I just needed to find out how to teach these things, and then I’d be all set with my new puppy. They were the skills I understood would add up to a “fully trained dog.” I was eager to find good, simple, step-by-step instructions, like a manual for how to operate the blender. “Do this, then this will happen,” and so on. One and done. Assemble at home with no tools.
That was 22 years ago. My initial, naive perspective very quickly eroded into frustration, confusion, and failure when I learned that things weren’t quite that simple. I had to “pay” my puppy for things I liked. To complicate things, sometimes I thought I was paying her, but she didn’t accept the currency I offered. If she was distracted or in a different environment, I was lost as to what to do; I didn’t understand the complexities and the layers of factors I needed to consider when working with her. As we developed our relationship in shared living spaces, it became abundantly clear that there were things infinitely more important than “sit”, none of them came with a how-to manual, and exactly zero of them were “one and done.”
Same ingredients, same results?
“Your photos are so beautiful! Do you do something special to take those or do everyone’s photos look like that?”
Last year I posted photos to Facebook from our trip to the Pacific Northwest, my first time visiting that area of the country. I was overwhelmed by its beauty and scale, and I thoroughly enjoyed rejuvenating my love for photography as I chronicled our travels. I am far from a professional, but I’ve had basic education in photography, sufficient only to help me “make” rather than just “take” photos by trying to be aware of the subtleties of what’s in the frame. The photo you see here isn’t award-winning, but it took some thought and planning. I waited for a wave to come over the rocks in the foreground to create a gentle white arc of white. I lowered myself close to the water’s surface so that the strength of the rocks under water in the foreground were prominent and clear. I liked how the diagonal lines of the photo’s elements converge and guide the eyes from foreground to back. A professional photographer, like a professional chef, is no doubt able to create something far superior using the same exact ingredients. It takes time, education, and practice to achieve great results.
The answer I offered my friend who posed the question above was, “it’s hard to take a bad photo there, but I did put effort into composition.”
The Big Picture
My observational skills are in a constant state of being honed and sharpened, and I’m much better about seeing the big picture, especially when I’m working with a sentient being who is acutely sensitive to her surroundings. I know we all learn best if we are happy, physically comfortable, and feel safe. We cannot separate behavior from emotion, and when we interact with our dogs, we are affecting both of those things. It’s for this reason that I continually observe my canine student to see how she’s feeling. Is she feeling unsafe? Is she in the ideal physical position to do the behavior I want to train? Are there distractions present that may prevent her from being able to learn? Is she scared? Did I do something that may diminish her trust in me? Did her tail just tuck and if so, why? Her mouth closed tightly, so is she simply focused or is she feeling tense? Is she really into the reinforcement I’m offering and eagerly returning for more? Oh no, she just shook off, so I must have missed an important message.
Our dogs are an open book of communication. Taking the time to read what they are expressing helps us help them become happy, secure, and skilled individuals. Practice, education, and a thorough understanding of Dog Language and Culture will help them get there.
And… sorry, of course there is no such thing as the “3 Simple Steps” to teaching all behaviors. Sorry if you were hopeful, but I’m sure you knew this is too good to be true.
Diana Logan, CPDT-KA Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge-Assessed
Pet Connection Dog Training, North Yarmouth, Maine
www.dianalogan.com | 207-252-9352