Jun 162020

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.

Alex thinking

Confidence is catchy. Click To Tweet

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.

She shep place

Overpayment is counterproductive. Click To Tweet

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.

Alex heeling attention

To get attention we have to be interesting. Click To Tweet

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.



  18 Responses to “Dog Training Dharma – 3 Thoughts on Ego”

  1. As a cat lover and owner all I have to do to be interesting enough to be paid attention to is to say: are you hungry, do you want a treat, can I have a kiss, and I love you. Thankfully it’s a short but powerful list.

  2. Animals are wonderful. I love communicating with all kinds.

  3. I love Alex’s sideways glance! The overpayment lesson is a good one. My dog tends to do the same thing. She’s so excited for the reward, she rushes clumsily through what I’m asking her to do. A good lesson in life for us all, Andrea!

  4. Overpayment is counterproductive – holy mama mia! What a huge lesson right there. I’m looking forward to your next installment and what those beautiful pups are teaching all of us! xxoo

    • Thank you, m’dear. I think by now you know that my favorite sort of learning involves transferring an idea or an insight from one domain to another. I’m learning a lot!

  5. While I dont have a dog, but I can feel the love in your relationship with this divine creature.
    So beautiful!

  6. I don’t have dogs, but I’ve trained my cats to fly into the kitchen from wherever they are hiding at the sound of my voice yelling, “treats!” They also know that when I sit down at the window first thing in the morning, it is my meditation time and we all sit there together in silence. I think cats of full of self-confidence!

  7. Wonderful post, Andrea, with wisdom that applies across the board. I love “Confidence is Catchy.” It’s a great tool that any ‘pack leader’ need in her toolbox!

  8. I have always believed that our pets teach us so much – and that’s the case with this story! Love the anecdotes and life lessons you shared (especially about changing the dog treats so your dog can focus on the task, not the treat). xoxo

    • I think you put it better than I did… the idea of focusing on the task and not the treat. It’s an important concept on the path to goal achievement.

  9. This is great, Andrea, especially the “overpayment is counterproductive” part. I have experienced this in life with people I’ve hired and the person I raised. Sitting alone on Friday night in a quiet house saying “Oh wow” aloud. Thanks for enilghtening me, dear one. Will share a cute image or two to my “must-reads” board on Pinterest.

    • I’ve been mulling a post about “overing” e.g. overpaying, over praising, over training, over protecting. Your enthusiasm may help it percolate better. Thank you for your kind words.

  10. Love your exploration of beginner’s mind vs. ego, Andrea! Also love how you talk about asking for help and then just following directions.

    With self and my clients, I find there’s such relief (and wonderful outcomes) in that. Seeking support and actually leaning into it. And, within that, keeping things simple–which, left to our mind’s own devices, sure isn’t always easy!

    • Yes… I think that’s one of the reasons I’m so slow to enroll in any sort of training. I need to be sure that I’m committed enough to get out of the driver’s seat and follow the directions. thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  11. Oh, so appreciating your honesty, Andrea, to share this: “While I love to learn new things, I struggle to balance the beginner mind I need to participate in a course with my ego.”

  12. Great post Andrea, I feel your love for these dogs throughout this blog! I am looking forward to the day that we welcome more pets into our home. xx

  13. I’m so aligning with you And your dog training experience Andrea. Trying to train Shiloh has been such an interesting journey and your post made me laugh and cry at the same time!

Care to share? Hearing from you makes my day!

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