...try, try again. Then give up. There's no use being an idiot about it."
I read that somewhere. I can't remember where, only that it makes me laugh every time I think about it because it describes me perfectly.
At the risk of providing T.M.I, I’d like to share a little bit about myself and how it relates to my passion for dog training and behavioral learning as a whole.
I was raised by a very strict father. Now that I am older, I understand that tough-love was all he knew. Being my step-father, he found himself suddenly raising his new eldest child and I truly believe he did the best he could. I can, however, specifically pinpoint pieces of myself that are a direct result from his tough upbringing. Most relevant to today’s discussion: my often crippling fear of being wrong, imperfect or criticized. With him, I was either wrong or invisible. There was no right. There was always something keeping me just shy of perfection in his eyes. I never cleaned the house well enough, never brought home grades that were good enough…it was a constant battle to prove myself to him. I was always walking on eggshells, wondering how I was going to fail yet again. I became obsessed with trying to make him happy with me but over time I learned I was better off being invisible. At least that kept me out of trouble.
It is because of this that I relish praise, perhaps more than the average person (I am of the belief that everyone likes hearing they’ve done well, it’s just more important to some). I am not necessarily attention-seeking; it just makes me feel like I’m no longer invisible and no longer wrong. Unfortunately, my shell is not as hard as I would like it to be and I can be brought to tears when I fail. So much so that I often give up if I have too many consecutive failures. It hurts too much to try and fail repeatedly.
Following my dreams of being a dog trainer isn’t bringing in enough income...for now. To supplement that, I work in IT as a day job. I’ve recently moved to a new job site and I am spending my days learning the ropes.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been given an objective and been told, in so many words, “do it.” Do what? Do it how? These are questions I’ve been left to figure out on my own. It’s one giant puzzle and I have to figure out the right questions to ask and the right people to talk to and then, I have to figure out how to put it all together in a way that makes sense to everyone else but me. It’s painful, frustrating and embarrassing.
I do up the first draft. Immediately, it’s full of flaws. I expected this. I’m told what’s wrong, told to fix it and try again. The second time, I send the draft through proud of myself for fixing the previous problems only to find out there is a whole new set of things I didn’t do right. Now my ego is deflating. Why weren’t these new issues brought to my attention on the first round? Oh well. I press on. Third time through, same routine. “This is wrong, this is wrong, don’t do this like that…” over and over I’m corrected until every ounce of my confidence is gone.
I’ve been at this for a couple months now. With the exception of a few people, everyone that knows the answers waits until I’ve tried before telling me how I should have done it in the first place. Now, every time I present what I think is a completed project, I am hesitant to present it because I am just waiting to hear the dreaded “this isn’t right.” I wish someone would just tell me what “right” is so I can succeed the first time trying.
As a learner, I can relate to the dogs I’m training. It’s frustrating not knowing what everyone else knows, especially when you are supposed to meet someone’s expectations but can’t.
It’s even worse when the rules and processes aren’t very clear. I made a tiny misstep this morning. To others, it’s no big deal but to me my success in this task meant a great deal and I failed. Someone told me to do something and I did it. Later, two other people came to me to tell me that what I did was not correct. I’m thinking “but, but, but…they said!” I felt stupid. Instantly, my level of motivation sank. I don’t care now. It’s Friday, the weekend is right around the corner and chances are the rules will be just as inconsistent on Monday as they are today. So why should I try? I’m just going to sit here and veg out. I can feel myself wanting to be invisible again.
Your learning dog is no different. If you wait for him to figure out the rules for himself, you will end up with one confused and de-motivated pup. If you set him up for success by showing him exactly what you want and then praising heavily, you will find your dog wanting to engage in learning. You will have a dog that understands what you expect of them and will therefore continue trying. If you notice your dog tuning out when you’re talking to him, it could very well be that he just doesn’t get what you’re expecting. In that case, your dog has learned it’s just easier to not try than to try and fail.e