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The Art of Adaptation – What happens if?

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I’m teaching a new class starting October 1st on “The Art of Training”  The goal is to help science based trainers become more confident and fluent in their training so they experience less worry and more success!  Sadly, after I finished writing up the class, someone suggested a topic that really should be there. But it’s not. So I’ll write about it here instead.

The topic is, “The Art of Adaptation”

Your dog is big or small.  Fast or Slow.  Enthusiastic or Withdrawn.  Agile or a bit clumsy!

You are big or small.  Fast or slow.  Enthusiastic or Withdrawn. Agile or a bit clumsy!

You have a disability or….you are fully abled!

You have a lot of time on your hands or no time on your hands!

You have an enormous training space with fancy equipment or you train in your house using a coffee table for your jump.

What is your situation?

When you are learning how to train an exercise, proof an exercise, generalize an exercise or get ready for trials, you’ll find that rarely is someone else’s situation exactly like yours.  You might ask someone for help with any of these skills and yet….their situation is simply different – not like your situation! Now what?

Becoming a fluent trainer largely involves creativity and adaptation; the ability to look at what others are doing and making it work for your situation.  The more you can do that, the more successful you are likely to be as a trainer. So, how do you get there?

A good start is to think in terms of solutions and commonalities as opposed to emphasizing problems and differences.  It also means learning to rely on your own thought processes rather than having someone else do the thinking for you.

The more you attempt to solve your own challenges before asking for help, the better a trainer you will become as you move forwards. If you find that you rely on your trainer extensively to adapt everything for you, you’re losing an opportunity to problem solve for yourself. There’s something to the expression “necessity is the mother of invention.” So, do a little inventing!

Exercise:  Think about something that you have taught your dog to do.  Anything you like!  Go over a jump, retrieve an object, find a nosework scent, cross an agility teeter, find heel position, get on a platform, down stay – anything!

Now – add one of the following challenges to that exercise:

Heeling:  You’ve lost your left hand in an accident and you need to teach left side heeling.

Jump:  You are in a wheelchair.

Retrieve:  Your dog is 8″ tall and you have a bad back and cannot bend.

Nosework:  You are allergic to Nosework oils.

Down stay:  You’re blind.

Behavior: Your dog is afraid of dog show environments and you live in the country far away from shows.

These are simply examples. I don’t care what exercise you take, or what challenge you add. Simply add something unique and different, something that will make your current approach difficult or impossible and learn to think outside the box a little. Don’t ask your trainer for help. Don’t ask your friends. Work through it yourself. I bet if you spend a little time with it, you will find an answer. Over time, you’ll find that you actually have many solutions within yourself. You just have to take a moment to think about it.

I made the examples extreme to force you to think, but the fact is, all training needs to be adapted to individual circumstances.  It’s up to you how you do that.

The next time you begin to teach your dog something new, start with the basic instructions and then…. ask yourself what would happen if… and consider if there might be an adaptation that would make it just slightly better (or more interesting!) for your situation.  Not because you have to but because you can!  So your instructor starts her retrieve from her hand?  What happens if you start it from the floor?  Or a chair?  Or your instructor starts her heeling from a static position – what happens if you start with movement?  Without a leash?  With a target instead of a cookie?  Or with nothing but a toy?  What happens if….?

Make this way of thinking a habit and I guarantee you will become a better trainer.





About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

5 responses »

  1. I am exactly the person you describe. The one who turns to others for training solutions. Once again, you have inspired me to become a better trainer, and look to myself for solutions.
    What a great idea!
    Thank you for your dedication to makes us all better trainers!

  2. Nobody teaches or says it better than Denise! I wish with all of my heart, I lived somewhere close to you and could come and learn from you personally and up close! If I could have my wish answered, I would become a ‘real boy’, (in my case, woman!)

  3. This is similar to training dogs as service dogs. Each individual handler has their own needs and abilities (or disabilities) as well as their own desires of what they need their dog to do. It is really hard in this area to get trainers to take these clients on because they don’t fit in the box of training they have in their repertoire. Often it doesn’t fit into a 6 week package either..

  4. Pingback: Articles I’ve enjoyed recently | Little Brown Dog Blog

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