|What are you waiting for? Let me show you all the stuff I know!|
This month for the Positive Pet Training Week Blog Hop we are talking about training failures and mistakes. I am fairly new to dog training, with most of my animal training experience relating to horses. There are more parallels than not, to be honest, especially when dealing with fearful dogs who act more like spooky prey animals than fierce predators; however, I think that I expect more from horses than from dogs, leading me to my biggest failure as a dog trainer.
I told a friend recently that I have such a reverential view of my animals that I tend to make accommodations for them more often than not. My horse is not trained to tie because of a few scary and dangerous incidents that left us both shaken, and I ultimately decided we would work around it rather than risk serious injury to one or both of us. Is it inconvenient sometimes? Most definitely. I've made a lot of compromises for Ruby's reactivity as well. She is a brilliant, intense and sensitive dog. An experienced professional trainer could probably work wonders with her, but as my first high-energy and extremely reactive dog, we're learning together and the mistakes are always mine. What I need to remember is that even though I've chosen acceptance, I should never admit defeat. Every day is a training opportunity. Ruby is the most intelligent dog I've ever been lucky enough to know, and I don't want to limit her potential by setting the bar too low.
Sometimes I tend to forget to actually utilize things I've taught her in practical settings. For example: we've spent a great deal of time on mat work and the Relaxation Protocol. Ruby has a pretty solid grasp of this training concept, but I've failed to extend it to real life. When we get ready to go for a walk, she and Boca get wonderfully wound up, start wrestling, stealing my shoes, and jumping up on my legs. Being part Jack Russell terrier, Ruby might as well be on springs and their antics can seriously slow down the act of getting out the door. One day I had a lightbulb moment: what happens if I direct Ruby to "go to her mat" (the mat in this case being Boca's bed in the dining room)? What happened was that she immediately settled on the dog bed, allowing me to lace up my walking shoes in peace. This is what happens when the dog does a better job of generalizing than the human. By raising my expectations (Ruby can in fact wait quietly even though she is super excited to do one of her most favorite things), I set us both up for success.
The takeaway for this week's theme for me is to be more pro-active and make use of what my dogs already know. Ruby's trick repertoire and mat work foundation have practical application beyond entertainment. Boca's food motivation can cause her to be unruly, but it's also a guaranteed reinforcement system that I probably don't take advantage of often enough. I need to remain open to possibility and the fact that either of my dogs can surprise me with a new approach or a novel use for a behavior. I'm hoping to raise my expectations for both of my dogs in order to see what we can accomplish together, just in time for next month's theme of training successes and strengths!
This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week - please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!