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Lazy trainer or training on the fly?
I describe myself as a lazy trainer. I prefer to train on the fly, resisting sessions where I have to pre-plan. And I’m terrible for starting to teach something and then once the dog gets the idea moving to the next exercise rather than finishing the previous one properly. I think this stems from loving the process more than the end product when teaching anything outwith those skills that make up my core requirements, the behaviours that make our everyday lives better, such as a reliable recall and a solid leave (very useful in a multi-dog household!) I love to train from the sofa. You can teach so much from the comfort of the sofa, everything from sit to stay, go round to spin around and fetch your bear to find your mouse.
Much of my training is done as I go about my daily tasks. A great example is when I vacuum. I can ask the dogs to go their beds. This lets us practise a placement exercise followed by a stay with distractions. I have to say, before I got my Shark [affiliate] vacuum cleaner this was impossible. The dogs were afraid of the vacuum and would run upstairs the instant they heard me getting it out the cupboard. But this Shark cleaner is so much quieter. Now they are able to stay in the room without fear of being sucked into a terrible vacuum monster!
Other examples include recalling each dog by name when I’m hanging the washing out in the garden. Or some sits when we are in the vet’s waiting room. These instant training sessions can really add up to solid, substantial skills without feeling like I’ve expended that much effort. They also keep training light and fun for the dogs, with multiple unexpected opportunities for rewards. And the rewards take many forms as I don’t often walk around the house armed with treats – although for much of the past year I have – thanks to a certain small Ettie. Being prompted to play in the garden, run up the stairs or tug with a toy can be just as rewarding as tasty treat.
Walk or training opportunity?
From the second we get ready to go out on our walk, we practise skills. Recall to get the collar on. Wait before coming through the back gate to get into the van. Wait before exiting the van. Recalls and check-ins are rewarded with treats and ‘go plays’ throughout the walk. Plus there’s the ‘finish’ (stop playing with another dog). Leave when they discover something delicious/disgusting on the ground. ‘Find it’ to keep the busy when other people are around. Fetch, and drop. Plus the essential stay and pose while I try to take photos.
Rarely do I plan any of these, but they pepper the walk like raindrops on the water. The spontaneous and often random nature of the repetitions makes the skills stronger. Nothing is set up to indicate to the dog that it is time to train. My girls understand that every second of every day could be a time to train. There’s no pressure and no time frame. The only goal is to become reliable and proficient no matter the environment or distractions. However, this often changes when I’m trying to film our training.
I’ve done a fair bit of filming, both for my own DVDs and for TV. It always works best when I’m just doing my thing and there happens to be a camera there. I can happily get on with the task in hand, concentrating on the dog and how the session is going while giving the camera very little thought. But when I have to film specific clips for myself or repeat sessions, that’s when things can go wrong.
By the time I’ve cleaned and arranged the area; cleaned and arranged myself; made sure the camera battery is charged and the memory card is empty; found the best/least awkward spot to place the camera, and then made sure all the training equipment I need is close to hand, I’m exhausted. This often leaves me feeling a bit grumpy and definitely not in the mood to do some relaxed training to share with you. And my dogs feel this.
Cherry in particular has learned that these sessions aren’t always the most fun. I try to mask my discomfort. I put on false cheeriness but she sees through me. In the end I often just leave the camera running, play with the dog, mess around and then move on to the original exercise in a less formal way. This is one of the reasons that you didn’t see Ettie doing her scentwork for many months. I so wanted to share her sniffing with you but I did’t want to put any pressure on her while I filmed. And when I did film her, I had help. So that I didn’t have to do everything, Amie stepped in to film her for the Stay at Home Scentwork and much of the Support Skills courses.
Lazy trainer? Or just informal?
I adore working with dogs. I love learning how to communicate and connect with them. And how to give them the space and time to do the same with me. Reading this blog back I realise that I’m not a lazy trainer. I’m just not very formal. I do an incredible amount of training but in a relaxed, apparently haphazard way. But it’s not haphazard. I do have a plan. I have goals and processes and marks that I want to hit. But they are not time dependent or governed by outside forces.
I believe my training is efficient, clear, effective and enjoyable for both me and the dogs. It’s essential that both species are equally invested and considered. I know it can always be improved, but hey, perfection is not a thing. Perfection it is not a realistic goal. It is an unhelpful pressure, a distraction, a hinderance. So I will continue to work with my girls in the way that suits us best. And the results are there for all to see. Happy, healthy, clever girls who can go into any environment and strut their stuff!
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