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On The Other Side Of Disaster, There's A Breakthrough

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

Dog training is supposed to be messy. There. I've said it. And I stand by it.

You see, it's easy to be fooled by social media nowadays. Video editing can be a powerful thing. The dogs look amazing. The handlers look like they have it all together. But what isn't shown is the messy sides of training. The parts where the dog or the handler makes a mistake. The parts where we give each an opportunity to learn and watch that breakthrough unfold.

So what happens when most of us encounter these moments? We naturally panic - we immediately try to fix the dog - try to make her right - we manually get her into position with the food or the leash without letting the dog come to the conclusion herself. In essence, we become so afraid of failure that we try to prevent it from ever happening or fix it as soon as we see it. But when we manage the situation like this the dog doesn't get a chance to learn anything on her own. So instead of training her for the right behaviour, we go into a cycle of long term management.

But what if for one moment, we didn't? What if we paused our panic and our inherent need to control the outcome long enough for the dog to think and problem solve on her own?

Below are two training clips of our typical 3 minute training sessions with our own dogs. Here, we're practicing the back transport position with Breeze. Her job is to have her right shoulder touching her handler's leg at all times while she pivots around her to keep her eye on the helper (in this case - me holding the ball).

Notice that our help is minimal with Breeze as she goes through a momentary struggle in the first lesson. It's like she lost her train of thought and forgot where she needed to be. In the second lesson, after her breakthrough from the first, watch how much more committed she is to the the entire behaviour. Her movements are made with much more conviction and clarity.

So the next time your dog gets stuck in the learning - take a moment to pause. Give them time to think through the solution. It's amazing what a little bit of patience can do.

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