Dog Training and Self Confidence

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I’m sure that every career is similar in terms of impact towards self-confidence to an extent, but my only firsthand experience is my career as a dog trainer, and that experience has been an emotional roller coaster.

I began dog training when I was young, and as I grew, so did my self-confidence. By the time I was ready to enter the professional world, I was certain I was great at my skill.  I always knew that education was going to be continuous throughout my career, that is just part of the job and something that was emphasized by the trainers I idolized. However, I thought of those future skills as new tools to add to my collection of perfected current methods, tools that I had mastered and that were the foundation of my methodology.

Then came along a dog that took a sledgehammer to that foundation.  It doesn’t necessarily matter who the dog was, his breed or his behavioral issues, all that matters was that he found a weakness in my perfected and carefully calibrated set of tools and that sent my self-confidence spiraling out of control.

When this happens, you start to question everything you have learned. You stay awake at night revisiting old cases and wondering if you could’ve done better, you question why your current students are paying for your questionable instruction and start to see a future in an alternative career. Then, you hit the books. You attend seminars, classes, lectures and listen to podcasts. You talk to every trainer you know and soak up information like a sponge.  You become a better student and subsequently, a better trainer.  Your self-confidence rises once again.

Until the next sledgehammer-wielding dog comes along and crushes your newly reinforced foundation once again.

This is what it’s like to be a dog trainer.  Your self-confidence is on a never ending quest through peaks and valleys. It forces us to continue learning, to be better for ourselves and our dogs. It’s what pushes the entire industry forward and challenges us to develop better methods and to continually improve the human-dog relationship.  This is why I love this career.

To those new trainers or the experienced ones who have recently entered a valley of self-confidence: it gets better. With every foundation rebuild and tool perfected, the peaks get higher and valleys less deep.  You’ve got this.

New Performance Puppy Class!

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We have a new puppy class geared towards the performance prospect on the calendar! I have had the privilege to raise a number of puppies of different breeds and have developed a foundation program that I’m proud of and want to share with the dog sport community.  As most of you know, my dogs train and compete in a variety of sports including agility, dock diving, disc and mondioring.  Even though these sports are so different from one another, the core behaviors and handler/canine relationship are the same for all of them.  I am very excited to teach this course and to watch these teams grow and succeed together!

If you’re interested in attending this class, click here for more information!

Be Nicer

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Wingnut and Slice owned by Tracy Custer

There is only one thing that we really have control of in this world: how we choose to act, whether it’s with another human being or with the animals in our lives. True, we get to control the choices that we make, but often, those decisions are forced upon us. We are required to make choices that change our lives when we were quite content with the life we had.  No matter what life throws at us, we are always in absolute control of our interactions and our intentions behind our behavior.

This blog post was inspired by an answer to a question I recently posted on Facebook. The question was: If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?”, the response was “I wish I had been nicer”. No specific situations were given, she had just wished she had been nicer in the past.  I thought back to all of the memories that keep me up at night, the ones that cause me to cringe when I’m reminded of them. The one thing that they all share in common was that I wasn’t nice.  I wish I had handled those situations with more empathy, more patience or more perspective. I wish I had been nicer.

In some of those situations, my responses were fueled by passion. I cared about the bigger picture, the impact on those around me or I just thought I knew better.  I can see now that those reasons were just excuses, a way to justify my knee-jerk reactions.  Other times, I simply lost my patience and had a hard time looking past my own immediate needs, wants or validation.

We see this a lot in dog training. We lose our patience teaching a new behavior or trying to eradicate a troublesome one. We believe that we are good trainers, this dog is just too stubborn, stupid or difficult. We end up doing something regretful as a result when we should have just ended the session to build a new plan.  We also see it on the human side, trainers interactions with other trainers.  Trainer Stacy is trying to educate Trainer Patty on the benefits of a certain method because “the dog training world will be better off using this method, if only they’d learn”.

Our interactions are the easiest thing for us to control.  Too often, they are also the things we regret the most.  I hope to never add to my regretful interaction tally, I hope to remember to “be nicer” in my day to day life.