In most instances when talking is about dog training, it hinges on techniques and methods - the basics that are used to develop in the dog the habits and natural abilities that will enable it to do a good job. Dog psychology is touched upon but rarely trainer psychology - what makes the trainer 'tick'. I have met a number of good trainers, who all have their particular style even to the extent of allowing their dogs to do things that to the layman would appear totally taboo. But at the end of the day they come out with not only a good dog but a top dog. Perhaps we could learn more from studying the top trainers to develop in ourselves the necessary skills and qualities to succeed in training a dog.
A good trainer has a compound of qualities which are strongly inter-related, experience, knowledge, patience, natural affinity with dogs, enthusiasm, exuberance, readability, - the list could go on. These are qualities and skills most trainers almost take for granted. However there seems to be certain personal characteristics that also make them successful.
Just as a good manager can recognize what motivates an employee to maximum output and production, a good trainer recognizes, what motivates and stimulates their dog to work as a team player. A dog may do some jobs because it enjoys them, some it must be encouraged to enjoy until it learns how to and others through a concern of what may happen if it doesn't. The good trainer reads this in the dog and changes the training approach accordingly. The skill of the trainer comes from the ability to show the dog what is required at a pace which matches the dogs intelligence, and do it in such a way that the dog succeeds. Small steps are taken, one at a time, concentrating totally on what is to be achieved and using every part of your person required to achieve the results is the key. With consistency the dog knows exactly what you are communicating. Once a lesson has been learnt with one command or a series of commands given then this is the way it should always be done.
A good trainer progresses the training at the dog's pace and takes time to impart the lessons so that the dog really does learn and is not either guessing or performing correctly because of the place and habitual routine. In this modern rush and bustle of a commercial world where everything is packed for convenience so many owners look on their dog as they would convenience food, a prepared, pre-packed product., 'heat and eat'. 'It's a gun dog with a pedigree of all the right ingredients so all one has to do is wait for it to grow up and be used, it should come naturally!' The ingredients may be all there, but you need to know what final product you require and how to handle and mix those ingredients to come out with the right finished dog. A good trainer watches the mix along the way and adds a little extra here or knows when enough has been applied there. By testing the dog along the way and measuring progress the trainer can recognize whether certain ingredients have been skimped, forgotten or even left out and add them at a later date.
The top trainers always appear relaxed and unhurried, gently (and almost unseen) giving motivation to their dog at the right time. By having a calm and confident approach they impart calmness to the dog, one of the main qualities of leadership. I know from experience that they are keyed up inside even nervous, especially in competition but by not relaying or showing it to their dog they don't have negative consequences.
Good trainers play their voices, whistles and actions like musical instruments, they read the dogs actions and act or react accordingly with a promptness that lets the dog know they are the boss and are always watching and aware. Dogs are not actors, they usually behave as themselves. Some are mischievous, others devious and some downright dishonest, but you can usually read this and a trainer should act the part that gets the dog performing correctly. Play angry, play happy, and play encouragement, whatever it takes to get the end results you require from your dog. Patience certainly is a dog trainer's virtue and anger is such a negative and destructive emotion when out of control that it should play no part in training a dog. Controlled acted out anger however can be a useful tool.
A good trainer should be able to judge why a dog is going wrong. However, I have noticed with good trainers that they do not put a dog in a position where it does go wrong. Careful planning, steady progress and attention to detail ensure that the exercise becomes successful so the dog can be praised not reprimanded, a much more positive approach. Again a good trainer knows just when to praise and how much to reward. Sometimes it is just a look, other times it is more dramatic. Praise is not given every time a dog does something but when it does it better than before or exactly as the trainer intended. Once a dog knows it is doing right a good trainer tones down the praise even removing it totally, reserving it for when it is really required.
Watching the top trainers, the four 'C's' always come to mind - Calmness, Consistency, Communication and Concentration and they put the time and work into training their dogs. As one professional emphasized "You don't train a dog by leaving it in a kennel" The good trainers know and can read their dogs and just as important the dogs know and respect them because the messages are loud and clear. To bring on a good gun dog, don't just work on the dog, work on yourself. For the everyday trainer, most of the faults in training and handling lie with the handler not the dog. Have confidence however in yourself and train with conviction because if you are unsure and uncertain in your actions and commands your dog will become the same or do its own thing. Believe that your dog really does want to please, do things for you and with you. ALL you have to do is play the part and channel that willingness into what is required by showing the dog what you want. Well perhaps that's not quite "ALL".