Thursday, February 9, 2017

To Succeed or Not to Succeed

Dogs who take class have two very different complaints.

I hear, "My human did it so well at home! You should see him there: he's perfect at home. He just can't seem to do it in class."

But I also hear, "My lady is great in class. When we're doing the exercises there, she's great, but at home she couldn't care less."

OK, I don't really hear dogs saying these things, but I'm not far off about what they think when we make similar statements. I'm positive they roll their eyes at us when our backs are turned.

How can two such opposite views both be true? As usual, it depends. Let's start with the dog who doesn't perform as well in class as she does at home. Soooo common! For most dogs, class is extra challenging. Their skills are not so solid anyhow, and then we put them in a really stimulating environment and ask them to succeed. If your dog can focus in a class setting, you're a pretty awesome trainer. Some pups are nervous around other dogs and strangers; the environment itself can be distracting if it's new or it can be too exciting if it's where all the fun happens each week.

Here's something to remember: it doesn't matter a BIT if Mugsy does any exercise successfully in class! Let's treat dog class like yoga class: you both do what you can at the level you can and just HAVE FUN. No one is judging. Seriously. (If they are, you're in the wrong class.) Everyone is really busy watching her own dog and her own performance. Most of the real learning happens in your kitchen anyhow. We totally believe you if Mugsy does a five-minute stay at home! Yay for you and yay for Mugsy!

Now for the flip side. Why does your dog only come when we're in class doing the fun Monkey in the Middle game? Well, partly: it's FUN and it's a GAME! Are you keeping the home training fun? You may need to up the stakes and reward only for the higher stakes: Coco needs to EARN those treats. And how often are you calling Coco when you're not doing an exercise? Coco knows when the treats are out and you're going to that Training Thing so of course she's good. Now call her when she doesn't expect it and throw a HUGE party when she does--and TREAT. Mixing in obedience more often in your day makes Coco a much better listener--and makes you the coolest dad on the planet.

Be interesting! Be fun! Be surprising! And give your dog a kiss from me. The best part is that you're doing something fun with your dog regardless of the outcome. Ommmmm . . .