2018 was a memorable year for our Belgian Tervuren, Siren. We are so very proud her. She accomplished not one but two AKC Master Agility Championship(MACHs), qualified and competed at the AKC Agility Invitational where we were one of twelve 24″ Finalists and finished 9 out of 155 24″ dogs and also finished as the #1 Belgian Tervuren! WOW!
More importantly she started to show glimpses of the dog we know she is: running free on course and showing a level of enthusiasm that is only accomplished through a trust in our partnership and a love for each other. The latter is actually the bigger accomplishment in our mind.
Our journey together as a team…started slowly. I knew Siren was an intelligent, ultra talented and athletic girl from the day she came home but the first couple years I realized I had to “catch up to her” as a dog trainer. I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, unsuccessful, and concerned. She needed me to be better.
Siren was very patient with me. I could almost hear her say to me, “you’ll learn what you need to soon. Bark bark!” This is when I had to take some time to formally think about my approach. As a dog trainer and handler, learning never stops but here are 5 principles to my approach with her that are worth sharing.
I overlooked the importance of being observant. This can be applied in any context: observe what motivates and demotivates your dog, observe if you and your dog are adhering to criteria for a behavior, observe when you have true understanding of a skill you’re teaching or if you need take a few steps back, observe whether you and your dog are in the right mindset to train and play, observe if the training habits you have developed are the best fit for your dog. These are just a few but often times I would find I was just going throw the motions, focusing on the steps to train a behavior and mechanics versus observing details. I have a lot to learn still…but I became a better observer…this was game changing.
Plan…Then Replan As Needed
This may seem obvious but can you clearly articulate what the steps to your training plan? I couldn’t initially. I had pieces of a plan but didn’t have a true picture in my brain of what progress looked like…what the plan was. Lori and I had to take a timeout and create a plan and identify what the steps to progress in that plan looked like. This is when I saw progress…because I had progress defined. Spend some time, write down a plan if need be and be prepared to replan that plan as needed.
Just like agility handling, remain patient. Many of you who have trained with us often hear me say, “don’t get ahead of the handling.” Same applies to your own training program. Execute your plan based on where your dog is in it’s training. Don’t get ahead of it. Don’t rush. Take your time and remain patient. I suffered from “puppy paralysis,” initially with Siren. I tried to do too many things and rushed things. As soon as I slowed it down and became patient with process is when I started to see progress.
Play(Work) Hard But Smart
Dog Agility is not easy. Dog Training is not easy. It takes time and dedication but most importantly requires smart and efficient training. Smart and efficient training are ones that support the ideas I just presented. It is planned and calculated, is done at the right pace and repetition, progressed based on your observations and is re-synced as needed.
This the most critical part of any dog training…don’t make it “work,” make it fun…make it play time with a your teammate. Your job as a trainer is to accumulate as many positive and fun moments in your training as possible. Make each session end with your dog eager to have more and more fun with you. Do the most simple thing while training: smile. Have fun! Have fun! Have fun!!!
Thank you Siren for being the best teacher I’ve ever had. Thank you Si!