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We talk a lot about setting yourself up for success when you are about to go into a discrete training session. Have treats easily available. Have a plan including what you are working toward and how you will get there. Create an environment where the “wrong” answer is less likely than the “right” answer.
Even with all those precautions, things can derail. Our cart can jump right off the tracks like in Donkey Kong Country. I recorded a training session that derailed and I can be heard saying “I’ve made a mistake”. It happens to all of us. Especially because us being ready and our learner being ready isn’t the same thing.
Learn from my mistakes, consider these things when your cart jumps the rails:
Does your pet need to go to the bathroom?
No, really. Don’t take this one for granted. I have seen this make and break training sessions. I knew a puppy who would get snarky and annoyed with playmates when he needed to poo. Once he went poo, it was a complete turn around to the happy, playful pup we all knew. Griffey does well home alone 99% of the time. When he’s not? When he fails to go poo before we leave.
When we were teaching Griffey loose leash walking skills, we waited until he pooped three, yes, you heard that right, THREE times before he was able to focus enough to practice training exercises.
Is your pet thirsty?
During their Live at the Ranch, Peter Amelia made a wonderful point that birds often get thirsty during sessions. Some of their behavior could be labeled as “stubborn” or “dismissive”, but in all reality, they just need a drink of water. Once that very basic need is met, they may turn around with a reinvigorated excitement to participate. I highly recommend watching that video. Seeing Peter discuss all the ways they needed to help Milo (their Military Macaw) to get comfortable enough to be ready to train was truly special.
Are they too hot or too cold?
I currently have two dogs in my home and worked with countless others where temperature brings out an entirely different dog. Griffey has a hard time when it is hot out. He has a really hard time focusing. He gets thirsty, he goes to find a cool spot, he can’t use his cave bed because it’s too hot and can have a hard time settling. Laika is the opposite. If it’s below 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the house, she’s staying in bed. No amount of chicken or cheese is worth working in the “cold”.
I’ve seen dogs who couldn’t participate or settle because they were too hot or too cold. Do you know if you have a hot or cold weather pup?
Are you trying to teach the wrong thing at the wrong time of day?
Teaching my dogs fitness at 5:00 am when they are still asleep, or relaxing at 9:00 am when they are at their peak activity time is just working against my goals. Sometimes, we have the time we have and we need to make it work, but ask yourself if you are making it harder than it needs to be. See if you can shift your training to a time of day that matches your learner’s natural rhythm. Asking a nocturnal animal to learn at high noon, or a late riser to exercise before the sun comes up will likely lead to frustration for you, and discomfort for them.
Are you violating your pet’s expectations?
We create patterns and daily rhythms whether we want to or not. When I first moved down to the Bay Area, around 5:00 pm, I’d wrap up whatever activity I was doing to clean the house a bit, play with the pups, and start preparing dinner so we could eat when my partner got home. I didn’t do this intentionally. But I definitely did it. 4:45-4:50 pm rolls around and if you’ve ever been on a call with me, you’ll see both dogs behind me stretching, bringing toys, rearing up on me with the expectation of play.
5:00 pm wouldn’t be the ideal time to teach my dogs something stationary. They have an expectation and history of an active activity at that time. Shifting gears is entirely possible, but also takes some time.
If you’ve been using your 12:00 lunch break to play with your pup, maybe some high energy tug or fetch, and suddenly you decide to start using that break to work on relaxation on the mat, consider that you’re working against your pup’s expectations. You may need to fade into a less exciting activity instead of quitting cold turkey.
It’s important to remember, our “ready” and their “ready” are two different things. I do my best work early in the morning, and Laika peaks around 10:00 am. Griffey does better when it’s below 75°, and Laika thrives about that. We all have preferences. Navigating those preferences to get the most out of our efforts is a skill. I created a “ready check” routine with my pups and established an “I need a break” routine with them (more on that another day). Next time you have a training session derail, ask yourself if any of these things could be going on.
- As you go through your training sessions, pay attention to things that might be impacting your session. Either write some notes down or keep a mental log (I’m terrible at this), for when they are having a rock-solid day and when they (or you!) are struggling. Look for patterns to see what will benefit your session.
- As best you can, make sure your learner’s basic needs are met before you get started. Join us over in the Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Facebook group for even more ideas to meet your pup’s needs.
- If you would like another set of eyes on your training to help make it as efficient as possible, email us at [email protected] to set up a session! While it can be a lot of fun getting in tune with your dog, we can help you streamline the process.