems referred from other behaviorists. Throughout all his work, his focus is concept training—shaping the dog’s personality through games—which is the topic of this book.

Chapter 1: Mitchell begins by looking at a dog’s available choices in any new situation and the tools we have at our disposal to affect these choices: management, reinforcement and punishment. As learning can happen outside of our input, Mitchell stresses the need for rewarding the "right" choices, as well as considering the number of available choices to our dog, which is where management comes in, prompting the introduction of the choice reward framework.

Chapter 2: Focuses on how we go about rewarding the "right" choices. Mitchell talks us through the following five elements that make up a reinforcement strategy: markers, reinforcers, delivery, schedules, rates of Reinforcement.

Chapter 3: Moves on to focus. In training, focus is split into both trainer focus and forward focus (e.g., looking down a line of jumps). Mitchell shows us a number of games to work on building both of these. He also studies building focus as a concept and stopping unwanted behaviors.

Chapter 4: Concentrates on flexibility. By this, Mitchell means does your dog respond to something in the same way every time, or does he take on a more flexible approach. A flexible approach is more desirable as we often require the dog to approach the same situation differently; for example, stopped vs. running contacts. Mitchell provides us with games to build flexibility and also highlights the value of reward flexibility, discussing reward switching, and how to avoid reinforcer disappointment.

Chapter 5: Takes a look at thinker and doer personality types. Dogs can be roughly divided into either thinkers or doers in their approach to making choices. While achieving a balance between the two is essential Mitchell describes "doers" as preferential in terms of training and shows us how you can develop your thinking dog into a doer.

Chapter 6: In "Training through Inspiration Not Deprivation," Mitchell argues the goal is to create a dog susceptible to reward based training. He looks at what determines the value of a reward, as well as how to take simple, commonplace behaviors and turn them from deprivation to inspiration, turning distractions into success and building reinforcers and creative reinforcer development.

Chapter 7: Considers generalization, which Mitchell sees as crucial for success. He goes through the pros and cons of being a good generalizer, and provides us with a number of games to help your dog become a skillful generalizer.

Chapter 8: Introduces "grit" as a training concept. This concept is now widespread in human psychology and Mitchell anticipates the same will follow suit in the dog world. It basically means the ability to work for less frequent or longer term rewards, and he once again provides games to develop this skill.

Chapter 9: Looks at arousal. Although key to success in many different areas, we must be wary of over-arousal. Mitchell explains this in terms of the "arousal bucket," explaining that when arousal goes over threshold you start to experience problems. He also comments on the time span of arousal as well as the relationship between desire, frustration and fear.

Chapter 10: Mitchell discusses training for calmness. He believes a calm dog is a happy dog and lists some of the benefits of a default calm emotional state. He shares with us his calmness protocol and also mentions calmness training in multi-dog households.

Chapter 11: Continues with the subject of arousal. As earlier discussed some level of arousal is essential and Mitchell takes us through the differences between good arousal and bad arousal, as well as the difficulties of finding the optimum arousal level, and how this is an even greater challenge when it comes to dog sports.

Chapter 12: Highlights the importance of thinking in arousal and how this is critical to success with both sport and companion dog training. Mitchell provides us with some games to promote thinking in arousal, as well as looking at how to achieve optimum arousal levels.

Chapter 13: Considers how to manipulate arousal. Mitchell explains that to achieve and maintain arousal and avoid over-arousal in situations where we do not want it. He takes us through the tools at our disposal to manipulate arousal, which include reinforcement, arousal-specific games and on- and off-switch behaviors.

Chapter 14: Concludes the topic of arousal by looking at how to develop the ability to switch between high and low arousal, something which is vital for performance dog. Mitchell also discusses the relationship between over-arousal, fear and frustration, as well as the importance of arousal when it comes to building emotions.

Chapter 15: Moves on to frustration, and crucially, tolerance to frustration. This is important for a number of reasons, to name a few, it enhances learning and performance by creating a dog able to deal with failure, equips the dog with a better tolerance to handler mistakes, and makes them more resilient to change. Mitchell also looks at the link between frustration and reactivity, as well as the difference between grit and tolerance of frustration.

Chapter 16: In "Training for Optimism," Mitchell explains why optimism is a fundamental concept a dog must have in order to be successful, also elaborating on the pitfalls of pessimism, and how this can even lead to reactivity. He provides us with indicators to determine whether your dog is a pessimist or an optimist and how we can use games to help turn the former into the later.

Chapter 17: In the final chapter Mitchell considers the concept of movement. Although rarely considered a training concept, Mitchell points out that all competition and companion dogs spend a large amount of time moving. Therefore it is possible to create optimum movement form through rehearsal and reinforcement.  As well as providing games to enhance movement, Mitchell also looks at advanced gait work for fitness and protecting movement, which he describes as limited rehearsal of bad movement patterns, such as limping.

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