Free Will Teaching

Behavioural Concepts

Free Will Teaching is a framework that recognises, supports and nurtures every aspect of life by integrating elements from different psychotherapy approaches and applying them to working and living with animals.
FWT uses a mix of well established and cutting edge human therapies, that include both research and theory based evidence, translating them to working with animals. The established elements of good therapy are upheld along with the therapist’s ability to understand, apply, and tailor their advice to each individual animal’s needs.

Free Will Teaching is a framework where we give animals self awareness, understanding, decision making and autonomy, within the bounds of safety, allowing them to make decisions on what they do throughout the day. In order for our animals to have autonomy and control over their lives, we need to teach them. Achieving a state of free will is a journey. You can’t just say ok, from today, you can do whatever you like, that would result in chaos!
The start is language, for both human and animal. If we are to have proper conversations, know what each other is saying, and respond sensibly, then we have to understand each others body language, movements and voice. This is essential for effective communication, or it becomes lost in translation. This leads on to self awareness, giving animals the means to recognise their emotional state and arousal level so they can learn how to manage their mind themselves, which in turn leads to a more balanced content mind. We move on to choice and decision making, so they manage themselves throughout the day, this teaches them how to help themselves, how to solve problems, be self confident, emotionally resilient and comfortable with who they are. And of course the same applies to people – we need to be aware of our emotions and the beliefs that inform our perception, and choice of action, so we also develop these skills.
Animals and people are influenced by their personality, experiences, memory, emotions, and the individual nuances of how each beings brain processes and interprets information. So, every being may have different moods, actions and responses on any given day. We may be enthusiastic one day, and not the next, we may be happy and easygoing one day and not the next. Whilst knowing their personality means we generally know how that being will behave, the influence of life and how we feel means that none of us are machines with a black and white view of this input equals this output. The mind is so much more than that, and there are always different aspects of our personality and other factors influencing how we behave from one minute to the next. Free Will Teaching is about understanding this, working with what each being offers and progressing to a point of free will, autonomy and harmony in our friendships.

FWT Stages

Subliminal

Working behind the scenes. Subtle behavioural work not fully registered on a conscious level. Watching this is like watching paint dry! Looking at it, nothing really happens, but there is a huge amount going on to allow the animal’s mind to relax and feel safe. This is the beginning of creating trust.

Shaping

Remaining subtle, but increasing the awareness. The animal knows something is happening, and gives his side of the conversation. My role is to be a silent partner, not actively contribute. I adjust myself for what the animal is communicating, nothing more. I am reinforcing the beginnings of trust.

Active

This is the start of my active involvement in the conversation, where I respond and have an input in the conversation. We learn more about each other. We develop our understanding of each others language, likes, dislikes, personality, abilities, and trust.

Partnership

We trust each other. We understand each others language and can contribute, listen and respond to each other. We know each other well enough to know how we will each behave in situations, what our responses are most likely to be, and how we manage ourselves.

Statement regarding the use of Unethical Techniques in Dog Training

In the professional dog world we are increasingly aware of a number of individuals claiming to be behaviourists or trainers who use methods wholly unethical in their nature and would like to reiterate the message from scientists, as well as the veterinary sector and animal welfare organisations regarding the use of aversive (harsh) ‘techniques’ and other methods in dog and animal training. These punitive methods include the use of shock, electronic or spray collars, applying ‘corrections’ to a dog, Dominance and pack leadership methods  or worse pinning dogs to the ground.  Apart from the risk of triggering or worsening aggression, these techniques can also cause a dog to shut down which can lead to a variety of scenarios, e.g. the elimination of warning signals leading to a bite, fear of humans or other long-lasting psychological damage. Despite a mountain of evidence pointing to the potential long-lasting harmful effects, as well as dangers associated with the application of these methods, members of the public, family pets and working dogs are still being exposed to these techniques and still being put at risk. These techniques  are often promoted by individuals with little or no suitable credentials in training or behaviour who lack knowledge and understanding of animal training learning theory, hormone cycles and the functions of neuro-chemicals as well as the science underpinning animal behaviour. More importantly, these methods are nothing more than abuse which can cause the human-animal bond to break down irretrievably. We would ask that you please check the methods being used by anyone you are considering to work with your pet. Please see my blog post “Choosing Professional help for your pet” In addition for scientific information and details on the research please visit www.dogwelfarecampaign.org

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