Puppy Pressure Cooker: How to Get More Joy out of Training
March 19, 2012
Let me just take a few seconds to gush over this beautiful weather. Even though it’s a little bit creepy, given that I’m sitting outside on my balcony feeling TOO hot in the middle of March, I still can’t help but love it. Mondays are the days that I have my harmonica lesson. The point of this isn’t to brag to you that I play the harmonica (but honestly, how cool am I), but rather, it’s to touch on something I’ve noticed in the teacher-student relationship.
Every other week (I’m too busy to go every week) I gather up all my harmonicas and head to my teacher’s house. I’d like to take a second to describe him to you. He’s one of those career musicians you know? Not the hipster “I’m-going-to-change-the-world-with-my-music” type of musician. He lives and breathes harmonica and he’s been playing for a really REALLY long time. Hopefully this will give you some context for the fact that, without fail, I head into class feeling woefully unprepared. The minute I knock on his door I regret having made all those excuses to myself about having more important things to do. And here’s the weird part; I’m NEVER as good in class as I am at home or with the band. That’s not saying much, becuase I’m not that great at home or with the band. It confuses me. As soon as I sit down in front of him and he says we’re going to just “jam” for a bit (musicians are so much cooler than regular people), I turn into a 2 year old. I drool all over my harp and I literally can’t hit a single note. The way I figure it is that the only difference is the element of pressure. I become overly critical, self aware and unforgiving.
Does any of this sound familiar? Well it should. I see it every day in our training classes.
My friend Janis (who is a wonderful trainer in the city) once posted on her facebook page that people should pretend they’re in a tricks class when they’re learning basic obedience. You know why? People are so much more relaxed when they’re working on something that they don’t feel is important. Although this just seems like a minor detail, it’s not. I see otherwise lovely, patient people come to class and turn into collar jerking, dog training nazis. The result is that their dogs immediately shut down. They’re too stressed to work because they can sense impending doom.
Perhaps when you come to class, or when you’re working with your own dog in the living room, set aside that sense of urgency. Your dog is a living, breathing being with an independent spirit and an agenda that can sometimes be opposite to yours. You cannot simply bend a dog to your will. The real challenge is to create a training relationship where your dog feels excited to get to work. Where he starts spinning for joy when you get out that treat pouch. The way to make sure that happens is to approach your session with an open mind. Don’t get too hung up on where you’d like to be, and set realistic goals. Keep your training sessions short and ALWAYS end on a good note. Don’t keep trying to force a square peg into a round hole for an hour until it ends in tears (as my mum would say). The most important advice? Take a break! Get outside this instant and enjoy the company of your dog and this beautiful day. If I’m doing it, so can you:)