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Behavior "Chopped"

As many of you know, in addition to working at the Siskiyou Humane Society and my own private practice, I have over the years had the privilege of mentoring budding and beginning dog trainers.  And I've had the honor of getting to work with many long-term clients who have been bitten by the "training bug" and want to go beyond just teaching Sit or Down.  I have often wished--with them and with the Staff at the shelter--that I could distill into a magic pill all the knowledge and whatever wisdom I've gained in my twelve year adventure as a dog trainer and behavior geek.

Well, I haven't come up with anything as easy as a magic pill.  But I have, after a few months of hard work, come up with a new program that I'm really excited about:  Foundations in Behavior & Training should be ready to launch in March. ( Please visit the Foundations Course page for more details; as soon as I get the location and dates nailed down, the course will be open for registration.)

Which brings me to cooking :)  Have any of you ever watched the cooking show Chopped?  That's the one wherefour competing chefs get a mystery basket of weird ingredients like squid, cheese puffs, maple syrup and cauliflower and have to turn it into a delectable gourmet dish for a panel of celebrity chef/judges.  Amazingly, unlike moi, a lot of these chefs can turn those weird ingredients into something delicious.  Me, I can make an awesome grilled cheese sandwich, and I'm okay with ingredients and dishes I know.  Present me with a basket of mystery ingredients, though, and I'm not coming up with anything delectable or gourmet.

The difference between me and the chefs is that the chefs understand the underlying principles of cooking.  They know about savory and sweet, how to use spices, which flavors combine well, how one cooking method enhances some flavors and textures while another method brings out others.  What they know goes beyond recipes and to the core of how flavor works in food.  So you can hand them a basket of weird mystery ingredients, and they can apply those underlying core principles to make something delicious.  No recipe.  Just an intimate understanding and relationship with flavors and food.

Behavior is like that.  Most of us have figured out how to make a pretty good grilled cheese sandwich with our pets, and it usually goes okay.  But sometimes our dogs hand us a basket of weird mystery ingredients, behaviors that we aren't used to dealing with.  Or we decide we'd like to expand our cuisine to include Agility, or a better Recall than our last dog had, and we don't have a good recipe for the new dish we'd like to try.  Or maybe we just want to spice up our relationship with our furry best friend, achieve something larger in relationship or intimacy.  

Now, please don't get me wrong--I'm a big fan of dog training recipes.  Lots of very bright trainers have used them to great success:  they really do work and I encourage their use.  It's just, there's a particular joy and freedom in being able to put the cook book aside and just rock with the flavors a dog has to offer. 

Foundation in Behavior & Training is my offering to anyone who wants to get to an intimacy and relationship with their pets that goes beyond recipes and "methods."  It's my take on the core principles that underlie the behavior of our companion animals.  Mostly, it's about using the Science of animal behavior--what we know and don't know--to ask deeper questions, observe more closely, probe more deeply.

In our culture, we don't always equate Science with things like empathy, passion and joy.  For me, though, that's the heart and soul of it:  getting to a place outside my own head, beyond my little box of opinions, and really looking at the animal.  Really listening to what the dog or cat is saying with his or her behavior.  Asking questions not to get my answer, but to learn their answer.

As I put Foundations in Behavior & Training together, my goal was to take the core principles of animal behaviorand make the science as accessible, clear and downright exciting as I can.  To take us beyond recipes and methods to a deeper understanding of how sweet and savory go together, how spices change flavors, how different approaches enhance or change the texture of our understanding of our dogs.  To give us a broader perspective that moves us from just trying to get our dogs to behave to understand how and why they behave.

I won't lie:  this is a "serious" course, a course for people who have a real, sincere interest in learning more about animal behavior.  As we'll see, animal behavior is a complex system, and my goal was to make the science accessible, not dumb it down or over-simplify it.  We're going to talk about ethology and genetics, learning theory and evolutionary biology, neuroscience and, yes indeedy, even Niko Tinbergen's Four Questions about animal behavior.  Awesome!

I'm also committed to having the course be as entertaining, relaxed and fun as I can make it--a journey of inquiry that we take together as a group.

We'll be starting some time in March.  I hope you'll join us. 

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