Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Biggest Dog Training Mistake

I've spent most of my life reading dog training books and I know how to approach a training session.  I've always made it a point to use a clear and positive tone in my voice when talking to Marley. While training I've worked very hard at not reprimanding her and keeping everything pleasant and fun.

The other day I loaded up the car with agility equipment and drove to the park.  Soccer players were using our favorite field, baseball players were using the remaining fields and after driving around I finally found a spot that met our training criteria (flat, shady, close to parking and not close to a major road).  I unloaded and set up all of our equipment and then I noticed a huge dog lunging on his leash staring at Marley. The woman at the end of the leash wasn't paying attention to her dog.  At this point, I decided it would behoove us to find a new training spot.

I drove around for a little longer and found a reasonable spot.  By now I'm hot and frustrated and a totally envious of everybody with a back yard. I set out our jumps and took a deep breath and called Marley.

Marley looked at me and jumped into the front seat.  I called her and she peered over the seat and refused to move.  I took another deep breath and made sure my tone was totally pleasant and upbeat and called her again.  She peered at me and curled up in the front seat and refused to look in my direction.

At this point I begin to wonder how we were ever going to progress if my dog refused to leave the car.  I packed up all my stuff into the car and cried while driving home.  I started to think Agility was a big waste of time if Marley didn't want to play.

Once I cooled down and reviewed our "training session" I realized my error.  While my voice and words were pleasant and positive my body language was tense and upset.

What Marley saw at the park.

I've made a the following changes to our training routine to ensure this never happens again.

  • I started by scoping out multiple places where I can train that meet my criteria.  
  • I plan our activity and I also plan a back-up activity that doesn't require equipment.  
  • After I set-up I spend five minutes breathing (its too short to call it meditation). 
  • If the session is not going according to plan, I've decided it is perfectly acceptable to stop. 
  • Finally, I end my training journal with a note on Marley's emotional state. 

Since this episode our training sessions have been great and we have actually progressed faster than I expected.

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