Friday, September 24, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed...

...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.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Oh yeah. I forgot.

Kuna came with us to Panera Bread this weekend. While we were sitting outside enjoying our lunch, I gave Kuna a chewy bone to occupy him. He was behaving very well...and then it was time to leave. We were packing things up when I went for his bone. I got a protective growl and a snark!

Snark (noun) - not necessarily a snap, but definitely the dog voicing disagreement

I couldn't believe it! I was truly upset - at myself! 

Thinking back to the last three months, I've always kept Kuna separate from the other dogs when eating bones. I've allowed him to finish them in his kennel and never once have I tried to take them away. I just...forgot. I've taken his food away and he's obliged. I've taken toys away and he's allowed it. But I forgot to take away the highest value thingie out there in doggy land: the bone!

When he growled and put his body over his bone to keep me from it, I didn't push the issue. I didn't yell. I didn't snap back at him. Thankfully, I had very high-value treats on me and scattered them around on the floor for him to eat. When I reached for the bone, I clicked and treated him before he had a chance to guard it again. Why? Because he didn't growl and snap again. And ultimately, that's what I'm going for.

All the socialization and training Kuna's getting and I forgot very important curriculum: let me take things from you and I will reward you.

We've got some work to do, this is not acceptable behavior. Rather than get mad at Kuna for being protective over his bone, we're going to work on teaching him that giving that bone up is actually more rewarding!


Monday, September 6, 2010

A Student Is Only As Smart As Their Teacher

The chalkboard clearly read: "X = no Pink Pill". I couldn't tell you what compelled J to give Sarah a pink pill that day. If he looked at the corresponding calendar, he would see that today is NOT a day for the pink pill. With annoyance, I circled the directions in a thick, sarcastic line so that next time he won't make the same mistake. Sarcasm always makes for an excited learner.

The next day, he proudly tells me that he got it right this time. He gave Sarah a pink pill. "Are you insane!? You gave Sarah a pink pill yesterday! She's only supposed to have them every other day and after your royal screw up yesterday, that would mean she's now had them two days in a row!!!" I didn't say this. But my inner voice was screaming this. I adjusted the chalkboard with what I thought was better instruction. I was able to control my words, but my face said everything my mouth did not.

On the third day, J informed me that he's finally on track with the pink pill. He gave her a full pink pill and half of a yellow one. AAARGH! Pink pill dose is supposed to be half a pill. Yellow pill dose said on the chalkboard "1 1/2 pill". How can he be getting this so wrong so many times!! With much embarrassment, J said "ohhh...I thought that meant one HALF pill...." My eyes were rolling farther in to my head than I thought possible...

Seriously!!?? What is his problem!? Is he a complete idiot!?! Is he trying to piss me off and kill my dog!?!

The problem with being a dog trainer is that you learn stuff about people. Isn't that crazy!?

This whole mix up is technically my fault. But shhhhh! Let's not tell J that. My pride is too fragile ;)

You see, I had the advantage of knowing all the information I needed to know when I wrote the directions on the chalkboard. J did not. He went into it cold, having only my loosely translated instructions to follow. And look where they led him. He failed three times at no fault of his own.

It was the fault of the person with the information - it was the fault of the trainer.

Sure, it's easy for me to get annoyed. I know how to execute the pill dispensing perfectly. I was the one who talked to the doctor and picked up the medicine from the pharmacy. J just got the instructions: Give Sarah her medicine. How is this fair? Of course he screwed it up!

When teaching your dogs, make sure you are providing all the information you can to make them successful. If you leave any tidbits out or muddy the waters with instructions that don't make sense, you shouldn't be expecting perfection from your dog. If you've ever uttered the words "He knows how to [insert behavior] he's just being [stubborn, stupid, dumb, etc.]" then perhaps it's not your student but rather the instruction your student is receiving. And whose responsibility is that? ;)