Keep Calm and Carry On

27 Jun 2012Steve Schwarz

Loretta Mueller wrote a great short post on The Secret to Dog Training that inspired me to add my two cents. She wrote:

Student: Why don't you ever freak out when your dogs mess up something you are teaching?
Me: Because I am not that motivated...and it doesn't matter. My negative emotions don't help my dogs, they will only make things worse.

I don’t know if Loretta is really “not that motivated” she has wonderfully trained dogs and they are competitive at the national and international level. So I’d say she is motivated to do right by her dogs and give them the skills/training they need in a way they can learn/understand. And her freaking out doesn’t do anything to help them learn.

So I read her as saying she can “let it go” when her dogs “mess up”. It happens. In fact it is an important part of learning. A mistake is just an opportunity to clarify our desires.

The thing I’ve learned is that the dog is telling me that they just don’t get what I’m asking for. There is no point in getting mad at the dog. I’ve screwed up by not communicating/rewarding what I’m looking for.

Sometimes it is best to just stop. Call it quits. Tomorrow is another day. And you know, sometimes the next session it just happens! Especially with Flyer, I’ve noticed that he learns in “waves”. He gets it, he forgets it, he gets it more solidly, forgets a little, gets it even more, and so on.

If the dog is still happily working, recently I’ve started forcing myself to be more patient and let the dog figure it out. Again Flyer has taught me to ask him to try again, don’t give him more cues, and don’t “help him”. If I just wait he’ll try some different things and eventually tries something like what I want. Then Jackpot! It is much more like a shaping approach than I’ve used with other dogs and he responds pretty well to it. He’s a smart cookie.

My last two cents is to try to step back when I feel myself getting frustrated. So I try to immediately do something fun with my dog. Throw a toy, ask him to do a trick. Do something with one of the other dogs. Anything to break my frustration. It might mean taking some deep calming breaths or laughing at myself over my frustration. Dang it, training is just a game! Like many folks I can get caught up in it and wanting so desperately for my dog to “get it”. But all that emotion and ego doesn’t help.

So patience, deep calming breaths, laughing, and calling it quits are ways I follow Loretta’s advice: “My negative emotions don’t help my dogs, they will only make things worse”.

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