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Reflective Learning

As a dog trainer, of any kind whether that’s club or professional, adult dogs or puppies, we are constantly evaluating what we are doing when we are doing it.

We start training an exercise and modify what we are doing depending upon the response we get from the dog we are training. Sometimes we change our position, the dog’s position, the motivating force (us, toy, food etc.,) or the equipment we use. As a dog trainer we just call that dog training, however, in the work based learning arena it’s called being a “reflective practitioner”.

It is imperative that dog trainers realise that they are reflecting back; not only with the dog they have in front of them but of past cases and dogs they’ve worked with. A dog trainer cannot progress without this aspect of experiential learning, it would be impossible as no two dogs are the same and no two will react in the same manner.

Although we do it automatically, the importance of reflection in learning at work and awareness of the process, needs to be acknowledged for an individual to be able to carry out any kind of self-accreditation via the work based learning scheme.

Technical and textbook knowledge, though important, is insufficient to prepare individuals to be practising professionals. Knowing how or “knowing-in-action” must also be recognised as important. Knowing-in-action is referred to tacit and intuitive, rather than explicit knowledge, learned through doing rather than in the classroom. It is the kind of knowledge that underpins much everyday activity, whether at work or not.

Knowing-in-action is vital for dog trainers, as, as we all know, ‘real’ world problems tend to be “messy” rather than well formed. Problems with dogs tend to come along in rapid succession depending upon our reaction rather than nicely organised “first solve this problem, then solve that” as is often written in dog training books. Also some problems may well be unique to that situation, in the sense that they do not fit theoretical categories and therefore do not lend themselves to the applications of rules from the profession’s theoretical knowledge base.

When something untoward does happen it is likely to reflect on what’s going on in the midst of the activity itself. It is a consequence of this process that is known as “reflection-in-action” i.e., thinking about what we’re doing while we’re doing it and changing the process as we go along.

To be able to put into practice these reflective skills, both during and after the action, is what makes you a truly reflective practitioner.

Donald Schon (1983, 1987)

Comparative Degree Assessment elements:

In general an Animal Behaviour Degree will average 1800 hrs study time on wild animals and some domestic species. Dog specific theory is generally taught at less than 5% of the entire degree and rarely by a dog expert but by a teacher who has no practical experience. Animal behaviour degrees are not an expertise level in dog behaviour, training, theory or otherwise.

All vocational learning in canine work-based roles should be taught by highly skilled people with extensive hands-on experience. Degrees obtained, therefore, provide targeted theory learning in canine behaviour and training as well as extensive hands-on work to prepare the student for their chosen vocation.

Work Based Learning role description:

The Gundog Training Assessor

The Gundog Training Assessor has acquired on the job vocational training in training gundogs on a one to one basis, whether this is as a part time club trainer or a full/part-time professional dog trainer.

They will already be an experienced Gundog Training Instructor and will have all of the skills required for that role.

The emphasis on the Gundog Training Assessor is one of assessing each individual dog, not only on the exercises that the dog has been trained in but also with a view to how much natural talent or innate instinct the dog has for the task required be that retrieving, flushing or scenting.

The Gundog Training Assessor will not only assess the dogs education and level of training but also of its temperament and biddablility to the owner / handler and whether they are a suitable match.

The Gundog Training Assessor will also be expected to identify problems early on in the gundog’s training, problems like fear and aggression and dealing with it at the start of the dog’s education. The Gundog Training Assessor, in the capacity of assessing, will only discuss the dog’s ability and identify areas for improvement in the way that a traditional assessor away from the dog world would. Training will be left to the instructors and behaviour problems identified will be referred to a canine behaviour practitioner.

They will have extensive handling skills and experience with adult dogs of varying ages also. A detailed knowledge of puppy and dog psychology is imperative.

Minimum vocational training requirements

As a dog trainer

As a dog Training instructor

As a Professional trainer

As a Gundog trainer

Dogs handled

Total number of hours required

Theory / academic knowledge

Reading for interest




Watching DVDs







Practical experience / courses attended

Courses attended





Indvidual dogs trained


(150 dogs)

Breeds handled - minimum


(20 breeds)

Drives participated in


(50 drives)

Different shoots attended


(3 shoots)


Adult dog classes



Puppy classes



On-to-one training sessions



Mentored learning

Observation of / attending training / classes



Instructed learning one-to-one



Teaching assistant: adult dog classes



Teaching assistant: puppy classes









Minimum vocational training requirements

The Gundog Training Assessor will be an experienced and established Gundog Training Instructor. As such the minimum skills and experience required apply.

Overview of minimum skills and experience required:

The Gundog Training Assessor will already be an experienced Gundog Training Instructor and, at the very minimum, a Gundog Trainer. The Gundog Training Assessor needs to be able to assess an exercise that a dog is carrying out in relation not only to accuracy but also of style, speed, enthusiasm, attention to owner and any other assessment criteria given to work with.

The Work Based Learning Path to being a Gundog Training Assessor

More often than not, we start training to be a Gundog Training Assessor without actually realising we’re doing it. Through experience in training gundogs and we ourselves being trained, we learn the nuances of what is acceptable and what is not.

Gundog Trainer

Ancillary Work Based Learning Skills

As well as being an established Gundog Training Instructor, the candidate may also have a plethora of other dog training skills, attended many courses and achieved many awards on a personal basis with their own dogs.

They may have qualifications outside of the Dog Training arena that contribute to their competence, confidence and skill as a Gundog Training Behaviour Assessor and, under the Work Based Learning ethos, these should be acknowledged and recognised as achievements to date within the profession.

Accomplishments and Qualifications

Training course providers

Personal (Work Based) Achievements

Cambridge Institute for Dog Behaviour & Training

Animal Care College

Guide dog training

National Association of Security Dog Users

Home Office police dog training

The British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers

Other courses are also available

KC Competition obedience

KC Beginner

KC Novice

KC A B C comp-C

KC Agility

KC Working Trials




KC Field Trials

KC Bloodhound Trials

KC Herding Tests

Search & Rescue Cert

KC Accredited Instructor

The Kennel Club (KC) standards are some of the best in the world and to compete and win is an acknowledgement comparable with other high standards of training knowledge as in the horse world and international competitive events.