Some people grind their teeth or hold their breath while training while others clench their fists or rattle off a string of swearwords. When the frustration of training your dog comes to a boil, there are a countless number of ways to respond.
Keep in mind that our dogs can get very frustrated, too! Especially when we fail to give clear directions, are inconsistent with our criteria or when we put them in a stressful no win situation.
Dog training comes with many opportunities for us to become frustrated. You started training your dog to develop rapport, maybe show and to have a well-mannered companion. Who knew that there was so much involved in teaching and training a dog.
Training a dog, regardless of the method, is bound to bring you lots of joy as well as frustration. Addressing problems when training your dog can take time and patience.
The problem with frustration is that it often leads to an emotional outburst. Ever lash out with harsh words directed at your dog during a particularly challenging training session? We are only human. It happens! In dog training, these emotional outbursts often manifest in strong verbal reprimands or other unfair corrections.
Interacting with your dog in an angry way carries the risk of damaging your relationship with your dog. It can also create an anxious dog, or one who “shuts down” when uncertain of what to do or how to be correct.
So how do we get past being frustrated ? It’s much easier to teach a dog what you want as opposed to what you don’t want. That’s why positive reinforcement training is effective. Positive reinforcement is built on a solid foundation of recognizing and rewarding correct behavior.
It’s proactive, not reactive.
I admit to having moments of frustration while training. Despite the years of effort I have put into building strong, positive relationships with my dogs, I still sometimes find myself beating my head on a wall when sessions aren’t going as I’d expected. The trick lies in learning to manage the frustration in ways that are productive and that can even enhance your training sessions.
Try some of the following strategies:
Relax and remember to breathe. Sounds easy enough, but frustration and stress can inhibit your breathing, which affects your body language. Dogs by nature are very aware of our emotions. By concentrating on slow, deep breathing, you take in more oxygen, and your shoulders, neck, and upper chest muscles become more relaxed. Count slowly to 4 as you exhale and 4 as you inhale. It works miracles and a great tip for show nerves too!
Pay attention to your dog’s behavior. Dogs may respond to stress in a number of ways. These signs can include yawning, licking lips, sniffing the ground, etc. If you notice your dog engaging in any of these behaviors during training, stop and analyze what is happening in your session. These signs may be an indicator that your dog is attempting to de-stress the situation and you!
Just stop, no worries!!! It’s okay to stop training when things aren’t going well. Sometimes the best thing to do is call it quits for the day. Go have a drink or call a friend and think about what went wrong and possible ways of fixing the problem. When you’ve separated yourself from the “training gone wrong” situation, look at what you were doing and see what changes and improvements might be made. People often feel the need to end on a good note but sometimes you are much better off just stopping then digging a deeper hole. Always remember “the problem will still be there when you pick back up in your training.”
Take notes. Learn to recognize and appreciate the small improvements along the way to complete problem solving can be a valuable tool to reduce your frustration. Organized trainers keep training logs that document results of each training session. Analyzing sessions offer information about your dog’s rate of progress, and helps you fine-tune and improve your training plan.
There are many types of record-keeping. Some examples include apps on Smart phones, preprinted training logs or just a small spiral notebook. Here are some ideas of what kind of notes to take. 1) Keep track of how many times you repeat or practice a skill 2) How often was your dog correct or incorrect? 3) How much or what type of reinforcement did you use or did you do something special to fix a problem. In addition, make notes of any ideas you want to try during your next training session. The more notes you take the better. Sometimes writing down a problem gives you the correct direction to take to fix it!
Don’t take it personally. It is sometimes hard to not obsess over your dog’s issues and training problems. Factor in your personality type and it can be a real test in emotional self-control. Above all try to keep from feeling that your dog is purposely showing you “the paw” when things aren’t going as you planned.
Remember we’re only human. Do I still get frustrated? Yes of course. I’m far from perfect, but when I find myself getting frustrated, first I stop and think of ways to fix the problem. If my dog does something totally unexpected, I mark the behavior with a non-reward marker like “you’re fired” or “really” to let the dog know he is wrong. We then try the skill again. If he repeatedly makes the same mistakes, I step back and analyze if my dog truly understands the skill I am asking him to perform.
Logical we know that disobedience isn’t personal, but this can be tough to remember in heat of the moment. One of the greatest gifts I’ve learned in training dogs is the ability to accept my training errors, recover, and move on. It’s easy to blame the dog. It’s harder to look at how our own actions likely contributed to the dog’s inability to perform to your expectations or hopes.
When all else fails always remember that our dogs are never with us nearly long enough. Enjoy the time you have with your dog and always build the relationship that you will be able to look back with fond memories of all your dogs.