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When It ALL Goes to Crap ......

This is the second time writing this blog post, the first version is still in my draft folder gathering dust. The cliff notes of the first version are me being completely unprepared while out with my own dogs, a dog fight, me rolling in horse poo, and meeting the new neighbour while still rolling in said horse poo and him showing me up with his perfect dog. As you might have guessed it isn't a post that showed me in the best light which is probably the reason it is still unpublished. This blog post shares the same name, has similar themes, and similarly shows me in a less than great light.

When we first started running Training Classes I wanted to make sure that people knew it was OK to be human and that the expectation of the Instructors taking the course, was that everyone at some point would have their own mini disaster. So, when we would send out a final checklist and information sheet to all the participants, under the section 'things to bring', we used to include a paragraph to the effect of:

‘bring a sense of humour and the knowledge that things can and most likely will go wrong. Dog's will suddenly become deaf, you will drop kibble and someone will forget all their food. If you have a mini dog training nightmare it's okay - it happens to us all and will continue to happen.’

I don't know why we dropped this paragraph from the document. Like so many things in life, as time has gone on and the volume of information required to be included in the documents increased, this paragraph ended up on the chopping block for most of our courses. A decision I am rethinking.

The whole point of bringing this up is that sometimes Dog Trainers are human. Sometimes despite knowing the answers and having thousands of hours coaching people and dogs through their troubles, we too experience our own mini nightmares. When we do, we are not immune from the human side (emotions) that come with it.

I’ve set the scene onto my shame ..

Buck (AKA 'Dick Head')

I recently had an Introduction to Dog Sports class and had brought my dog (Buck) along to do some demonstrations. Buck over the last year had performed these exercises literally hundreds of times. He has delivered them perfectly in lots of locations and in front of people, with distractions and in all weathers. It was safe to say that the idea of Buck performing these exercises did not keep me up the night before. I got to class early, did several repetitions of the exercises and was happy with what I saw. So, having done my preparations Buck was popped back into the crate to await show time. When show time came the dog that jumped out of the car was not the same one that went in. The dog that came out no longer spoke English, had no concept of what he should be doing and would fight to the death rather than give up his reward (tuggy toy). He then decided to engage with the dogs in the class (something he has never done). When my frustration (not the only F word used that day) and humiliation reached tipping point I decided to pop Buck back into his crate. It was at this point that Buck decided that he wanted to lead a one dog rebellion and evade capture (yet again a behaviour never exhibited until now). After a lot of faffing about Buck was caught and marched off the training field (still with his tuggy clamped in his mouth).

So, why the blog post?

When I took Buck off the field I was frustrated, my ego was hurt, and I was embarrassed. Before leaving for class, I had watched another trainer’s video who was calling out other trainers and challenging them to show what their dogs could do. I had watched this video and felt smug. In my head I had put the time in, done the work and felt secure in what my dog could do. The key component I forgot was that Buck is a living breathing animal and has his own emotions, drivers, and short comings. He is not a robot.

What this experience did do though was to take me on an emotional trip that rarely we, as dog trainers, experience when helping others. Sure, I can empathise and on paper, intellectually, it makes sense that a dogs behaviour effects the owners own emotional state but sometimes this gets lost or forgotten or maybe just fizzles out like the paragraph from my forms. Not because I don’t care or it’s not important, I think it just happens. Trainers and Behaviourists can get a little desensitised to the emotional side of things and need a wakeup call. This was mine. On the bigger scheme of things what Buck did was really no biggy. He acted like a bit of a dick, got confused and then became insecure. For so many of my clients this would have been a good day so I’ve got a cheek to lose sleep over this (2 nights running).

So, what are my big take-aways from my ‘mini dog training nightmare’.

  1. Dog Training and Behavioural Work are very rarely linear. We have a starting point and an end goal but apart from that nothing is set in stone. We may have a plan and all the drive in the world to get to that end goal, but the process is more of a dance than a straight line. The dog owner that accepts this truth and makes peace with it will be happier.

  2. For me I knew early on in that demonstration that all was not well. Instead of trying to resolve the problem or go to a plan B, I became frustrated, let my emotions take over and no longer was making wise choices. If I was a dog, I would have been expecting to hear the ‘Away’ command. Ultimately, I was trying to push a square peg into a round hole, not because I thought it would fit but because I had decided it should. One of the phrases I hold my clients to is to ‘train the dog in front of you’. I say it all day, every day. Although I have said the phrase 100s of times on this occasion, I never took the time to stop and take my own advice.

  3. No matter what end of the lead I’m looking at (owner or dog), as a trainer, both ends can and will get it wrong. Dogs and humans are living beings, we will mess things up – Fact. The most important thing is what we do afterwards. We can either let the emotions damn our progress, effecting our ability to make good decisions and sending us into a downward spiral. Or we can analyse the events, learn from our mistakes, and leave the negatives behind.

So yes, the experience hurt, it really did, more than it should have. If truth be told I’ve not finished analysing the events but I’m also grateful it happened. It has forced me to step back, analyse a lot of things and it has given me the opportunity to be the student.

So, when you have your next mini dog training nightmare, once you have put the initial emotions to bed, try and view it as an opportunity for growth and development then move on.

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