I’m a good trainer. I am not a great trainer.
A great trainer sets up training plans in advance, splits behavior into tiny bits, keeps records of what they are doing, and in all likelihood – progresses more quickly than I do.
So I’m working on getting better, but in the meantime I don’t really have a problem, because what I AM good at is reading the dog in front of me and as a result, I get away with my occasional “less than stellar” training. My dogs rarely opt out, even when what I have to offer is fairly low value. That’s because I’m good enough for each dog that I train. Stress is kept low in training. I’m fun to be with. My dogs like me and as a result, it’s worth their while to play my games, even when I’m messing things up. I don’t pay enough attention to being a great trainer so I have to pay attention to my dog. Works for us. Good enough.
How good does one have to be to be “good enough?”
You need to be “good enough” that your dog wants to be there with you, even when you’re muddling along at a fairly low level of competence. Muddling along is not a problem if your dog chooses to muddle along with you.
When your dog begins to exhibit signs of distress then it’s time to stop and reconsider. Stress could be leaving, exhibiting stress signals, or becoming frantic or noisy. You’re not being good enough. At least not at this moment in time.
Good enough means that your dog is watching you with a clear head and positive body language. Not because your dog is hungry and you’re holding the food. Not because you have your dog on a leash and he can’t get away. Not because your dog is OCD for a tug or ball, and he simply cannot opt out no matter how much stress he is experiencing.
“Good enough” is up to the dog. Your “good enough” with one dog might be downright “under no circumstances” for another dog.
It doesn’t matter why your dog is opting out. If you use physical corrections in training and your dog would rather not train with you then you’re not being good enough. Stop and create a new plan. If you use force free training and your dog is getting whiny with frustration, you’re not being good enough. Stop and create a new plan. Regardless of the reason for your dog’s preference to opt out, physical or mental distress, you’re not good enough.
Your dog decides. Fortunately for us humans, our dogs are frequently quite tolerant of our muddling, and will cheerfully muddle along with us. But if your dog has other ideas, then see what you can do to rise to the occasion.
If you have a dog with a clear head, a stable temperament and an innate love of work, you may find yourself doing quite well with your dog in spite of your technically poor training – and that’s fine. That’s good enough. And if you have a dog with a trigger fuse, an unstable temperament and the working drives of a cat, then your training is about to take a quantum leap.