Monday, March 5, 2012

Live and learn: lessons from the training building

First - my hair is truly short again and I love it. No more hair angst. Now I can get back to writing about training angst.

I trained with some friends over the weekend and we were co-miserating about the stupid mistakes we’d made with our current young dogs. As a group, we represented approximately 75 years of obedience experience with multiple OTCHs., U-OTCHs and UDXs. The dogs we are training currently are not our first day at the rodeo.

Oddly enough, our problems all seemed to stem from trying new training methods that were not only beyond our comfort zone as trainers but seemed to create more issues than they resolved. This was due in large part to our inability to be proficient in their application. (Whoa, them's a lotta five-star words in that there sentence.) It’s hard to mimic Van Gogh when you can’t figure out how to operate a paint brush.

Happily enough, no lasting damage was done by our ventures beyond the tried-and-true methods we’d become proficient with while training previous dogs, but we all admitted we wished we would have thought a little bit harder before jumping in with both feet and abandoning perfectly good methods in favor of something shiny and new. Even the most dazzling new training methods do me no good if I can’t master the theory, the timing and the physical application of them.

So what makes a relatively sane (and I use that term loosely) woman with years of training experience throw a proven method into the wind and grasp at the sparkly obedience fairy dust of something new?

Speaking for myself, it’s usually the dazzle of seeing someone else’s dog working splendidly and thinking, for whatever reason, that my own dog is so pathetic and lacking that I MUST find a new method to attain such wonders.

Hindsight being what it is, this has gotten me in a bunch of trouble with Phoenix. When I started his obedience career, I made the huge mistake of thinking, “This dog is very different from any dog I have trained before.” Okay, that thought was accurate but it wasn’t exactly the mistake. The mistake was thinking, “Therefore, I must find new ways to train him and forget using the methods that produced splendid scores, OTCHs, trips to the National Obedience Invitational and much obedience joy with previous dogs.”

What the hell was I thinking?

(Sound of head smacking wall.)


Well, live and learn. In my quest for Phoenix to be “better” than his predecessors, I’ve taken some well-intentioned but bad advice and made some poor training decisions. It’s no one’s fault but my own. I suspect it’s human nature to always think there’s a better way to do things and to happily discard one’s own methods — no matter how proven — for the glamor of the latest training theory as presented by a seminar guru or Internet Web site.

But wait! I’ve gotten some truly amazing and helpful ideas from seminar gurus and Web sites.

So how to decide what to incorporate into our training and what to take a pass on? I want to take advantage of others’ knowledge and experience but at the same time would like to think I’m not a complete idiot when it comes to teaching a dog to trot along in heel position or fetch a dumbbell, etc., etc.

Apparently the filter that allowed me to discriminate between the two got plugged up somewhere along the line. When I should have been giving Nix a little more time to grow up or being more patient as a trainer, I started abandoning methods I feared were "not working” or were “outdated” in favor of new and/or different ones just because a seminar presenter’s dog looked really good at the time and my dog was having trouble. Nothing like a little self-doubt to start things crumbling.

Anyway, it was good to realize I’m not alone in the never-ending journey for self-improvement when trying to become a better trainer. I don’t ever want to stagnate and I want to learn new ways to make learning fun for my dog, deepen our relationship AND produce excellent ring results.

I’m looking forward to a number of seminars this year and know I’ll come away with new ideas, but happily my “filter” is fixed and I won’t be so fast to throw out the proven methods I am comfortable with and can produce happy results with.

And yes, I'm ending a sentence with a preposition. It's Monday. Get over it.

1 comment:

  1. Well said! In the end I think it all boils down to doing what improves the relationship and teamwork. I am doing some new things with my now 9mo that I did not do with my almost 6yo but that is because I *think* I am a tad wiser (laying down a good foundation is something I continue to work towards). And when it is all said and done, I believe that my methods are basically the same but I am refining and knocking them up a notch if you know what I mean.

    I know we all strive to improve ourselves and the nature of our sport almost demands that. That is if we want to aspire to the levels of the 199+ crowd out there (I certainly want to!). Keep up the good dialogue Melinda, I find something in each and every one of your posts (and I loved your F&F stories, they were one of the first columns I would read each month back when we got it in printed format).