When training your dog(s) you will no doubt come across the occasional type of exercise that just doesn’t seem to ‘click’. It might be the progression of an exercise where you’ve been good at one point but just cannot progress, or it might be trying something completely new and your usually quick to learn dog has a block on understanding, but it can be a real head scratching moment for us owners!
Ive had this with numerous types of exercises; last summer it was Cassie’s ‘Fishing’ tricks she needed as her last trick towards her Expert title. Taylor this month learnt his Playbow without hand signals yet started learning this many years ago intermittently. And last night Merlin and Taylor tried a slow pace treadmill for strengthening and understood completely yet last time we tried 2 months ago it was far too alien for them!
What did I do to suddenly warrant these changes in learning? Left the exercise well alone and came back to when we were all completely fresh! Often when we are ‘this close’ to progressing or achieving what we aim for we just keep pushing and pushing – in a positive manner – which can be tiring and frustrating for us but can really create blocks in learning for our dogs too. Dogs get tired when learning new things or progressing. Dog pick up on our frustrations and see them as stress signs which in turn can upset our dogs. Sometimes we have just gone so far down one route and it looks like we are just 1 or 2 steps away for our goal that backing up and trying another route isn’t even a thought!
As much as regular practise is important when teaching our dogs something new, sometimes having a break can benefit also. Taking some time out from high level Heelwork, coming away from Retrieve or stopping and teaching a trick your dog can do more easily for a few days or weeks can give us a break and help us relax again and in turn our dogs can focus on something new, reap the rewards and celebrations of getting it right and not feel the pressure of almost getting something perfect!
Coming back to that tricky exercise days, weeks or even months later means you may have a fresh look at things to help your or your dog. It could mean in that time you’ve picked up one or two new ideas that you can try. It could be as simple as when going back to it you start back at the beginning as a refresher then spot somewhere an extra step could be put in which helps your dog connect the dots.
There is no actual defeat in returning or even re-returning to an exercise to see how it feels at a later date – you might even discover new ideas that feel better for you or your dog or find you bypass the previous ‘stuck’ area and push on through!!
Yesterday I restarted introducing Taylor and Merlin to my land treadmill which we hadn’t looked at since Christmas. They were fine near it being on, fine if I helped them on and gave them a platform to head to but wouldn’t voluntarily go on. I watched some nice ways of introducing dogs to treadmills using play and toys – something my own dogs do not do. However it gave me some ideas on methods I could adapt to suit my dogs! Going back to the treadmill I worked on fun things like twists and spins and hand targets next to the running treadmill then guided them around the end and onto the treadmill and continued the upbeat exercises which kept them more focused and thrilled to be working – two dogs happily and eager to get on the treadmill themselves and in fact having to be held back to not keep getting on when it wasn’t there turn!! When I left off at Christmas I was reasonably pleased with what they were doing but disappointed in my own skills that we were unable to progress and that I couldn’t see more ways to help my own dogs but having taken time out and re-returned to this fresh and going back a few steps we have actually leapt forward about 5 steps!!!
There is so many different things we can teach our dogs! If you find a block time and time again maybe try time out and do something else for a day or to and see how things are when you come back to it or take a few days or weeks off to focus on other things with your dog and come back all refreshed – it’s not quitting or admitting defeat but taking time to develop your approach and finding methods that can help you progress even more.
Enjoy your training – it’s a fabulous chance to bond with your dog! And if you find you’ve returned to something and achieved your goal I always love to hear what you have been working on and how things are going!