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South Korea

Heart and Seoul...

Chris Mancini and Val Harvey, both members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) Committee, are actively involved in delivering Pet Dog Training Instructors courses to 'wanna be' dog trainers. It was this link that brought them to Samsung in Seoul, South Korea. They were invited to the Academy to present their dog training instructors course to a team of novice trainers, but they were also asked if they could spend two of the days teaching agility as well. There they found an enthusiastic group of handlers eager to learn more!

Samsung have built a huge dog training academy just outside Seoul. Within the Academy, there are several sections including Hearing Dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Detector Dogs, Search & Rescue Dogs and Therapy Dogs. There is also a Sports Dog section. One of the main purposes of the academy is to promote dogs and their wonderful attributes in the country. This is done through displays from all the different sections including HTM, flyball and agility.

All the dogs live at the Academy in their respective units with trainers and kennel staff to see to all their needs and teach them the required discipline. Samsung decided they would like to expand their work to encompass Pet Dog Training as well. In Seoul, small dogs are more popular than large dogs primarily because a lot of the housing is apartments. People tend to send their small dogs away for three months to be trained as really was no other option if they needed help.

Val and I were both nervous and excited at the prospect of our visit. We had our own pre-conceived ideas of Korean culture which included the Korea attitude towards dogs eating them! To our relief, these illusions were quickly shattered.

Seoul is a huge bustling city, very busy extremely clean. People mostly live in flats so we actually saw very few dogs - just two - during our couple of days in the city. We stayed in a suburb of Seoul, a half an hour from the city centre and another 45 minutes from the Samsung Academy. The Academy was close to a huge Disneyland -type theme park called Everland, the third largest in the world, also owned by Samsung.

The Academy
Fifteen years ago the then Chairman of Samsung had set the academy up to help change people's perception of the dog and to demonstrate what a valuable asset they are. The Sports Dog section included dogs that part of the agility, flyball and HTM display team. Some of the handlers had competed in agility and had been over to England to hone their skills. They've had various well known, celebrity trainers (including Mary Ray) from around the world to coach them in the different disciplines, but were desperate to learn more and to ensure they were doing it in the best and most effective way. Keith Warwick from SARDA in the Lake District, for instance, helped set up their Search & Rescue section at the Academy, and the trainers visit the different assistance dogs units around the world to see how they work so they can bring back their ideas and implement them, where appropriate, in their units.

Pet dog training was completely new to all of them except Bruce who had some experience and was an ideal pet dog trainer being, kind calm and patient. He seemed to have a permanent smile for everyone.  He is also their top agility man and had competed successfully in the World Cup and various other competitions. He is in charge of the Sports Dog section and training all the novice dog handlers in the skills of agility.

Training is cool
Weather in South Korea was rather chilly 20 C was coldest and it was positively hot on one day at 3 C! For some reason I assumed agility would be at an indoor venue! Wrong, they cleared a foot of snow from the field on our first day so they could demonstrate their agility skills! Luckily I always over-prepare for cold weather!

The first eight days of the course was for delivering the Pet Dog Training Instructors course. It was soon apparent how hard working and dedicated our students were. We had a core of 10 students with other trainers coming in on some sessions. We were slightly concerned because we had been told that in Korea 'teachers teach and students listen.' We explained that this was not how we worked. We needed questions and answer discussions to ensure the students understood what was being said. We were also told that the Koreans were quite reserved and would not be so obvious with their body language so another concern was the language barrier. We had to work through our translator Queenie who had the mammoth task of not only translating all the sessions for the course but also trying to keep on top of all the discussions!

The course finished and agility days were next
Unfortunately the weather was not to be on our side and the forecast for rain all day on the Wednesday was not wrong. It did not let up all day which stopped us working outside. The students were really disappointed. For some of them this was what they had been looking forward to the most. I decided to do an indoor theory session in the morning, a short presentation and then discussion to find out where everyone was at and the different challenges facing individuals.

Their problems were pretty much the same as over here - contacts and weaves were the main ones. We spent some time discussing how we could overcome some of these challenges with the aid of a table top set of agility to demonstrate and discuss the different exercises.

For the afternoon, we set some time aside for HTM gulp. Putting moves to music is not one of my specialities. Following a demonstration of their different routines, Val and I actually realised that the students needed more help in motivating the dogs and appropriate use of clicker training and we were able to drastically improve the dog's attitudes and motivation to complete the required routines. This was exactly the same as for agility handler who often feel the need to repeatedly go over the same sequence until the dog gets it right! Rather than taking a step back and looking at why it is going wrong - and how you could make it easier for the dog to understand. Repeatedly going over routines with little use of appropriately timed rewards is completely de-motivating for the dogs. Short, successfully rewarded sequences are much more likely to keep your dog motivated and build up your relationship with your dog. Within minutes the dogs were motivated tails wagging, heads up, gait improved. What a difference!

In the afternoon we brought in some contact equipment and used it on the floor of the training hall to demonstrate the different ways we can train the contact, depending upon the dog's preference and approach. Some decided to use targets, others two on/two off. Those with consistent contacts left well alone!

The following day the rain stopped, and we were able to get outside. We set up some short sequences to help improve their skills. Bruce's ability as an instructor was very evident. He had spent a couple of weeks in England, staying with an agility trainer to learn as much as possible about the sport, so he could bring his knowledge back to Korea and set up the Sports Dog section at the Academy.

All the dogs were experienced agility dogs apart from two and had been paired with novice handlers who had been training for three months prior to our visit. Bruce had done a fantastic job with the handlers in this short time. There were, of course, the usual sort of problems you would expect - the dogs taking their own line, the handlers getting to grips with using the appropriate body language and cues to get the best out of their dogs but, the most surprising thing for me, was the fantastic relationship all the handlers seemed to have with their dogs despite the short time they had been working together.  Maybe this is due to the time that they spend with the dogs is quality time? A common problem in Britain is we often ask far too much from the dog with too few rewards or not great enough rewards! This can be very de-motivating for a dog and can also means often the dog does not fully understand what is required of it.  Again, we were able to get our students to understand very quickly that motivation was the key to success.

We were limited in the amounts we could do because of muddy conditions that became slippery towards the afternoon, but lots of short sequences with appropriately timed, motivating rewards saw an improvement in the attitude of handler's and dog's.

A wonderful experience
Though South Korea was an unlikely holiday destination but it
was a fantastic opportunity to visit a country extremely proud of its culture. The residents bend over backwards to look after visitors and we made some very special friends and any pre-conceived ideas were quickly dispelled.

About the author...
Chris Mancini is a member of the APTD and runs puppy socialism classes in Enfield. She also does agility with beardie cresses at Trent Park.