Sirius Training, Serious Fun!
Sirius Training, Serious Fun!

Mistakes I’ve Made

The busy baseball game was not a mistake but it absolutely had the potential to be a mistake…

Mistakes I’ve Made

I’m not perfect–not even close.  I have personal faults and I’ve definitely made mistakes with my dogs.  I really try not to make the same mistake twice and I do generally learn from my mistakes but I’m human.   I’ve been fortunate enough to have not made mistakes that I cannot fix (or that becomes a long standing issue).

I’ve been involved with dogs my entire life.  When I was 12 I got my very own dog (we’d always had family bulldogs but I wanted a more athletic dog to play with).  Once she was about 6 months old we brought her to a training class with a trainer who agreed to let me shadow him after I completed a few classes (he was a friend of a family friend who got me “in the door” so to speak).  The first thing this trainer did was show me how to fit and put on a choke chain correctly.   During the first class we practiced sit, down, and heel.  He had us teach “sit” three times using a treat  then we dropped the treat and corrected for non-compliance.  If the dog didn’t go into a sit we were to pull up on the leash and push down on the dog’s rump.  There was very little teaching in this class mostly correcting dogs for things they didn’t know.  I finished the class but barely.  My poor 6 month old puppy started to avoid me and every time I put her training collar on she sort of froze and was very slow in her movements.  Something inside me said “y’know this just isn’t right” and I left.  During this class I learned the finer points of the leash pop and goodness did it take me years to get the muscle memory out of my vocabulary.  I hated training… she hated training… it was just awful.

So, I ultimately found a more positive trainer (though no purely).  The first thing she did was fit my pup with a head collar.  She was very clear that corrections should not play a role in training until the dog knows the behavior and expectations.  She did not allow physical corrections in her beginner or intermediate classes.  It took a little while but my pup finally started to like training again (even though I still had to fight the leash-pop reflex).  I learned from my previous mistake and even took this training further as I took up clicker training.  In the end she love training and loved working with me… it was a rocky start but I learned from it!

When I got Shayne, I was made aware that she had some food aggression problems and was “lacking confidence.”  Alright, that was good to know.  I knew after my 25 minutes of sitting in the meet-n-greet room without her approaching that she was a bit tentative, but she was willing to eventually give me a chance.  I brought her home with me and she was doing beautifully.  She was immediately comfortable with my mom, met a neighbor successfully (I wouldn’t call her friendly but she was pretty much just shy), and seemed to be adjusting well.  Somewhere between 7 and 14 days after getting her I needed to go to the pet store to buy some new toys and I figured she’d been adjusting well enough that she may like the pet store.  Well… yeah, not so much.  Poor Shayne was terrified.  She was happy, happy, happy until we went inside and she instantly tucked her tail, dropped her body position, was very reluctant to walk, and had major whale eyes (these are what I clearly remember, I’m sure there is more).  Yeah, I made a big boo-boo.  Although she had been doing beautifully at home, she was definitely not ready for the pet store.  This misstep caused big set backs at home as well as out and about.

I had to do quite a bit of work to get her comfortable at the store (and it was actually set back a few different times regarding her increasing fear of other people, particularly men).  When I got Rio, although he was confident and comfortable as a puppy, I really resisted the urge to take him to the pet store.  Instead he went to friends houses, out on walks with friends, to our neighborhood book store, and training classes.  It was probably a month or more before he went to a pet store and his first time in the pet store was all about him getting in, being fed yummy things, getting a toy, and going home.  Short, sweet, and not during busy hours.

When I get frustrated working with Shayne, I’ll stop doing what we were doing and rough house a little with her.  She gets amped up and gets to blow off some steam and I get to blow off some steam as well.  She loves this, she play bows, throws her hip at me, gets all happy and jazzed up and goes back to working with a new zest.  I may grab her scruff, or push her body, tap her rump, thump her sides… to an outsider I probably look like I’m beating her up but she really loves this physical play.  I had been working with Rio on something and I got frustrated and he was starting to shut down, not even thinking about it I moved in to start rough housing with him.  Yeah, that is the wrong thing to do with him.  He is much to soft and sensitive to handle that type of play.  He dodged backwards and slunk away–oops, I then threw treats on the floor and threw a party but he was not convinced.  For a few days after this he was very sensitive to my frustration level and would slink away if I was feeling frustrated (with anything in life…).  I felt awful… it didn’t take too long but it was still a concern that I caused him and ugh, it wasn’t fun.

I had to classically condition my frustration with good things but it was football season so it worked out well.  I got frustrated with the football and and would throw food for the dogs and would reach toward Rio and feed him.  It didn’t take long for him to no longer react to my frustrations but the fact I had to fix this was sad.  I still have to be very careful because he’s a ridiculously soft dog who wears his emotions on his sleeve (the smallest amount of stress causes some very visible stress signals).

I wish I could say these are my only mistakes … but alas that’s not the case.  But y’know each mistake I have made has taught me something and I’ve become a better dog handler/owner/trainer.

9 Comments
  1. Such a fantastic post. It’s a humbling and freeing experience to realize your faults and your mistakes and use them to grow as a person and dog owner. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  2. Sounds like you’ve got a sensitive little being there. The sensitive ones are a joy to have but they do make one feel guilty for every sigh or grimace–they pick up on everything!
    Kirsten
    http://www.Peacefuldog.blogspot.com

  3. As usual, very good points …namely about how different dogs are … well, different. I’ve had dogs all my life, but the three dogs I’ve had as an adult – Dakotah, Tucker, and Phoebe, have really shown me just how different dogs are, and given the vast disparity in their breeds and life experiences before coming to me, that’s certainly understandable. But it’s something I have to keep very mindful of, especially when we’re training, not that we’ve done much of that lately. I’ve gotten lazy. Tucker will happily take treats if he’s relaxed, and having fun, but he’s much more motivated to work for praise – all he wants is to know what I want, and if I can communicate clearly enough that he can understand (which is hard sometimes), he’s all in. Phoebe is more willful … she is very happy to work for me, and loves praise, but she’s frankly all about the food rewards. Dakotah was somewhat different … he had brains coming out the yin-yang, and if I could effectively motivate him, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t learn, even if I wasn’t super clear about it – he was able to intuit what I wanted, and if the reward was high value enough, he’d deliver every time. But he didn’t have the handler focus these two have, and part of that was probably his breed, but at least half of it was my ineptitude in really developing the focus as I could have if I’d known then what I know now.

    Anyway … your post does make you think … you can “know dogs”, but it is really more than that. You also have to know the specific dog you’re working with.

  4. Really wonderful post, thank you for sharing. I know how hard it can be to confront mistakes you’ve made, especially when it comes to training your own dogs, I admire your courage to put it all out there. But even more, the steps you’ve taken to fix the mistakes. I know I’ve made my fair share of mistakes with both my dogs (and even my cat).

  5. Thank you so much for being so honest about your mistakes. We all make them, it’s impossible not to, but I feel really bad about some of my goof-ups and it’s great knowing even a great trainer like you sometimes screws up with her dogs too.

    Furthermore, it shows how different dogs are from each other. One may love to wrestle and another may be terrified of such a rough activity. Shiva isn’t a naturally rough-housing kind of dog either. But because my husband loves it so much he has worked with her slowly, encouraging rough play within the limits of what she can handle. Because she gets very over-stimulated very quickly this has been a very long process. He knows to keep the play sessions super-short and gives her the space she needs if she has to let off some steam by chewing one of her bones. She is learning her own limits this way as well and it’s been fascinating to watch. When we first adopted her we didn’t even dare play tug games because they riled her up within seconds and it could be dangerous for us. It took months before she learned how to tug with control. Those teeth of hers pack a punch!

  6. Such a fantastic post! It really is amazing how much we learn from our dogs when we tune into them completely.

    Elli, too, is a very soft dog. She’s very quick to pick up on any frustration I show (not even directed to her) and then I feel so bad that I usually calm down almost immediately. But she will wrestle if we’re tugging. 🙂

  7. Thanks! I am far from perfect with my pets, and to be honest, the folks that claim to have all the answers are very annoying. You ROCK!

  8. Okay, so Risa is not just structurally a Rio-Shayne cross but behaviorally as well! 😉

    I feel a bit better about myself having read this. I messed up and took Risa to Petsmart on a SATURDAY less than a week after bringing her home. She was terrified; I was just trying to show her the world wasn’t scary. To this day, she hates going into pet stores. 🙁

    She’s also super sensitive. It’s gotten to the point I can’t get frustrated opening a jar of mayo without her slinking out of the room. I try and bite my tongue and not get so upset around her. . .but it’s hard.

    We all make mistakes. Sometimes, I think, the best way to learn is to make a mistake. I know I generally don’t make ’em again once I realize my huge error.

    • I actually totally forgot about my worst mistake… it was about a year after getting Shayne… her issues with people had been resolved to the point of she was fine so long as no one tried to touch her and it was before her issues with other dogs really started to take hold (up until this point she was jsut weary and avoided interacting). I took her to a large canine event and she did beautifully… there was a dock-diving “try it” demo and knowing how much she liked to swim I wanted to try it… BIG mistake… she utimately got really startled and was able to get by the “guard” at the bottom of the steps and was loose… She found a corner and huddled in it until I was able to grab her… luckily everyone listened when i begged them ‘PLEASE DON’T TRY TO GRAB HER, SHE’S SCARED!!!!” Once I got her she was largely unscathed and didn’t seem any worse the wear for the rest of the day but that moment was such a stupid mistake… looking back onit it was so selfish and childish and that’s one of those mistakes i’m SUPER ashamed of… (to the point that I totally forgot about it until now). I did “repeat” this mistake but this time she successfully (sort of) got in the dock pool and climbed the ramp to get out and ran to me all happy that she survived LOL!!

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