Get ready, because I'm about to get really deep here! :)
Something many of my clients don't know about me is that I also have a degree in fine arts. On top of training dogs, I am a painter and artist and got into the crazy world of dog training through painting pet portraits in high school. People that find this out often are puzzled at how different dog training is to painting, but are always surprised when I tell them that in fact the two are very similar. Training a dog is very much like creating art, and critiquing a piece of art is very similar to working one on one with a client and their dog.
When I am creating a painting, there is a lot of planning, patience, brilliant moments and difficult mistakes that I have to work through in order to create a piece of work I am proud of. I work on the whole painting at once, layering colors, techniques and using different tools to help shape the art in the direction I want to go in. I am not afraid of mistakes, because they help me learn and move forward, but I am also careful not to get stuck on one area for too long because then the whole piece suffers.
Training a dog is exactly the same thing. Only when working with a living, breathing creature, there is an even more delicate balance because they respond back with their own emotions and personality. Patience, consistency, a variety of tools, techniques and moments of brilliance and mistakes are all a part of the fantastic process. And in the end, the result is a breathtakingly beautiful bond between human and dog.
When critiquing someone's art, you are critiquing a part of who they are, and the same goes for working with a client and their dog. A dog is a family member, a friend. In college, I learned the very important process of critiquing someone else's art to help them not only feel confident in their creation, but also to help them see where they could improve without destroying their morale. Working with a client with a dog that has a problem behavior - whether it be jumping, or serious aggression - is not a time to be judgmental or critical. It is a time to educate, support and guide. Their dog is their family, and my job is to help steer them, and the dog, onto a road that is going to set them both up for success in the future, and right now.
So, in my opinion, there is a great similarity in painting and creating art, to that of training a dog, or any animal for that matter. The skills I learn from training dogs I apply to my art, and the skills I learn in painting I often apply to training dogs. Both are fields that I never stop learning in, and am constantly learning something new from, which makes the journey that much more exciting and fun!
All images are owned and created by
Helen Elizabeth Katherine Nicholls.
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