How to be a Concept Trainer by Tom Mitchell

Wag Audio book cover

Written by: Laura

Laura is founder of Easy Peasy Obedience, and works in positive methods based on teamwork and games, and with focus on minimising frustration in the training - for both dog and human.

Published: December 5, 2021

Question all you ever learnt about preventing or managing undesirable behaviours and embrace the world of concept training – a positive solution to age-old training problems. Best of all, it is fun, both for you and your dog!

Tom Mitchell, BSc, BVSc, MRCVS

What does this book do? 

That’s very simple: shaping your dog’s personality to optimize the relationship between dog and human and to help the dog learn to make better choices in daily life.
The book approaches dog training from a different angle compared to most general books on the subject. We’re looking into dog training through the brain of the dog while helping the reader understand how dogs learn. While the four quadrants are briefly mentioned, the book generally approaches learning as making the tunnels of thought where behavior happens more or less desirable – quite as we tend to do when we suggest removing self-rewarding items from situations to avoid the dog rehearsing unwanted behaviors (like food on the table for counter surfers).
The Tunnel analogy is highly effective in describing the thought process that goes on when a dog chooses to do something – anything really, and along with a plethora of easy to read figures, they are quite easy to understand for the average person, even with the subject being a rather complicated one,
Tom then proceeds to explain how we as humans can help a dog develop their personality and what the benefits are of doing so. The focus lies in optimism and confidence for the dog and throughout the book, different games are introduced to help shape your dogs personality.
The book has also dedicated a large part to helping us understand arousal. What is it, how does it work, what does it do, and most importantly, how can we benefit from and control it during training. All from teaching the dog to switch on and off to how we recognize the best point of arousal to perform in.
It all boils down to a handy set of life skills for the dog that in turn, is quite nice for us to have our dogs know. It also closes the gap of understanding that many dog owners feel when they say “my dog won’t listen to me, even though he knows the command!” by addressing arousal levels, triggers, generalization issues, and distractions.

Now, what the book does not do?

It does not teach specific, basic obedience behaviors, and address specific training step-by-step training methods to handle general issues in the home.
And really, that is OK. Because while you will close the book and be none the wiser about how on earth you convince your dog to perform a sit on cue, you will close it and have the background knowledge to understand how you can get your dog to pay attention throughout the day, make good choices, be optimistic, flexible and learn. And most importantly: have fun.

From a personal perspective

I have two dogs and my old dog Shorty is mainly taught through classic luring and clicker training which means she has had a lot of help. She is not very open to change and has had issues with visiting people, being a scaredy-cat, and having been wildly bound to routines.
My younger dog Akira is basically trained through concepts and games and the difference between them is massive and I can atm confirm that the game-based approach helps with calmness, reactivity, leash walking, impulse control, and pretty much everything in between.
Recently I have introduced the approach to Shorty and I’m already beginning to see a change in her personality. She’s become more flexible and is actually learning new behaviors faster (which is impressive – she just turned 11)
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