Here is the simplest piece of advice you will ever be given and yet it may be one of the more difficult concepts you try to implement.
In order to get the most out of training you need to find the fun! Simple, but complicated.
I am not talking about pasting a fake smile on your face, jumping around your dog trying to create a level of energy and excitement and/or raising the tone of your voice to pretend to sound happy. I mean really and truly embracing the training experience in a pure way so that you can find the joy in the experience of training your dog and watching him learn.
By embracing your dog’s learning process, leaving emotional judgement at the door and just working towards your training goal, everything will become easier for your dog. They will no longer feel your angst or anxiety when training is not progressing as you would like. You will be more relaxed which will allow your dog to relax into learning.
An earlier blog of mine discusses mirroring and its impact on training. These concepts are at work here. If you feel relaxed your dog will tend to mirror your relaxed state. If you are having fun, your dog will have fun. The opposite of that is also true of course, and that is what can royally screw up your training progress.
Whether we like it or not our dog is going to react to our emotions whether they are positive or negative. They are so good at this in fact that it is very difficult to fake them out. Try plastering a fabricated smile on your face, jump around like you’ve lost your mind or talk to your pup in a fake happy voice and see if that works. Doubt it! They just ain’t gonna buy it.
Look at your pup to gauge how things are going. Are they smiling, body language relaxed, tensed in excitement, is their tail wagging? Or, are they looking a bit forlorn, ears drooping body sagging. Their body language willl give you the input you need.
Dogs read body language, smells and listen to tones for a living. You are probably not nearly a good enough actor to fool them.
WHAT IS REAL FUN?
Did you ever have a really good belly laugh at a joke? Or see something so funny that you couldn’t stop smiling? Recently at the USDAA Nationals in the DAM Team Finals, my silly teammates made me dress up in a rainbow skirt and floppy antenna headgear. If you know me at all, I just don’t do stuff like that. I lost all my dignity that day, but boy I had folks laughing, smirking and smiling at me. They were having a pure experience of happiness, at my expense, but whatever :-).
This is the fun I am talking about, a pure feeling of happiness. Channel the feelings of joy that you have felt in other situations and apply them into your training sessions. Truly experience those feelings and then begin your training session.
Start with something simple. Shape a behavior or have a game of ball with some sit stay training.
Let’s take the sit stay game with a ball toss as a reward. If your dog doesn’t retrieve, no matter, play some other game.
SESSION: A Stay with Ball as a Reward
We are going to look at the entire session as something fun! Doesn’t matter if they fail at the stay, I am not going to get pissed, I am just going to accept it as a part of the dog’s learning process. After all, they can learn as much from what makes me throw the ball as what doesn’t!
So let’s say, I ask for a stay, and when I build a bit of drive, the dog breaks the stay. As soon as the stay is broken I call them back in a fun and happy voice with a real smile on my face, “Get over here you!” and gesture them to come back.
Guess what, they just learned that if they break the stay they can’t earn the ball. I kept the session fun and kept them engaged without telling them they were right when they were wrong. I never want to tell them they were right when they were wrong because ultimately that creates more confusion and hurts your training more than it helps. But that doesn’t mean the whole session can’t be fun!
I am not worried about shutting down a sensitive dog because I am having fun in the session. This keeps my dog engaged and ready to try again. I am not at all concerned that there was failure, I just accept it as a step in the learning process, and problem solve the issue. I can make the decision whether or not I should make it easier for the dog to succeed, or if I think I gave them a challenge that they can handle, I will work through the failure and we will try again. More failure? No worries, try again!
When the dog succeeds I will release them to the ball and have a great game. You will find that you really enjoyed watching your dog problem solve that session and earn success.
I will tell you that when I teach seminars I often work other people’s dogs through training issues. The owners will frequently tell me, before I start, that their dog is very soft and won’t tolerate repetition. I know that for the most part this is simply because the dog hasn’t been having fun in their work sessions. When I work these dogs I make the session a blast, stay invested and keep positive energy whether they fail or not. I never tell then they are right when they are wrong, but I keep the whole session fun. I may even let them fail 6-7 times while working through an issue. Guess what, these dogs don’t quit; they stay engaged and keep working through the issue. When they make the right choices we have a big party. I enjoy the session all the way through and so does the dog.
Your ability to relax regarding the process, have fun, simply take things as they come, problem solving all the way, has an incredible effect on the dog.
If you can embrace this concept in all your training sessions, I guarantee you will love the result, and so will your dog!!
Big smile now 🙂
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Karin, Blue & Sky says
YES!!! Thank you!!! Btw, the music from one of agility video compilations was “Best Fake Smile” from James Bay. Other than the right tempo, the lyrics were kinda right on. ;-D The biggest ah-ha that I get tested on all the time: one has to keep the FUN going. Since our foundational training didn’t have that, and I didn’t learn it until your session this year, it’s not something that comes easily for Blue to believe in, and it’s because I’m not consistent. Gotta keep it genuinely FUN all the time! Thanks gain Stacy! You rock!
Stacy Winkler says
Thanks so much Karin!! I’ve been very happy to have a part in your learning. Always love to have students that really embrace the concepts and see how amazingly effective they are. Thanks for the support and thanks for reading the blog!
Carol Falleur says
Love this! I do have a sensitive dog but he turns on when I am more fun! I love that energy in you Stacy! It’s a party! They’re high and they are learning! That’s something to party about!
Stacy Winkler says
Thanks Carol, I’m glad you enjoyed the blog! The energy is so important!! As is just finding the fun when you train. Makes all the difference in the world!
Well said Stacy!!! Couldn’t agree more.
Thanks Stace! I’m glad you enjoyed it!!
Jan Winkler says
Great way to run your life too>
Isn’t that the truth!
Stacy Winkler says
It truly is!
Sandi Nisson says
Definitely something for Me & Bari to work on with Ray! He just turns into a puddle if he thinks he’s in trouble!