One of the reasons I love dogs is because they’re all different. We’re on service pup #15, Schooner, and oh, the things he’s teaching me!
One might think that dog training consists of the dog trainer teaching the dog. And yes, that’s true for the most part. My job is to help the dog learn. Opening up to learning from the dog, though, is when things get really cool. That’s where I am with Schooner in our training journey.
He’s teaching me. And he’s a pretty darn good teacher.
- to keep training sessions short
- that training sessions better be fun
- the dog can (and will) quit a training session if it isn’t fun
- that not all dogs find chicken delightful and to keep searching and trying new treats until a I find one for which Schooner goes nutty
- when I deliver a treat matters — slow is not acceptable (even when my click is perfectly timed)
- dog brains develop on their own schedule and I need to modify my training schedule to match the dog’s schedule
- keep training, even if it seems like the dog isn’t getting it
- don’t be afraid to take a break from training for a few days, though if things feel like they’re not fun anymore
- if you’re not smiling when you’re training, definitely take a break
- some dogs are bottomless pits, while others walk away when they’re full — and that’s ok
- clicker training conquers just about any training issue you throw at it AND the dog loves the solution
Schooner is 10-months old and he’s just now starting to really learn. I won’t lie: I was panicked for a couple of months because his progress was s o s l o w. The Labradors I’ve trained have always been ahead of me in the training game — I couldn’t teach them new things fast enough! Schooner, on the other hand, had a decidedly different path. He’s a “stop and smell the roses” kinda dog when it comes to learning.
His message in a nutshell: Don’t rush him, be patient, and his brains will eventually kick in. When I surrendered my need for progress, progress, progress, and let the dog dictate the pace, I was happily surprised with progress!
That, to me, is what dog training is all about. It’s a journey taken together with a little bit of give-and-take. It’s listening to one another, striving to create the opportunity for learning so that when the dog is ready to learn, I’m ready to teach.
Dog training is not about “making the dog” do anything. It’s not about shutting off behavior (jumping, barking, pulling etc.), it’s about getting lots more behavior and then rewarding only the good stuff that you want to see more of (sitting, chewing a toy, walking politely, etc.). If you hear someone say “just make him do it!” walk away. Quickly. That ain’t what dog training’s about. Not at all.
In the end, Schooner will have learned how to be a top-notch dog who can provide his human partner with the help she needs to get through life every single day. He’ll do it happily. He’ll do it eagerly. And together they’ll be a terrific working team, and — better still — a terrific team…period.