Since we have passed the midway point for the Train Your Dog Month Challenge, I thought i should check in to see how you are doing with your projects. Taught any new tricks? Conquered any fears? Have you even come up with an idea yet? Shiva and I, naturally, have not only perfected all of our goals like rockstars, I have actually moved on to teaching her how to drive the trick.
Right, and The Cat curls up to sleep in my lap every night.
But that’s okay. Even if we are still attempting to master a simple hold the larger goal is to spend time together and have fun. This is what I repeat over and over again, like n incantation. Sometimes with a smile, sometimes muttered under my breath, sometimes through gritted teeth.
Like many people, I thrive on instant results. The most onerous part of dog training is that some things are easier than others to teach. As every dog is so different, I have to remember to be patient when something is difficult for Shiva that was so easy for another. Dogs are not that different from humans in this respect. All of us learn at a different pace and with our own styles. Though Shiva was able to learn leg weaves within a few days, it doesn’t mean she will be able to learn how to toss a treat in the air or balance a book on her nose. As simple as holding a toy in one’s mouth might be for dogs in our former agility classes, this task may be Shiva’s Waterloo. Even if it isn’t, I have to remember that it might take a long time for her to understand what I am asking and that keeping my frustration in check is a vital part of the process.
My former dog trainer – how I miss her weekly advice – linked to a great article on praise and its necessary place in training. The article focuses on agility but I think it applies to all forms of training, whether working with a fearful dog, playing around with tricks, or in more formal activities like obedience or flyball. I’d love to just re-post the entire piece for you because the whole thing is brilliant and I think it should be required reading for every dog handler. Because that would be cheating, I will just share the final paragraph of EmDogs’ motivating post:
My one and only goal is to have fun with my dogs, and show them a bang-up awesome time. It’s my decision to play this game. They’d be just as happy with hikes and Frisbee and swimming and…Their life is so short compared to ours. When they’re gone, you won’t remember if you Q’d in Grand Prix in January of 2014. You’ll remember the sweet kisses they gave you every morning. You’ll remember that look of “this is SO AWESOME, MOM!!” they gave you every time you brought out their favourite toy. You’ll remember that deep down feeling of joy you get every time you cross the finish line with your best friend. THOSE are the things that are important. Take the time to stop and focus on those, and you just might find yourself with an amazingly willing E dog living in your house, too.
This is how I want to live my life with Shiva. Let’s face it, we’re not going to Q anything. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t have a blast in the attempt. This attitude embodies the ideal of how we approach everything with our dogs. We don’t bring them home with the goal of correcting their mistakes or screaming in frustration when they don’t understand our rules, right? Training should be super good times for BOTH parties. If it isn’t, you are doing it wrong.
That being said, dedicating time to working with your pet every day is troublesome when you feel like you aren’t getting any results. I know all too well the dissatisfaction of achieving something one day and then watching it unravel the next. It is demoralizing when your dog appears to prefer chewing on a stick than learning a new behaviour. However, it is these times when it is most important to shrug your shoulders and go with the flow. The more cheerful you are – and no faking, they can tell – the more likely your dog will choose to join you. Even if you never even get to any actual training that day, if all you have to show for your time is a tired, happy animal who is looking forward to your next play session, that is a huge success.
I only say all this as it is something I need to be reminded of on a regular basis. When I am in the thick of things, annoyed that Shiva keeps running off to chase the cat when I am standing there with clicker and treats in hand, I need to remember to keep it light. Flexibility has been so important. If she would rather run around then the best thing I can do is ditch my training plan and turn it into a running game instead. After a bit of goofing off we might then be able to work on my goal but we may not. That’s what tomorrow is for.
All you have to do is read every post in this blog under the “agility” category, to know Shiva wrangling is not as simple as I’d like it to be. When things have been at their most frustrating, it has been most helpful for me to remember to laugh. Even when I feel like crying, even when Shiva has just dove over a fence and ripped through a trial staging area filled with reactive dogs and treats that don’t belong to her, even when she jumps on a table and frightens a score-keeper, forcing a laugh helps me relax and makes it more likely she will come back for more.
It is my goal to keep all this close to my heart as Shiva and I work on our challenges for Train Your Dog Month. Along with my talented co-hosts, I am keeping the focus on building our bond. Something Wagging This Way Comes has had a few surprises this month and the wise Pamela has learned to be flexible with the beautiful Honey and Alfie at Alfie’s Blog has hit the books and gotten the hang of the platform spin. It’s a good thing this isn’t a competition or we’d be in trouble! I hope you also have been having an amazing time with your pets, whatever your goals may be, and that at the end of the thirty one days, you’ll have made some awesome memories.
If you are still looking for ideas, I have put some links together below of my favourite Youtube channels. Even if you aren’t participating in the challenge, I encourage you to check them out. The enthusiasm and joy of the trainers is only matched by those of their dogs. It is always a dazzling thing to watch.
Kikopup – If you haven’t learned from her patience yet, you are missing out.
My Favourite Pup Jasmine – There is a brilliant mind underneath that soft fur, I believe this adorable Havanese also has a blog of her own.
Nana Border Collie – Nana isn’t the only one showing off her stuff. Her feline and rodent siblings also get in on the fun!
Zak George’s Dog Training rEvolution – You are probably tired of hearing about him but I love this guy and will link to his videos every chance I get.
So. Are you in yet? There is still time! Join the Train Your Dog Month Challenge along with my co-hosts at Something Wagging This Way Comes and Alfie’s Blog. Set a small goal to work on with your pet and check back in at the end of the month to share your success. Every eligible person who enters by sharing their challenge in the comments on the January 31, 2014 post or the link list will get a chance to win a donation to their favourite animal charity and a special treat for themselves and their dogs. But, obviously, the real prize will be improving your relationship with your furry friend. You can’t lose!