Monday, November 22, 2010

Controlled Chaos

Sooooo, we all know that I've been preparing Kuna for public appearance. I work on him being comfortable in crowds, leaving other dogs alone and keep his wits about him in extremely chaotic situations. I couldn't be more proud - the boy is doing really well!

This weekend, Kuna and I were participants in Kathy Sdao's "So Many Choices" workshop. There were 2 working groups and 2 auditors assigned to each group, with a total of about 15 - 20 groups. We were at the lovely Coventry School for Dogs in Columbia, MD owned and operated by the fantastic Ruth Chase. If you've never seen her facility, you're missing out!

The application portion of the seminar was held in a very warehouse-like room and let me say this: the acoustics were wonderful. Unless you have 20 trainers with 20 clickers, barking dogs, people talking over other people, and an instructor on a PA system yelling over them. My brain short circuited about 5 minutes in.

Why? Oh because I forgot one tiny little trainer's commandment while conditioning Kuna to chaotic situations: Prepare Thyself.

I haven't been on this end of the proverbial leash for a while! People were evaluating my performance, giving me pointers, critiquing my training skills - that's been MY job! I have no problem giving a demo as the trainer, but suddenly I was thrown in to the role of student and boy oh boy, suddenly I was missing the motor skills portion of my brain.

The noise was unbearable. Kuna's performance obviously reflected my training: we fell apart almost instantly. And it just went downhill from there. Saturday was the worst day ever.

On my drive back to the seminar Sunday morning, I reflected on what exactly went wrong the day before and here's what I've compiled:

I simply was not prepared.
You can bring every type of treat imaginable but that only helps your dog. I should have told myself that it was going to be chaotic and that I was going to be anxious because I didn't know anyone (contrary to what many people may think, I'm actually VERY shy in new settings...I forget this because I force myself to be outgoing in order to be an effective teacher...).

I've programmed my brain to only accept constructive criticism, TAG Teach style.
While this may seem like a good thing, it actually makes my skin that much thinner when people do not follow the teachings of TAG. Not everyone understands or applies these techniques. It hurts my feelings when I hear "You shouldn't have done it like that..." or "I think you made a mistake when..." I'm sorry. I might sound like a big baby. But that just takes away any ounce of confidence I had. And confidence is what makes me an effective trainer.

I expected Kuna to carry me.
Since I'm being honest, I also realized that I thought all that hard work I've put in to training Kuna would somehow make my job easier. How? I guess I kind of thought "well, he's such a good boy, this should go smoothly" - as if I expected HIM to do all the work. But he's my job and I'm employed 24/7.

I forgot this was a learning experience.
Even after we faltered, I should have just let it roll of my back. We were there to learn and make mistakes. Kuna didn't care if we looked stupid - all he was concerned with was us as a team: where are we going? what are we doing? can we share that sandwich???

So Sunday, I took off my dog trainer hat. I didn't care how well we did, how much slower we progressed through the exercises than the rest of the group...all I was concerned with was "are me and my boy having a good time learning?"

It was no surprise that Sunday was our most successful day.

So when you're working with your dog, remember: you are an integral portion to the team. It's not just your dog doing the work and going through the motions - it's up to YOU to carry the team home. Keep your wits about you, maintain your game face and celebrate no matter the outcome!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this post. As someone who isn't a professional trainer, I find it easy to get discouraged when I can't accomplish what I want with Honey (or my previous dogs). I reinforce the wrong things. I panic. I get frustrated.

    It's very helpful when someone with lots of training and practice shares their struggles. It reminds me that we're in a relationship here and that we can't "control" our dogs. Heck, we can't even "control" ourselves.

    Glad Sunday was a good day for you both. Happy Thanksgiving!