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Ditch the Perfectionism

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Are these errors or learning opportunities?

As a new dog trainer I discovered that there is no ABC guide for teaching dogs, the process is not linear. I learned that dog trainers appear to disagree with each other, and present conflicting information, partly because there is never only one way to teach a dog.

When we are learning how to teach a dog, we:

  • Gather knowledge – books, blogs, vlogs, videos, classes, and lessons

  • Develop key skills - observation, planning, cue delivery, reward selection

  • Increase our understanding - we know how dogs learn and can set them up for success.

This needs to be integrated with the knowledge we already have about dogs and how they learn. We will be bringing information in from families, communities (cultural norms) and the media.

Getting used to this can bring some frustration, if you find yourself expressing ‘just tell me what to do’, you won’t be alone! Every time a professional dog trainer hears this, they make a judgement call, do they:

  • Say exactly what to do, relieve the pressure short term, but risk creating a dependence on asking the teacher?

  • Guide the client through a process designed to build transferrable teaching skills for life, risking further frustration and a lack of motivation to learn?

Equally, each teacher has to go through the process with the dog in front of them

  • Lead the dog to success, every step of the way, and risk creating a dependent learner?

  • Encourage the dog to make mental connections, ask for too much and risk a demotivated learner?

Dealing with Errors

I find it helpful to compare dog training to a tree. The small seed, or idea of getting a dog is planted. Our tree grows as we choose which dog, decide what to feed, shop for dog stuff and register with a Vet. Some trees grow no bigger than this, but most begin to branch off into some form of training. How big your tree grows depends on what you want to achieve, what your dog needs you to learn or whether you just become hooked by the dog training world.

Just as a fruit tree needs pruning to keep it healthy and productive, the tree of dog learning requires the same treatment. There will be times when your tree is putting on vigorous growth, a course, book or teacher stimulates your learning. You need to decide which branches to prune out completely, what to cut back and what to keep. Underpinning all of your decisions are your own personal values and ethics.

Sometimes we have the luxury of a few months to make a decision, but many times a few hours or just seconds. If you have been challenged about your understanding of dominance and dogs, the new information can lie quietly for a while until you have space to figure out if you wish to strengthen the new, or keep the old.

Compare this luxury of time, to the walk where an off lead dog is running up to your sensitive on lead learner. For the sake of your dog you cannot afford to hang around waiting to see what happens, you need to make decisions on the spot.

Whether we have a few weeks, minutes or seconds, we will make some errors. Errors are a part of learning. Learning how to deal with and recover from errors is a key teaching skill.

Errors are not:

  • Evidence that we are a failure. We may have failed in our intention, but we are not failures as dog teachers.

  • Evidence that a training protocol is good or bad. A protocol can only be effective or ineffective for that individual.

  • A reason to give up. Perfectionism is unhelpful.

Errors are:

  • Evidence that we need more knowledge. More practice. A better coach.

  • A cue to take a break. Reflect, re-evaluate, ask for help.

  • An opportunity to regroup, start afresh. Evaluate what was helpful and can be carried forward and what can be left behind.

What can help

  • Remember your life with your dog is a constant moving piece, it will change as you both learn and evolve.

  • It is normal to change a training/behaviour programme. We can't sit down with a dog and have a conversation about how they are feeling and why they are behaving as they are. Therefore, we make an assessment and put some strategies in place, the dog will tell us by changes in their behaviour whether we are on the right track or not.

  • Remember a training/behaviour programme is about growth and progression

  • It is normal to find that something is not working as it was, dogs change and their needs change, people change and the seasons change.

  • Become curious and approach your training as an experiment rather than an exercise in right and wrong. Anxiety and excitement are very similar bodily, rather than trying to calm your anxious arousal and adrenaline reframe your training as an opportunity.

Need more help?

A 1:1 session is the perfect solution for an expert opinion on the next steps to help you and your dog find the relationship you are seeking.

Want to know if this is the right solution for you? Email me for a chat

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