Kay Laurence is amazing. I have decided that my current dream vacation would be to go to England to watch Crufts and then spend a week training with Kay at her facility. Her sport of choice is freestyle and her dogs are gordon setters and border collies. She has an appreciation and love for dogs that is evident in all of her teaching. She also has a great sense of humour which makes for a good presentation.
I did three sessions with Kay during the expo but will blog mostly about her Connected Walking lecture. Kay believes that many of the behaviour issues people have with dogs are because there is no connection with the owners. Her belief is that we should be the "heart of the pack" and quit worrying about being the "leader of the pack".
She believes that connection is essential and reinforcing for both human and dog. It underpins all communication and changes over time. It is a two way street and it requires us to accept what can't be changed (breed traits etc.). We build a connection by sharing positive experiences such as clicker sessions and fun times together. When we try to suppress behaviour it comes at a high cost to relationship and connection. An example would be the dog that goes crazy and jumps up at us when we arrive home. Many experts recommend ignoring the dog until they are quiet but she thinks that disrespects the relationship. Instead she believes the behaviour can often be prevented by just taking a moment as soon as we enter the door to quietly bend down and connect with the dog. Dogs need to reestablish that things are okay after an absence and we should respect that.
We must create trust and reliability by watching out for our dogs when they are out and about. We must be pro-active in protecting our dogs from unwanted situations like enforced rudeness so that we can find security and comfort in each other. Dogs have a right to say no and be heard.
Kay discussed the use of various equipment used by people when walking their dogs. Obviously there are safety requirements that must be considered but she wants us to be aware that all equipment is inherently punishing. Most equipment functions on suppressing behaviour and not learning. This can lead to dogs feeling that being on lead is bad and off leash is good. A piece of equipment can't build a connection but it may prevent it.
Most people do not walk at a rate that promotes connection. We often walk at a rate that forces our dogs to pace instead of walk or trot. A pace is not a natural gait and is rarely used by a dog that can choose it's own gait off leash. It is physically difficult for them find a comfortable stride that works on leash with our normal gait. We can slow our rate down to make a walking gait that works for both dog and human or we need to speed up to have a comfortable trot rate for them. This isn't physically possible for all dogs. Riley is an example of that as with his size I need to be fully running before he can comfortably trot so he actually paces a lot. Part of that is the structure problems he has had but I agree with Kay that a lot of it is just him conforming to what is needed.
Establishing a comfortable gait is a huge part to connected while walking. The other is just being patient and waiting for attention from the dog before continuing. When you get that attention take a second to connect before moving on. Leash handles should be looped on our wrist and when a dog is distracted we need to allow that but wait until they check back in with us before continuing. If we allow them the time to make those sorts of decisions then soon they develop a history of making good choices and it all comes together. A lot is based on letting a dog "be a dog" and respecting their needs instead of just ticking "walk the dog" off our to-do list as quickly as possible.
I am lucky that my dogs are able to romp off-leash on local trails and most of our on leash stuff is just getting from A to B. Although the lecture focused on connection as it relates to walking "out and about" with our dogs I felt a lot of what she said was applicable to the overall relationship I want with my dogs. I feel I connect well with my dogs but Kay's lecture reinforced to me lessons that I learned when our Lucy was an old dog. The only options then were to amble along at her pace and just enjoy being together and those are memories I will cherish forever.
Another lab I attended with Kay Laurence was on Duration in Moving and Static Behaviours. I am not going to blog about it because I already found a blog that did a wonderful job describing it from last year. I recommend anyone interested check it out as it looks like lots of great information there on all sorts of training and seminars K9 Coach Bog - Kay Laurence .