Posts Tagged With: puppy

On Failure

I fail. A lot. I fail while training my dogs every day in one way or another. My dogs fail, too. But the important part isn’t that we fail, the important part is how we handle it.

I taught my dogs through free shaping and games that failure is OK and nothing to worry about. If you do it wrong, you don’t get a reward, but we are still playing and you will probably get it right on the next try, so hurry up and try again!
Similarly, when my training plan fails this is nothing to worry about. It doesn’t mean I’m stupid, worthless, will never be able to train this, have a dog that cannot be trained or any other nonsense that the inner critic tries to feed me. We are still playing and my next plan will probably work better!

by mariathehedgehog335

by mariathehedgehog335

I set out to do a few Recallers games in a public place where we usually wouldn’t do them. I brought Ruby out of the car and started tugging, but I could feel his heart wasn’t in it and he even stopped to look around twice. Guess what, if the dog isn’t tugging happily in a certain place you cannot use the tug as a reward. OK, so we were left with food. He was more focused when working with that, but I still felt like I might lose him at any moment. He was on leash, so “loosing him” meant just loosing his attention, but attention, to me, is everything. Since I was fast, rewarded him often and also released often to environment, this didn’t happen, but if I were to lose intensity for a second he would be off to sniff the bushes in no time.

While this would look like a successful training to an onlooker, it was a failure to me, because we are way past the stage where I need to work for his attention (or so I thought). Failures happen and all good trainers are OK with that. They even use them to their advantage. Here are some types of failures:

1. Dog failing at the task. Perhaps failing multiple times. Perhaps not succeeding at all.
2. Reacting inappropriately to dog’s failure because of lack of training plan or lack of knowledge.
3. Inability to get dog excited about training.
4. Loosing dog to the environment (loosing focus & wandering off).

For me, the #3 – inability to get dog excited is the hardest failure to bear emotionally, followed really closely by #4 – loosing dog to environment. These used to be our biggest problems in training and while we don’t get them very often these days, they can still happen as evidenced by my experience with Ruby.

Dog training is an interesting activity. It teaches you so much about yourself, your character, your fears. It can expose your weaknesses like perfectionism, impatience, comparing yourself to others, comparing your dog to other dogs, focusing on the negative, difficulty in expressing joy and approval, worrying about what will others think, wanting to look good, anger, frustration. These were all mine if you were wondering… Some of them in the past, others I’m still struggling with. I probably forgot some, too.

I think it’s amazing that dog training is bringing all of these flaws to the surface in the context where I am motivated to work through them. Sure, it hurts when I bump against “comparing myself to others”, but by working through it I found self-love, appreciation for the journey that is mine alone, and also more love for others. What could be better than that?

I know you have your own struggles, some are with knowledge, others with mechanics and still others with internal critic like mine. You are not alone. Dog training is an unexpectedly emotional experience for most of us.

Look back at the struggles you have already overcome. Perhaps you spent months to teach your dog to play with toys. Perhaps your patience was tested by a puppy piranha. Perhaps you learned to control your frustration better. Perhaps you taught your dog “sit pretty” after 8 months of patient work. You did it!

Remember also that not everything was hard. Perhaps your puppy slept through the night from the time you brought him home. Or he loved food. Or he wasn’t afraid of traffic. Or learned Sit fast. Or you could take him with you for a coffee without much training at all. Every single thing that is easy for your dog is difficult for someone else’s dog and therefore not something that should be taken for granted. When I felt really hopeless and thought that Ruby will never be happy to work with me with other dogs present, I wrote a list of all the things that were great about him, including snuggling 🙂 It helped.

Um... we were supposed to be going in the same direction!

Um… we were supposed to be going in the same direction!

This problem in front of you is just like one of those you already solved. With a little creativity and perseverance it will become one of the problems of the past. If this post reminded you of the problem you have successfully overcome, go ahead and write it in the comments so we can celebrate together 🙂

PS: What do Silvia Trkman and Susan Garrett have in common? They see problems as puzzles, waiting to be solved. They replaced the feeling of frustration with curiosity and a game-on attitude. I came to believe that all great trainers do that – it’s what puts them in the right state of mind to find solutions.

Thanks Monika for Ruby’s agility photo! Those are some great memories 🙂

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Day 2: What A Difference Some Play Makes

Such a cute little face! Who would have thought this little thing could be crazy?

Such a cute little face! Who would have thought this little thing could be crazy?

We’re on Day 2 of my 30 posts in 30 days challenge. I have to say it feels weird to write about my dogs again since I wrote about them yesterday ;), so today I’m writing about my sister’s pup and her training challenges.

My sister called me with a question: why is her not-yet-thee-month pup Trinity much less interested in training than she used to be? Why is she starting to look around, throw herself on the ground, bite Mateja’s feet and generally having other ideas what to do while they are training? This happened particularly with things that Trini didn’t know well yet. I asked her to send me a video to see what is going on.

As she sent me this video she commented that she was surprised to see that they worked for 5 minutes straight (it always pays off to video your sessions because you will often find you’re doing something wrong – like letting the sessions go on too long – and you can fix it next time). But length of session was not the only problem. Trinity was not excited about it to begin with.

For everything we do in life there is a specific level of excitement that allows us to perform the task at hand to the best of our abilities. If we’re solving a math problem, we need to be calm and focused. If we’re preparing to run in a 5K race a bit more excitement would serve us better. It’s the same with our dogs – some mental states are more conductive to learning and staying in the training game with humans than others.

For this reason I suggested to Mateja that she should play with Trinity to get her happy and engaged, then train for only 6 repetitions (we don’t want her to practice finding her own entertainment like she did in above video), then play again. The whole session including playing will be less than 3 minutes long. Remember how I said the dogs are taking snapshots of their emotional state as we train? If we keep it exciting and short they will only have exciting memories which will make them love training and with time we will be able to have longer and longer sessions with that same excited attitude.

I also asked her not to give so many pieces of kibble for a single behavior because it takes a while before Trini chews them up which deflates her energy, plus too much food sometimes puts the dog in a sleepy state.

The progression of exercises in that training session was also less than ideal. They started with easy ones and progressed toward new exercises in which Trini wasn’t as skilled. The best approach is to start with the difficult exercise when dog’s brain is still fresh and progress toward easier exercises. But since I suggested to begin with 6 repetitions per session for now this means that if she wants to train several exercises she needs to take a few minutes of break between two sessions, during which Trinity will be a little bored of course, but fear not – boredom between sessions is a good thing!

It is also helpful to prepare the environment, treats, clicker and toys in advance so that once the session starts it goes smoothly. Every time we forget an item and have to retrieve it, move it etc we’re not engaging the dog and their energy visibly deflates. With more sensitive dogs this could be enough to cause some problems in concentration and learning.

Mateja did great at implementing all the suggestions and this was their very next session:

They had four more sessions after this video (with a few minute breaks in between) and Trini was working with focus and excitement in every single one of them. Score! Many excited training snapshots produced 🙂

Still, one question remained: why the sudden change? Trini used to be much more interested in training. The answer was getting too many treats outside these training sessions. Just as it happens to many other unsuspecting puppy owners out there Trini was training Mateja to give her more and more treats as she started declining kibble as reward in some situations. The solution was simple: no more treats until she will accept kibble in all situations. After just a few days Trini happily accepts kibble anywhere.

Thank you Mateja for letting me share your videos & your story!

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