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, KPA CTP, is passionate about reaching challenging learners. She specializes in using behavioral science to help transform the lives of fearful, shut-down, and over-the-top dogs. As the owner of Bridges Dog Training, and a regular contributor to online training forums, Sarah is known for her innovative approaches to tough behavior problems and for her compassionate and insightful teaching. She serves as a faculty member at ClickerExpo, an instructor for Karen Pryor Academy, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles. Sarah is a regular contributor to Clean Run Magazine on topics such as stimulus control, release cues, and toy-related cues. She is also an avid Nose Work competitor, and, with Helix Fairweather, co-teacher of Cyber Scent, an online foundation-skills course for scent detection taught with clicker training.