Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Pip Progress: Remember; Slow is Fast

Sometimes, the day by day struggles of teaching your fearful dog to be less afraid causes you to not see the amazing progress your dog is making. I recommend taking videos or making journal entries about your dog's training progress so you can revisit them when you feel frustrated with training or feel like you aren't making much progress.

I shared the following video over a month ago. It is of an average walk with Piper. She is stressed, afraid, and starts to shut down at one point of the video. This was normal at that time. She wouldn't take treats in the walk back then.

 I took her out places which were safe and fun (such as the park) and if she wanted to leave, I would take her back home. Even if we only stayed out for less than 5 minutes.  I scoped out safe and easy places with her at first, where I knew she would take treats. I didn't ask her to do anything and simply fed her treats in the new location. I would carefully hand her a treat. If she seemed curious, I'd let her sniff at the end of the leash. If she seemed afraid, I'd come up the leash to comfort her. After 5-10 minutes, we'd load back into the car and go back home.

Soon, she was relaxed enough in these locations to look back at me. I started to wait for offered attention since she wasn't shutting down or was overly stressed anymore. When she did, I would mark with a click or a "yes" and then give her a treat. Because I was waiting for behaviors now, the sessions were usually 10-15 minutes now.

Eventually, she was ready for me to ask her for her favorite behavior of all time: the Nose to Hand Touch. I teach this behavior in my puppy and adult classes, too. It is very popular with the dogs and also the owners. Sometimes, however, she would not put her nose to my hand.

So many people would use leash jerks or call for their dog's attention in these moments. I'm a huge advocate of taking into account the dog's emotional and social needs. A lot of the time, when a dog can't listen in a new location, it's due to stress or excitement. You have to address those issues before you can really ask your dog to do things. You have to train behaviors to help your dog cope with stress.

The reason why Pip would not put her nose to my hand in those times was because she was very stressed. I never pressed the issue and simply moved on without dwelling on it. We could always work on it later. A common argument is that this approach is slow. That people don't have months and months to work with their dogs. That their dogs need to change now. I see so many people that, a year or two later, are still yanking on their dog's neck to get their dogs' attention or yelling their commands louder and louder to get the dogs to do a simple behavior such as sit. So much for the fast track, huh?

This is Pip less than a month after the video above. Not only is she no longer shutting down, but she's attentive and willing to work on a rather complex behavior (heeling).

While she is still stressed, now she can cope with it using the skills I taught her. And I didn't take the best out of that session. I wanted to show our struggles as well because where she struggled and succeeded were places where she would have shut down only a month ago. In the session, I only saw the stress. I forgot how far we had come. 

When training any animal, you can only go at the animal's pace. When you try to rush things, you risk losing trust and confidence--these are the two most important things for your dog to have when you start working with distractions. Especially with distractions that your dog is worried about. If you go at your dog's pace, you'll be surprised with how quickly they progress.

Even if you don't see it day by day, if you take videos or write a little bit, then you'll see that the two of you have accomplished amazing things. I can't wait to see what where Pip and I will go next and I'll be sure to take videos!

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