Monday, April 2, 2018

The Vanilla Ice Method of Dealing with Training Frustration

I'm pretty lucky that I have two smart dogs that are eager to please and willing to work, so I rarely feel frustrated when we're training. Most of our activities are things we do just for fun, so I don't see much point in getting frustrated during agility, noseworks, or barn hunt.

But I also have a young, active, intelligent dog who is very sensitive to her environment, and especially the way her sister reacts to the environment, so it's important to have a plan in place to deal with training frustration before it gets out of hand.

Good idea, Bar, we should definitely make sure nobody's coming down the trail before posing for a picture. 
Or we could both take opposite directions to patrol.

When I feel my frustration rising, I try to remember the wise words of Vanilla Ice from "Ice Ice Baby": "Stop, Collaborate, and Listen."

There's no point in continuing training if you're frustrated. Rye picks up on frustration and she shuts down as soon as she senses me getting frustrated--and that means that she stops listening to me and does her own thing. That's not behavior we want to keep practicing, so the first step I take is to stop. That might be for 30 seconds or it might be for the rest of the day--it all depends on the situation.

Rye's become pretty reactive in certain circumstances on walks. There's one house right around the corner from us with a miniature pinscher who lounges in the window and barks at us as we walk by and Rye starts lunging towards the house and barking almost as soon as we turn the corner if I don't manage her. She melts down if she sees Jeep Wranglers, mail trucks, or UPS trucks. If a person walks by, looks at her, and says, "Hi, Puppy," she darts behind my legs and starts to bark at them.

If I'm being honest, it's exhausting. Most of the time, I can manage the min pin and the people with a lot of treats. The vehicles aren't always as easy to spot before she does. Sometimes even if I know there's a trigger coming up, we run out of treats, or gloves keeps me from doling out treats in a timely manner, or Barley wants a treat and almost trips me trying to get it from Rye. That's when frustration starts to rear its ugly head.

So we stop. If Rye's barking and lunging, I plant my feet and ask for a sit. Agility's made Rye really attuned to my motion, so the lack of motion is a signal to her that something's happening. That quick signal redirects her attention for a minute. If that doesn't work, we go home and try different exercise or we try another walk later in the day.

Even when I'm not frustrated, stopping is a good way to regroup. If you followed our first agility journey, you know that Rye went rogue on her second run. She was having fun, so I wasn't frustrated, but I did need to get her back on track so we could get off the course. After she started pouncing on me and playing with the cone, we took a quick time out with a down and regrouped before finishing the last few jumps.

Good training only happens when you and your dog are on the same page. After we've taken a few seconds to regroup, I have to figure out how to get us communicating with each other again. Sometimes that's reloading my hand with treats so that I can give her one after the other until we're past the trigger. Other times, it's changing direction and walking a different way to put space between us and the trigger. If we're working in a lower stress situation, we'll do some push ups with a down, sit, down or we'll do a couple hand touches to reconnect.

The most important part is listening to your dog. When Rye's behaving in a way that's frustrating to me, she's trying to tell me something. On walks, it might be that she's scared or she's excited or she's frustrated about not being able to get to something she wants. At the agility trial, she was telling me that she was wound up from being in her crate too long and she was excited about getting to do her favorite thing. When she's getting into everything at home while I'm trying to grade papers, she's telling me she's bored. She's not being naughty just for fun. She's always telling me that she needs something: more space, more mental exercise, more attention. Most of the time, she's telling me that she needs more training. Barley got 6 years of solo training to work on her reactivity. I have to remember that Rye doesn't know everything Barley knows and a lot of the time she's telling me she's confused and she needs more practice.

When we stop, collaborate, and listen, we can get back to productive training where we're all happy and focused.

And when we get in good training sessions, I have two tired dogs and having two tired dogs means that I don't get frustrated.

This month our theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Frustration: how do you deal with frustration when training? what do you do to keep training positive when you're feeling frustrated? We welcome all positive training posts, though, so be sure to join us, Wag 'N Woof Pets, and Tenacious Little Terrier each month and check out all of the great bloggers sharing their positive pet training ideas starting the first Monday of the month and lasting all week.

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  1. Mom is super competitive, so although sports are for fun, she is not happy if things go bad. On walks, it is super hard to keep things under controls since the monkey see monkey do rule applies. Bailie likes to chase snowplows and anything with a trailer. Both my sisters still go nuts when they see a squirrel or wabbit. Mom tries to stop and get them both to sit so they can all regroup. It is always a challenge.

    1. I'm not competitive enough to get frustrated--I figure that if we do well, we get a ribbon and maybe a slip of paper; if we don't do well, we still had fun. It can definitely be a challenge to regroup, especially when those critters interrupt walks!

  2. What a great system you have!! I sometimes "lose" Luke when he decides he's lost interest in what we're doing and wants to sniff something instead. I can see where I need to be in tune with what he is trying to tell me. There is so much great advice here!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. Sometimes it's easier said than done, but when I can remember to use the system, it works well :) Remembering to listen to them is the hardest part for me, too!

  3. Great post! So many people think training is something you "do to" a dog, not a collaboration between you.

    1. Our very first trainer made it very clear to me that Barley and I are a team and that we're not going to accomplish anything unless we work that way. :)

  4. We switch and work on other things a lot when frustrated. We're usually training a few things in rotation so it's easy to find something else. Mr. N does try very hard to be good so I try to remember that when he reacts badly to something outdoors. We're usually too close or surprised by a blind corner. We ran into a HUGE dog (could play a direwolf) that came out from a doorway suddenly and everyone was startled so I can't blame him for barking!

    1. That does sound like a perfectly good reason for barking! We don't like to be surprised, either :)

  5. I love this. And I love how you stop and take the time to think through what's going on.

    Walking with two dogs is challenging for me. While walking both dogs takes me a lot longer, I find it much easier to handle the challenges that might pop up along the way. When I was walking both dogs, and one reacted, the other one reacted too. I've worked hard with D-Dog and now she's almost unflappable, so now I have started working with Sampson. They react for different reasons. He's losing his $**t because he's happy to see dog/person, she's losing it for an entirely different reason.

    You may find (when you have the extra time) that taking them on individual walks might really benefit everyone.

    1. I do try to get Rye out for at least one solo walk a week, but she tends to be scared of everything when Barley's not with her, especially if we go to a park. Thankfully, Barley has had over six years of solid training and she usually falls into step beside me and just looks at me like "why did you think getting this demon was a good idea?" Occasionally, if she sees Rye getting too many treats without me sneaking one to her, she'll start trying to push her way into the treating zone. Barley also corrects Rye a lot when she freaks out (Barley does not tolerate not following the rules), so a lot of times, she makes it easier to get Rye back under control! Once I can put away the gloves for a few months and dispense the string cheese more easily, Rye and I should be able to make more progress!