By Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, principal of the ISCP

Dogs are complex creatures and the more we discover about them the more we realise how much more there is to know. Research into dog cognition, emotions and behaviour is demonstrating the many similarities between us and our canine friends and family members. One of the reasons I love working with dogs and their caretakers is that the learning process never stops. Each individual is different, just as we are, and our relationships with dogs can teach us a great deal about ourselves, too.

Way back, when I first qualified in canine psychology and behaviour, the old ways of thinking were still rife; especially that we had to show them who was ‘boss’ in case they sensed weakness and stepped up to take over. This never made sense to me and my final thesis reflected my perception of dogs as partners rather than chattels and competitors. I grew up with a number of family dogs of various breeds, and my fascination for the human psyche and what makes us ‘tick’ extended to dogs, as well. My sister and I were taught from an early age to respect dogs, to give them free rein to be just who they were, without placing unreasonable expectations on them, and to simply enjoy their company. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of wandering through the woods in Hampshire all day, aged 7, with a sandwich in my pocket, accompanied (off lead) by Bobby, our rescued Border Collie. We would explore together, Bobby following his nose, disappearing for a while, and then returning to find me inspecting new discoveries or sitting on the rich loam beneath a tree. Those memories still make me smile.

Conception

Decades later, after intensive study and having worked with over 500 rescue dogs, I looked for other courses and discovered there were none that included dog psychology, behaviour and emotions. After discussing this with the then committee of The Association of INTODogs, an organisation formed for purely force-free behaviourists and trainers and which I’ve been a member for over 12 years, I decided to write a course that would guide dog enthusiasts to a deeper understanding of dogs and that would be based on the latest science instead of the myths that abounded. This needed to be a distance learning course so that it could be available to everyone, and it would include both theory and practical application. The first seeds of what would become The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour Ltd (fondly known as the ISCP) took root.

It took over 2.5 years for me to write the diploma course textbook, discuss scientists’ findings with them and get permission to include these, and to get the school-to-be accredited and approved as a global college. New research was published during that time, and I wrote and rewrote to ensure the course was as up to date as possible. This element of the ISCP continues, and the course textbook is updated regularly.

The human end of the lead

As in all walks of life, the dog world can be challenging. Competitiveness has never interested me. I feel the energy that’s put into that could be better used for expanding knowledge, and the best way to do that is to work cooperatively, to communicate effectively, respectfully and harmoniously with others in the field, and to share knowledge so that everyone benefits. The ultimate beneficiaries are, of course, the dogs!

So, the foundation for the ISCP was (and still is) that the people are just as important as the dogs. After all, as behaviour professionals we’re teaching the caretakers how to understand and help their dogs, and it’s vital that the caretaker trusts us, has confidence in us and feels supported by us. They’re the ones who carry on doing the work after we’ve left. To this end, the ISCP considers the human side of the relationship to be vastly important, and our many webinars for members include presentations and discussions about how to help and support clients, and how to understand non-verbal communication, body language, facial expressions, and micro expressions so that our members can employ empathy and offer a safe space for clients to feel able to be open about their feelings. Most people seeking help are feeling vulnerable and worried. They may be afraid of being judged or criticised, and that fear can hold them back from being honest about the situation they’re in.

Birth

The ISCP launched publicly on September 1st, 2011, and its force-free, fear-free, science-based, compassionate ethos was soon embraced by many who were looking for an all-round education that would continue even after graduation and that wasn’t prohibitively expensive. Nowadays our students and graduates in 57 countries (and counting) range from those who haven’t undertaken formal study for decades, through to young people just starting out on their career path, through to those with Masters’ degrees and Doctorates who wish to focus purely on dogs.

We now offer a range of distance learning courses from beginner to professional level. These include the foundation Certificate in Canine Behaviour, the Diploma in Canine Behaviour which qualifies graduates to work professionally with dogs, the degree level Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour, and courses in Canine Nutrition, Raw Feeding, Pet Bereavement Counselling, Canine First Aid, and Dog Handling. We also offer a short course for caretakers, fosterers and adopters called “The Dog’s BFF Award” and a number of rescues ask their potential adopters to take this course and gain the BFF Award certificate that shows they have a basic understanding of dog behaviour.

Helping rescues

Because my team and I are passionate about helping rescue dogs we offer a 50% discount on the diploma course fee to everyone who is involved with a rescue, whether through dog-walking, fund-raising, promoting, transporting dogs, or administration. The feedback from our rescue members is that their studies, which we encourage them to share freely with other people within their rescue, helps more dogs to be correctly assessed and to settle well into their adoptive homes.

How it works

On enrolment, which is done through our website, each student is sent their course files by email and is allocated a personal tutor who assesses their coursework and guides them through the course. The course files include a list of private links to recordings of all of our previous webinars that new students can explore, and full diploma students and rescue members receive a paperback edition of the course textbook as well as a PDF file of this. Students can enrol at any time and have up to 2 years in which to complete the course.

Although the courses take place through distance learning, we also offer in-person practical study days, discussion groups and events in England, Scotland, Austria, Cyprus, Canada and India, with new discussion groups now opening in the USA and Europe. These are optional but are a great opportunity for members to meet up, get to know each other (many friendships are formed), learn first-hand from our tutors, and work with dogs under supervision.

We have a private Facebook group where all members can ask questions, share experiences, and engage in discussions about all things dog. Our rescue members have an additional linked group that they can use for sharing information and for gaining support from others who know just how demanding it can be to work in rescue.

The ISCP ethos is to use only compassionate methods with both dogs and people, to respect, support and encourage each other, and to recognise that we are continually learning. It’s an exciting time in the dog behaviour world because so much is being discovered about dog emotions and cognition, myths are being dispelled, and yet we’re aware that what we know now about dogs will deepen and expand further as new research is shared.

The human-canine bond is extraordinary and, for many people, the relationship with a beloved dog is profoundly rewarding. Through education we can understand this better and ensure that our dogs’ lives are richly satisfying. That’s the least we can do for our furry family members who offer us love, affection, devotion, fun, and opportunities for us to view the world through their eyes.