When it comes to dog training, it can be overwhelming with everything we need to train and prepare for to trial. Skills, precision, ring confidence, OUR confidence, weaning off primary and secondary reinforcers, etc. We all have goals and ambitions and want to do well. We want to start that journey by building a strong emotional foundation when training our dogs. First and foremost we want a happy, motivated, secure, and engaged dog!! I don’t worry about a lot of precision early on. The key is to prepare your dog by training smart and reinforce improvement on the way to perfection. The path to perfection or as close as we can get is the journey you take with your dog, not something you achieve all at once early in their career.
What does “training smart” mean? It means not training when you don’t feel well or in a bad mood. If you don’t have a lot of time to train, then make the most of the time you do have to make it productive and effective. Don’t rush or get sloppy. Make it your goal to rehearse correct behavior and be consistent with criteria as much as you can. And remember, no dog trainer trains perfectly. You constantly have to make quick decisions. To paraphrase Bob Bailey … you need to make a decision as the next one is right around the corner! So you have to decide what/when to mark, when to release (ie., to avoid a crooked front), when to ask for more, etc. Don’t fret over missed decisions, just get ready for the next one. Make it your goal to grow and expand as a trainer by experimenting and approaching it like an art form!
Let’s talk about stress! It’s easy to add stress to ourselves and to our dogs. We want something so badly or we can’t hide our disappointment if our dog misses a cue or makes a mistake. We often freeze in the ring when things don’t go as planned. Be there for your dog and help them as you would (should) in training. Training is trialing and trialing is training. When our dogs make mistakes (and they will) and sense our disappointment or feel pressure, the more those exercises become stressful and cause their responses to become inconsistent. There are certain exercises that are more delicate when it comes to stress. The ones that stand out to me in obedience are exams, stays, signals, and scent articles. We must strive to never show disappointment and be aware of what could squash momentum or speed or attitude. I’d rather lose a few points for a more engaged and happy dog, verses adding pressure and risk affecting their future ring performance. One of my favorite quotes is from Amy Cook “Every time you teach your dog what to do, you are teaching him how to feel”. Think about that. Really think what that means. Creating a secure and happy relationship with your dog will support the precision work later on.
Now let’s talk about dogs. Some dogs just “have it all” – the biddability, focus, drive, accuracy. Others may bring you more challenges, or more challenges compared to what you might have worked with before. We also get dogs during different chapters in our lives. The time we may have been able to spend with one dog, might not be the same with the next dog. Or now we have more time to devote to our training and goals than we had in the past. This is life. Embrace the ebb and flow of training!! All dogs take us on a different journey.
As we gain experience as a handler, each new dog becomes a little easier. You know what it takes to get to a certain point and what is required. You have the confidence that you will get to that end point and know that disappointment is not part of the equation. You’ll find you spend less time (less thought) on some things and have more time (more energy) to try new things or improve in other areas.
The above is an excerpt from my upcoming Obedience Starter Games class. Registration opens today, January 22nd at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Check out all the other great class options while you are there!