Monday, March 5, 2018

Training Mantras To Keep Training Positive and Fun

Barley and I have been training long enough that we've had a lot of positive outcomes, but we've had our fair share of struggles, too. Sometimes we need a training manta to help us get through those hard times. For the March Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, we're reflecting on training mantras: what's the one thing you repeat to yourself over and over when you're training to pump yourself up or keep yourself going?

My training mantra changes depending on which pet I'm working with. Most of the time, it seems like Barley can read my mind--in reality, we've just been working together long enough that I can anticipate her movements and reactions and she can read my body signals before I even have a chance to give verbal cues. On those rare occasions when things fall apart, I go back to one of the earliest mantras we embraced.

Failure is Ok.
I've told the story about a moment early in our training career when our trainer stopped me in the middle of our turn and said, "In agility, you'll fail more times than you'll succeed" many times before. Moments before that, Barley had decided she'd rather make up her own course--which involved jumping on a cart used to move sandbags and skateboarding across the room. We'd been training for a while and we were struggling with focus back then. Week after week, it seemed like we weren't making progress and I was starting to get frustrated. Agility was losing its fun for me, and that was transferring to Barley. The less fun I had, the less fun she had.

When our trainer gave us permission to fail, it was like a flip switched in my brain. We didn't have to be perfect. We were training. We were learning how not to fail and sometimes that requires failure.


The longer we've trained, the more we've seen the importance of embracing failure. If you get everything right the first time, you don't really learn much. When we fail, we get an opportunity to figure out what we can do differently to avoid failing in the future.

When we're not focused on perfection, training stays fun and we actually make more progress than we do when everything comes easily.

By the time Rye and I started training, I was comfortable with failure, and Rye requires a different training mantra. Rye is my independent little monster and she likes to make up her own rules. With Rye, I have to remind myself that she's still learning to read me and I'm still figuring her out. We can't anticipate each other's movements and expectations yet.

It's easier to train a new behavior than to erase an unwanted one.
About a month ago, Rye started getting really worked up after going over a couple jumps in agility class. When that happened, she'd start to pounce on me. When I tried to get her to stop pouncing, she'd get even more excited and start nipping. I'd try to get her to go into a down to regroup and then as soon as I released her over a jump, she'd start all over again. Barley had gone through a phase like this and putting her in an immediate down as soon as she nipped at my arm worked. She quickly caught on that when she jumped at my arm, the fun stopped and it didn't take long to erase the jumping and nipping. That approach wasn't working with Rye. The pouncing was too fun for her to see the value in calming down so she could do a course. We weren't getting anywhere.

When we got home from, I started thinking about how we could stop that behavior. Eventually, I realized that the best way to stop it was to prevent it from starting in the first place. Rye used to do this when we played fetch, but I got her to stop jumping for the toy on my hand by having her lay down before I'd throw it. She quickly caught on that if she wanted the toy thrown, she had to be in a down first. I don't even have to ask for the behavior now. She'll do this for her friend's parents, too. Her friends will be bouncing around waiting for the throw, and Rye will be in a down until it's tossed.


I thought we might be able to transfer this behavior to agility, too. We have one jump set up in the basement for the winter, so I took her down there and we got started. I had her go over the jump and then asked for a down. We did a couple jumps and then asked for another down. We did four jumps and then a down. We spent the week before our next class doing this for about 10 minutes at a time twice a day. 


When we got to class the next week, our trainer was amazed. We started with a quick warm up of one jump followed by a down, then two jumps and a down, and then started our first sequence. Rye didn't pounce once. When we finished the sequence and Rye started running towards me, I asked for a down. She didn't pounce once.

Instead of training Rye to stop pouncing, it was much easier to train her to do something new before she had a chance to pounce. Essentially, this is the same thing I did with all of Barley's reactive dog training. I had to figure out what behavior I wanted instead of lunging and snarling at other dogs and figure out how to get that behavior before she had a chance to react. Now, with Rye, I'm finding myself asking, "What behavior do I want instead and how can I get that first?"


These crazy girls keep me on my toes. Every time I think I've figured out this whole dog training thing, they remind me that I still have plenty of room to grow. Having a few training mantras to refocus us and motivate us makes the tough times a little easier.

This month, we're once again joining our co-hosts Tenacious Little Terrier and Wag 'n Woof Pets for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. Our theme this month is training mantras, but we welcome any positive training posts. Be sure to check out all of the other great blogs joining us this month and come back next month when we explore how we deal with frustration in a positive way.
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17 comments:

  1. Our best advice is similar. Training is training, and it is important to focus on parts of the big picture. Get small parts together as you did and then add in more. It really works well. Good post.

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    1. We're always breaking things down into little bits :) I'm glad it works well for you, too! It's always nice to see things start to come together!

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  2. That is really, really great how you took what you learned with Barley and applied to a different situation with Rye. I think I can find ways to apply your mantras to some of my work with Luke too. Accepting failure is tough for all of us, but I think having that attitude that it's OK can be a big help.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. The failure lesson is one I was really glad I'd embraced long before Rye and I did our first trial this weekend--she had a lot of fun playing with one of the cones on the course, and I learned a lot to make the next 3 runs more successful :)

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  3. For us: "No expectations". Back in the bad old days when we were learning how to deal with Habi's reactivity, I'd head out on a walk thinking "we'll walk to the end of the block". When things fell apart - which they always did, because she wasn't able to handle 'to the end of the block', I'd be really frustrated, and working with a reactive dog from a frustrated perspective just does not work.

    Finally I learned to say to myself "let's go out the door and see what happens". Usually something good would happen, and because we had no goals we "had" to meet, I could celebrate the success. Made a HUGE difference. Gradually our success happened further along the block, and then one day, there we were, happily at the end of the block...and then the end of two blocks...and so forth and so on. And celebrating success the whole way.

    Cheers,
    Chris from Boise

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    1. That's so lovely! Habi is so lucky to have had people who were willing to just see what happens and build on that success! That's one of our mantras, too. Rye and I just did our first agility trial and I went in with zero expectations except for us to both leave together at the end of the day :) That took a lot of the pressure off and let us just have fun all weekend long.

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  4. Look at that action shot!

    Sounds like you have two very smart doggies! Barley makes up her own agility course? That's worth more points than doing the same old one all the other dogs do, if you ask me!

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    1. Barley did spend some time making up her own courses--now she's more focused on doing the actual course that's been set, so when she has trouble with something, I know I'll be in big trouble when Rye's turn comes up in class ;)

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  5. Failure is OK. It just means you've tried a lot of ways that didn't work! I usually have to experiment with different methods to best convey how I want Mr. N to learn things.

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    1. Mr. N is so lucky to have you :) That experimenting definitely takes time, but it's well worth it in the end!

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  6. Sounds like Barley and Rye have a great owner. Who works hard to train them properly. It's hard work. We are trying to tell pet owners that sometimes you may fail, but hard work will pay out in the long run. Thanks for sharing your story.
    World of Animals

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    1. Thank you! I'm lucky to have two great dogs that don't make the hard work seem like work most of the time :)

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    2. That's a great a way to put it. Thanks again. Have a great day!!!

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  7. Those are both great mantras. And true to my belief, dog training has a lot of applications for humans too.

    One of the interpersonal problems my husband and I had adjusting to boat life was his discomfort with the learning curve. Being able to accept failure makes it much easier to explore new things.

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    1. Dog training does have a lot of applications for humans! Barley and I went to school earlier this semester to talk to my students about the lessons we've learned through training that can make school a little easier--and these were some of the things we talked about!

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  8. We don't really train per se, but I do have a mantra for my walks. :-) Please don't let me run into any DADO's. :-)

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    1. I whisper that one a lot, too, when we're walking ;)

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