I have a story (it gets to dogs in the end):

My husband was a patient in a teaching hospital this past week. That means doctors at various stages of training spend time learning on him – with varying degrees of competence and success.

One set of particularly inexperienced doctors came in to remove a tube in his chest. They asked him to roll on his side.  Not happening – he has nine broken ribs.

They said that’s how it’s done.

Now my husband isn’t about to be mishandled by a group of young doctors who lack for imagination so he told them they’d better do some thinking or go back to their teacher, because there was zero chance he was going to roll on his side. He can do that because he’s strong and capable of advocating for himself – a human capacity!

Consternation followed. Consultation. Finally, the nurse came in and it got worked out. The tube was pulled out some other way which was maybe less than ideal – but husband was happy and the doctors got their practice.

Afterwards, my husband chatted with the nurse about it – he was sort of flabbergasted that the trainees could be so clueless and obstinate about what was patently obvious – you cannot ask a patient with broken ribs to roll on their side “because that’s the way they learned to do it”.  Her response was excellent (now we get to the dog training part).

She said these young doctors are working so hard just to get it right that they have nothing left for bedside manner or thinking outside the box. Every ounce of their energy is tied up in the actual mechanics of the procedure – doing it correctly. And that leaves little room for exceptions to the rule. None actually. Not because alternatives don’t exist but because they have no bandwidth left.

When we train our dogs to do things that are new to us, or when we train our human students to train their dogs – we see this same thing! So wrapped up in doing it right that they absolutely miss the forest – they are staring at the bark on the trees.

This is a cautionary tale. When you train, step back and observe your learner. Is this working for them? Is there another way to approach it that might be more fun, more comfortable, or more clear, even if it is a lesser technique? Yes, mechanics matter and it does help to do things “right” but not if that takes place at the comfort and joy of the learner.

Ask yourself – if this working for the “other”? And if not, can you find another route that accommodates their needs rather than forcing your preferences onto them?  You don’t necessarily need to hold others to the standards that you hold yourself and you don’t necessarily need to do things the “right” way if it’s sucking the joy out of what you’re doing.  Always remember the big picture.

Dog training has been done for a very very long time by people with or without skills and with or without formal training.  We often get from here to there regardless of our level of skill if we focus on the bigger picture.  What is the end goal?  Is there flexibility in the actual steps that take us there?  Allow for that in your learner – keep them in the game and inspire them to stay engaged. Experiment as desired!  Feeling successful, engaged and progressing is more important than getting each step done exactly correctly. This is true whether your learner is your own dog, or a student who is struggling to master your techniques.

End note #1: My husband was in a bicycle/car accident.  He’s going to be recovering for awhile but he’s also expected to be fine – I know some of you will worry so I wanted to add that bit.  It’s going to be okay.

End note #2. Tomorrow is the start of registration for both six-week-long classes and workshops for the February term at FDSA.  I’m teaching a workshop on Disengagement.  Almost time for registration!  PPP workshops for February will also open tomorrow!