ABOUT THE TALKING DOG
Tanya Wheeler MSc HBA
Tanya Wheeler has been working with animals her whole life. She graduated with her Master’s Degree in Biology (Wildlife Science) and an undergraduate degree in Psychology (Animal Behaviour). She has studied principles of Learning Theory and Behavioural psychology, and uses a positive approach to all aspects of her dog training.
She is successfully training and competing in the highest international, competitive level of stock dog herding world, advanced/elite level agility and obedience (CKC, ASCA and AHBA) with her Australian Shepherds and has either owned and bred or bred and trained the top herding dog in Canada (all breeds) for over 10 years. She and her dogs have been invited as one of the top 10-20 dogs in the world to compete at the International ASCA stock dog Championships (cattle sheep and ducks) 8 years consecutively and placed in the top 10 overall with 3 of her dogs.
Her undergraduate work provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to raise 7 orphaned moose calves. This was part of the important in the research related to brainworm (P. tenuis) in moose and deer. Through her work she was charged with raising the calves and completed her undergraduate thesis on “Stimulus Recognition in Moose Calves”. Her positive behavioural approach to training the calves to be handled easily, led to co-authoring a publication (with DR. Murray Lancaster) for successfully raising healthy moose calves in captivity (Alces Journal).
Spending much of her life working as a wildlife biologist but always involved with horses and dogs in training and in competition, eventually led her to a life of travel delivering sheep dog herding clinics and judging stock dog trials around the world.
Tanya has experience with many breeds and travels considerably delivering clinics and seminars in North America and Europe. She is a licensed herding trial judge with ASCA, AKC, CKC and the AHBA. As a herding teacher her focus is on foundations and more specifically developing the natural talent of a useful dog.
She has trained and competed at the world level with her Aussies and although competition is important, she emphasizes the importance of a real working dog and so her approach is to bring the best out in the herding dog so that it can think independently and perform useful jobs.
More on her training approach…. and “the dog’s point of view”
Her approach leads to a more dependable working dog, and trial dog whose strength is in reading and evaluating its’ stock and working to please the handler. Her technique is not uncommon but there is a strong emphasis on body language, the importance of foundation, understanding pressure, and looking at things from the dog’s point of view. Much of her training came from a variety of talented instructors over the years including many years with Mr. Bob Vest. She is capable of working with a range of talent and helps you find the best in your dog and to develop your communication skills with your herding partner.
She understands positive reinforcement training and uses them in her own training methods, but she stresses the importance of ‘Relationship.’ As she says, “It is important to see things from the dog’s point of view and establish the most basic of needs for a dog to feel confident, and a full partner in a working relationship. A positive working relationship with a dog is based on trust, the ability to understand correction, not as punishment, but an opportunity to make a better choice, with positive energy, and confidence that the handler is a fair and kind leader in life.” Her technique includes a strong emphasis on body language, & the importance of timing, and the release of pressure.
In her own words….
“I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to work a wide variety of herding breeds selected for different purposes in livestock management. Understanding the intended purpose of the breed leads to a better expectation of how they will work. I enjoy working with all dogs and many dog sports, and have tried to establish at least a basic understanding of as many of the dog training and trialing venues as possible. Both teaching and trialing has helped me to understand the variety of training methods used today to achieve success in the wide range of dog sport. Personally, I feel the most challenging of them all is working with dog and livestock under high drive. Operating with instinct as the motivator, and with talented, instinctive dogs, is almost the easiest and the hardest thing you will ever do well.
I have powerful performance anxiety and although I realize how debilitating this can be, the relationships I have formed with my dogs is what keeps me focused on both my own performance as well as the dog. Herding training is very much a two-way street and the better I understand my strengths and weaknesses, as well as the unique nature of each dog, the more honest and realistic I can be in my training. And the more important the relationship becomes.
Relationship is built around all aspects of life including feeding time, sleep routines, social interactions, and play. No matter what you do with your dog, play is a fundamental part of all packs. Much of the skills we teach dogs should be in a motivated state. Food and play are common tools for engaging a dog in other non instinctive sports, however instinctive behaviours such as herding, nosework, and others are centred around activating a different part of the brain than the calmer centred one used for obedience or trick/skills training and keeping things below threshold. This is why always being able to play with your dog is a goal everyone should have. Games are important to dogs (and kids) as they have a way of introducing the rules for expected behaviour even in high threshold activities. Motivation is the foundation for everything.
Over the years I see people changing their methods and using training aids, and collars, and new methods to achieve success. I have come to believe one of the most important things for success, particularly in a multi venue dog handler team is building on relationship. Equally important is the ability to re-evaluate your training ideas through the eyes of the trainee. In other words, looking at things from the dog’s point of view.
On the Subject of Using One Method of Training or the Other…
Although I was formally educated in behavioural methods based on classical and operant conditioning, R+ and R- etc., it’s purpose was to illustrate how some aspect of learning could be applied for shaping new behaviours and curbing others. Primarily, it gained its popularity from it’s effective use with zoo animals and was popularized through the growth of clicker training (which by the way I enjoy). However, as happy as I am to see the emergence of the R+ dog training approach with dogs, I think it is actually one of the most complicated and confusing training methods to use for many people and also for many who try to teach with it. Mostly because it is often taught alone, overlooking some of the other very important aspects of learning theory. Many trainers and handlers don’t fully grasp the potential and the level of detail and consistency for this method to work exclusively, when working with dogs (or kids).
Positive reinforcement training methods in dog training today are often used without fully understanding or incorporating other learning theory principles, and neglect the importance of consequence, self actualization, and “Relationship”. It is OK for dogs to make mistakes just as it is for children to grow and learn from life experience. It is critical that learning facilitates more than one aspect, of one small faction, of one approach, used to shape behaviour. For now, we can celebrate the influence of R+ approach but it is unfortunate it has travelled back into the future without it’s other important companions. Time may remedy this as the pendulum needn’t swing the other way, but generate momentum towards a more holistic approach to working with animals that considers not only their usefulness, but their biology, and their evolutionary history.
So that I’m clear, Positive is good, and as long as it works in with other learning theory, it is most beneficial to take this approach. But above all training strategies and tools, your greatest asset will be your ability to see things from the dog’s point of view and establish first the most basic of need for a dog to feel confident and an equal partner in a working relationship. I was once told by a very famous and well known behaviourist in the ungulate world, who said I could understand nothing about the behaviour of an organism until I understood fully it’s biology. Hmmm, I thought at the time a little bit insulted and more than a bit disappointed in my first meeting with one of my idols. Reflecting on his words years later, I realized that he sparked in me a more holistic approach to working with all creatures. It was like my mother’s favourite expression – “Walk a mile in ‘another man’s’ Moccasins” – or “Judge Softly” until….
Over the years I have learned to appreciate not only the biology of domestic, feral, and wild dogs, but their fascinating social order. The opportunity to live with my own pack, and occasionally two packs, plus my experience working with a range of herding styles and breeds, has forced me to include the value of relationship in the ranks with the other important variable when it comes to better understanding dogs. Their place in their lives with humans is unique as is their co-evolution with our species. Strictly speaking, on a one to one basis, the relationship we have with our dog will have more to do with our success as a team than almost anything else.
In a functional way, a positive working relationship with a dog is based on trust, the ability to understand correction not as punishment, but an opportunity to make a better choice, and with positive energy, and confidence, that the handler is a fair and kind leader in life.”
More about Tanya Wheeler and Tucker Creek Australian Shepherds…..
Tucker Creek is the first Hall of Fame (HOFX) Kennel in Canada and achieved HOF excellent in both Canada and the USA (with the CKC and Australian Shepherd Club of America). It has always been their goal to demonstrate the versatility of their dogs by training dogs in herding, agility, obedience, rally, tracking and conformation. Their Aussies have ranked #1 in Canada for top herding dog for many years consecutively and in the top 10 in the world finals competitions for many years as well.
Their dogs have also been in the top ten for Most Versatile Australian Shepherd at the ASCA Nationals and qualified 7 years in a row within the top 15 dogs competing worldwide. Earning more than just advanced herding titles and many HOF sires and dams, WTCH, HX, their dogs have also achieved Elite Agility titles, Advanced Obedience titles, Tracking and Urban Tracking Dog Champions, many Versatility & Supreme Versatility Champions, Herding Champions, Breed champions. The kennel Tucker Creek – is the first and only Hall of Fame Excellent Kennel in Canada (CNASA) and a Hall of Fame Kennel in the USA as well, for attaining, the most combined venue advanced titles herding, agility, tracking, obedience, rally, and conformation breed titles. Their success can be attributed to the wonderful people who have their dogs and to the strong old working lines with longevity, brains, and agility!