The problem with many dog-trainers is their brains. We turn everything into a Plan, a Strategy…a Science. We seldom back away from these things because we’re hard-wired to strategize, analyze, and conceptualize. That’s the beauty of being the top of the intelligence pyramid. It’s also the bane of some of our attempts at living a positive existence.
Dogs know almost nothing about planning, and nothing at all about science. (Alright, observing my German Shepherds “strategize” how to separate me from my Peanut butter and banana slice waffles each morning does suggest a thought process that resembles “Strategic Thought”. But I digress) The point is, WE THINK EVERYTHING INTO FUTILITY!!!
I came to this conclusion researching the techniques of Sports Trainers and Extreme athletes… It doesn’t matter which sport it is either. They all have an undercurrent of, “Let yourself go…Don’t Think about it, DO IT! ” Some athletes, after an exceptional performance, will ask, “What happened? Did I make any mistakes? Did we win? It’s as though they go into a mental Happy Place that only they inhabit, and their performance becomes a product of DESIRE. Desire to win, desire to outperform themselves, desire to enjoy their sport, desire to feel the endorphin rush of performance. They are “In the Moment” and nothing else distracts them. Standard issue human beings over-think many things,(Sadly, we under-think other important things) we make them complicated and difficult. Training a Dog, (and rehabilitating a dog I’m told) is better served and more successful when we get our human brains the heck out of the way and allow for the “energy” and “emotion” that dogs “feel” and “sense” to do it’s alchemy.
I’ve read in several places that we should “visualize” the ideal behavior that we are training to achieve. The perfect “heel”, the sharp and immediate “down”, the unquestioned “Out”, the sharpest weave-pole run. And this is a good technique…as a beginning.
Again, it’s up to you, the Handler, to achieve the optimal mind-set, energy, or emotion that brings out the best in your team.
When I first went to an Agility class/demonstration, I thoroughly believed that I would see “clickers” everywhere. There are those who believe that “science” is the only way to train everything. I did observe a few using them, but the Trainers that were teaching, had a very different mind-set. They were advising a “relationship” style method of building “desire to perform”. (Their term)
Bruce Van Kamp, a self-described amateur trainer, and successful Agility handler, explained his “evolution” away from clickers. “Clickers train the dog to chase a treat. They run around looking for the treat, and it’s a distraction from running the course. As we’ve (his Jack Russell Terror, Spike) (No, I meant to spell TERROR) gained a relationship and an understanding of what he enjoys doing, we’ve shifted into a different way of training. Now, I’m always conscious to come to the training area in a happy mind-set, with everything else put aside. No distractions…And my own “energy” is always positive, encouraging, and excited. Spike picks that up and just zooms!!! I’m aware that not over-thinking the run in Spikes presence. I will take care of the course memorizing in my private space. Spike needs my “energy” to fuel his legs, and that’s what I’m learned to provide.
Spikes first run of the night broadcasts his pure, unadulterated, joy at his run. The last item on the course is the platform that he needs to jump onto, and plant himself. When he turns the last curve, he hits his Turbo-boost and flies the last 10 feet, landing squarely on the platform. Stubby tail wagging furiously. His reward is being allowed to jump into dad’s open arms and giving him a doggie-bath. “You see that? If I relied on treats and clickers, I’d never get that celebration because he’s be looking for food. But, we always give a celebration with high output energy!” Bruce explains.
In the “Positive Training” mode however, negative words like “NO!” are frowned upon. Yelling at a dog for making an error is simply not allowed. Cursing, calling the dog names, or the like is even penalized in competition. Being “In the Moment” most certainly means that you are aware of how the “Now” is talking to the dog. Are you reviewing the mistake your dog just made on the course, your Obedience trial, or tracking exercise in your mind? That energy transmits like rays of the sun!
So, how do I train myself to “Be In The Moment”? : My First Advice is this: Whatever training you pursue, make it fun! For you AND your dog! Very few of us depend on your dogs performance to feed our family, probably leaning toward 1 in 100,000,000. You do this crazy dog stuff because it’s fun!!! Even those who use similar methods to rehabilitate dogs with serious issues, must make it as fun and enjoyable as possible. All dogs live to eat, have a lot of fun, sleep, have a lot of fun,procreate, and have a lot of fun. If you don’t enjoy working with your dog , why do it?
Second: Work over your own personality to a more positive and happy energy! This not only affects your personal health and outlook, but your dogs as well. Medical studies prove that petting a dog lowers blood-pressure. Without doing a study, I can tell you that sometimes, humans raise their dogs blood-pressure!! STOP IT!!
Third: Stop trying to Multi-task everything in your life, and in your dog training. Dogs are already prone to distraction (Squirrel!!!) and we don’t want to feed that chaos. Somebody, back in 1989, decided that the best workers were able to “Multi-Task” 500 projects at once, including eating lunch. That person was an IDIOT. Multi-tasking your dog during training or at any time goes against his nature. And no matter what you may have been told, YOUR nature as well. PUT IT ASIDE in as many facets of life as possible. It takes you OUT of every moment!
Fourth: Due Diligence! Do the work it takes to train your dog, and yourself! The method you prefer doesn’t matter, but the attitude you have about that method does. Don’t allow a militant, “This is the ONLY method that works!” attitude. Find ways to expand and move beyond “science” into something more powerful that touches what your dog feels and thinks.
Fifth: Don’t subject your dog to the planning and strategy phase of YOUR training and preparation. He doesn’t understand it, and he doesn’t care. He’s looking for YOUR leadership and Guidance, and is relieved to see that YOU have come to him fully prepared to LEAD!
Sixth: Look back and remember times that you may have performed beyond what you thought possible. Concentrate on how you were feeling, what you were thinking, and the endorphin rush you felt as a result. Make yourself a written list of these times and allow yourself to feel that way again.
Seventh: At the risk of going all “Mr. Miyagi” on you, remember to breath!!! Deep, lung-filling, breaths will calm your nerves, and calm your dog. Be “aware” of your own physicality in the moment. Your physical and mental state are like a template laid over your dog. Be Aware of what you are putting out…
I still have 2316 words on this subject to edit…So much has come from my recent exposure to Agility training that the words have poured out in waves. They need to be simplified and re-thought for clarity. The whole idea of “being in the moment” was conceived months ago, but the application was woefully short-changed until the Agility Trainers opened up this discussion, and I am grateful!! Thanks for reading!!