If we’re connected on Instagram or Facebook, you know that I am dog-crazy; one of the things I get to do from time to time is dog training. A day of training is like a vacation. I’m able to stop obsessing about day-to-day details and learn how to learn a bit differently. I have been fortunate to find wonderful teachers who is willing and able to meet us where we are, we’ve got homework and, unlike some parts of my academic career (sorry, Mr. Z), I’ve actually been diligent about doing it. And, as the photos will attest, the dogs and I are having a blast.
Our most recent installment in the story involves an instructor who is enthusiastic, funny — and a real drill instructor. In this chapter, it seems that I have not learned “the right way” to interact with the dogs and my efforts with the new pup are a constant source of his amusement. Aloud. In front of the class.
At first I was uncomfortable. Embarrassed. But, as I looked around at my other classmates, something became clear: this was one of those rare teachers would nag and tease and cajole until a skill is mastered. When it comes to dog training, he’s “all in” — and has unending patience for students who make a similar commitment. It occurred to me that, in the past, I’ve not been pushed. My vision was limited and my goals were small. I probably was not a very interesting student.
At first I was uncomfortable. In MY Mind and MY story I was already pretty good at this thing called dog training. And while I love to learn and improve, I was struggling with my head. (The older I get, the more I realize that most challenges live there.) I couldn’t find the balance between having enough “beginner mind” to participate and an ego that won’t shut up. Mine.
Ego wants me to abandon everything to become “the best.” It (that pesky ego) usually also gives me a two or three-week deadline as well. Fortunately, I have Furry, four-legged partners in this venture and we are practicing for about 10 minutes, twice a day. In other words, I asked for help and am following the directions. It works.
And, while skills mastery is cool, I’m noticing some other things.
1. Confidence is catchy. Both of my dogs are rescues and came to us when they were almost a year old. Before that was some abuse and neglect. I had learned not to be one of those “oh-you-poor-baby-dog-moms” because I discovered it wasn’t good for them but I didn’t know how to increase their confidence. Turns out they’re a lot like humans: the larger the skill set the bigger the comfort zone.
2. Overpayment is counterproductive. We’re in the process of reviewing basic skills while learning lots of new things. This process requires yummy treats. Apparently, I was using treats that were a little too tasty: my shepherd was getting so excited she was skipping steps in order to “get paid” more quickly. When we switched to reward that is a better match for the task at hand (dry cookies instead of something with meat) she was able to slow down, focus on her job and perfect her skills.
3. To get attention we have to be interesting. My little deaf dog is a rock star. He has always impressed us with his willingness and ability to learn. He loves to perform his tricks for visitors. But I was having trouble teaching him to heel. Even when it did “work,” it felt forced and awkward. That’s because only one of us was on board with the idea. As soon as I learned to get his attention? It’s a whole different ballgame. He’s curious about what’s coming next so, guess what? He’s looking at me, giving me his undivided attention. We’re communicating. Imagine that. Simple but not easy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…. it’s 5:30, the sun is on the way, and the birds are letting me know it’s time to get the gear backed. We’re on the way to a full day of training. We’ve just started with this team, so I’m sure there are lots more great lessons to come.
If you like, please use the comments to share about something simple you’ve learned. The dogs and I would love to know.