Inside Out: How Understanding Emotions Makes for Complete Training

From “capturing calmness” to “building drive,” the training goals we set for our dogs often have a strong emotional component attached. We want relaxation at home, and focus in the ring. We hope to raise confident puppies, and strive for joyful engagement when we train. But what does “teaching for emotional fluency” look like in practice? Is it even accurate to say that we can “capture” an emotion, or “build" it with reinforcement? When we achieve fluent behavior, such as a consistently flashy finish, or a solid relax on a mat, do emotions come along for the ride, or are they, in fact, driving the bus? When an emotional response appears to change, what is really being learned? And does drool equal happiness anyway? 

Come explore these questions, and many others, as we refine our understanding of how emotions affect both what and how we train. Learn to swap vague emotional labels for observable criteria, how crucial cues are as conduits of emotion, how to elicit the emotions that will best support your goals effectively, and how to use the power of operantly shaped behavior to change emotions from the outside in.

Sarah Owings

Sarah Owings is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. She specializes in the practical application of behavioral principles to help transform the lives of fearful, shut down, and over-the-top dogs. As an international speaker and regular contributor to online training forums, she is known for her innovative approaches to tough behavior problems and her compassionate and insightful teaching. Sarah has written for Clean Run magazine on topics such as stimulus control, release cues, and toy-related cues. She is a member of the ClickerExpo faculty, an instructor for Cyber Scent Online, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles.

Sarah is also an avid nose work competitor, currently competing at both the Elite and Iron Dog levels with her Labrador retriever, Tucker. Tucker was the recipient of the Harry Award in 2015 and has the distinction of titling at each level of NACSW without a single miss. In Sniffing Dog Sports, he has won High in Trial in both Advanced and Excellent divisions and has earned a HIT at Iron Dog. Tucker's trained final response for nose work, a hover-freeze at source, was taught with a marker signal, following clicker training principles.