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Success isn’t Linear, So why would Dog Training be?

When embarking on an endeavor, we often feel pressure to succeed immediately. Whether it be learning a new instrument, sport, or language, the learning curve can be incredibly frustrating and cause enough to quit long before we had the opportunity to put a plan in place to work towards the goal at a reasonable pace. Dog training is no different. It is disheartening to jump into a training plan with a clear goal in mind, only to find yourself struggling. You may blame yourself - or even worse may blame your dog - for the inability to make meaningful progress in training. The truth is there are several common errors that stand in the way of our dog training success, with one of the most frequent being not considering the pace of our canine companion.

Dogs possess different styles of learning and work at different paces. Though we may feel a great deal of enthusiasm training towards a specific goal, our dog may not and may require time to warm up to the idea. Furthermore, we often breeze over foundation skills essential to the task at hand which makes it more difficult for the learner to succeed. Signs you may be moving too quickly for your dog are as follows:

- Checking out of training (sniffing, wandering, refusing to return to you)

- Incomplete foundation skills 

- Inability to perform well-known behaviors

- Physical signs of stress (panting, salivating, dilated pupils)

In extreme cases, this can cause/contribute to:

- Reactivity 

- Fear-based issues 

- Anxiety-based issues 

If this sounds like you and your dog, don’t fear: even the most skilled dog trainers have been in this position. It is all too easy to forget about your learner’s experience when you’re juggling a clicker, treats, and trying to implement a technique your trainer showed you that just doesn’t seem to work quite as well when you do it. The best thing you can do is return to the beginning. It’s likely that not enough time was spent there, which can greatly impact future success. If you’re unsure just where the beginning may be, ask yourself if your dog has successfully completed the following list:

- All foundation skills at a calm and focused level 

- The ability to turn on/off for training 

- The ability to perform well-known behaviors amongst stimuli 

- Enthusiasm to work with you and earn reinforcement 

If any one of these are lacking, it is likely impacting your training. You may be wondering where exactly you went wrong that one of these skills is compromised. Below are common errors we make when working with our dogs:

- Too little repetition before moving forward

- Too little/too much of the 3 D’s (distance, duration, distraction)

- Inability to read the dog’s body language in a given situation 

- Lack of behavioral maintenance 

It’s important to stress that these errors are common for a reason. We’ve all been there and you are not alone if you’ve made any number of them while training your dog. While it’s easy to blame ourselves for our shortcomings, remember that our dogs are incredibly forgiving and always willing to give us a second (or third, or fourth…) chance. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our dog(s) moving forward is to be mindful of their experience. If you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back and consider how your dog is feeling - they’re doing the best they can with the information and skillset they’ve been provided in any given situation. This introspection is essential to the wellbeing of our dogs and the quality of our training. If you find yourself still struggling to pinpoint where you went wrong, consider reaching out to us for help. Consulting a professional will provide you the knowledge and support you need to reach your goals and set you and your dog up for the best possible success.

Nisa Semione

Dog Trainer / Behavior Specialist

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