If you have followed this blog over time you may have noticed themes that might feel contradictory.
On one end of the scale I talk about emotions and relationships. Developing warm and playful interactions with your dog. Creating a relationship so that your learner wants to interact and engage with you. Encouraging your learner to rely on you as a valuable resource. Seeing the big picture of training – the wide-angle view. Reading body language as a function of your learners joy. Flexibility. Letting go of expectations. Celebrating time spent with your dog over specific accomplishments achieved. Having your own doggy friend!
And on the other end of the scale I talk about very specific details of good training. Things like breaking your training down into small pieces and focusing narrowly on a task. Setting up a well designed environment so your learner can win and build confidence in themselves. Focused intent. Crisp training. Goals and progress. Structure. Getting behavior! So much for your doggy friend.
Where you are focusing at any given time is likely to be more on one end, the softer and more playful side, or on the other end, the crisper and more defined side. And the fact is, you need to fluidly flip back and forth according to what is happening in front of you – what your dog needs at that moment to bring out his or her best self. The more experience you develop the easier it is to blend these concepts, presumably because you no longer consciously think about the process.
My goal for trainers is joyful engaged training within a goal driven structure. So how do we get there?
Here’s my best solution: Videotape your work.
When you watch your video, ask yourself if it would be fun to be trained by you (Thank you, Julie Daniels!). Would you stay engaged because it was interesting, regardless of the motivators available? Do you feel warmth and enthusiasm coming from your trainer? Is your trainer smiling at you? Is a sense of mental awareness and “puzzling through” adequately present to give you the sense of playing a game together?
Now let’s look at that video again. What would you accomplish if you were being trained by you? Could you easily decipher a goal for the session? Is the setting such that you can focus on what your trainer wants you to learn? Is your trainer’s communication about what they want clear? Are there elements in the training set-up that make it hard for you to focus on training or to progress?
All good questions to ask yourself!
Regardless of where you are weak or strong as a trainer today, training dogs is the way to improve. If you don’t train then you’ll get nowhere – that is one thing I can virtually guarantee. Thinking about training does not improve your skills nor does setting up sessions in your head. You really do have to do it, and then look consider the result. It’s better to practice something – even if you’re a little too heavy on one end of the scale or the other, than to fret about it and therefore do nothing at all.
We are fortunate in that dogs are hugely forgiving learners, so while you learn to blend these these varied skills, it’s extremely likely that your learner will hang in there with you. Just keep in mind your goal; balance and fluid change over your session. If you keep at it, someday you will naturally provide a balance of warmth and engagement while holding a high standard for progress and crispness within your training sessions.
Enjoy your training, regardless of where you are in your journey.
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