A million tiny swinging pendulums

Dog training is just one big battle of trying to stabilize a million tiny swinging pendulums. Each thing we train our dogs has extreme versions of itself on either side of the pendulum. When we focus on fixing one part of the problem, often the pendulum ends up swinging too far in the other direction. Our ultimate goal is to get that pendulum to stabilize right where we want it, perfectly balanced between the two extremes.

With puppies, the pendulum swings are dramatic and reactive. Our puppies are learning at a furious pace, experimenting with their world and learning their role in it. Changes we make to their routine or behaviors we reinforce have a nearly immediate impact on their wants, desires and expectations. I teach my puppy to love to swim, but then I have to teach my puppy that I still matter around water.

Think about a puppy who is working on drive building: their handler is trying to channel all of that puppy’s energy into constructive behaviors like toy play or training sessions. When the puppy is out and awake, they are engaging with the handler to help reinforce the working bond. And it works! The puppy is now thrilled to be out and gives 100% of their attention to their human because it’s FUN. They love the games they play and they’ve been saving all of their energy for those times during the day. But, they’ve swung the pendulum a bit too far, now this puppy has a hard time settling when they’re out of the crate because they love that interaction.

So what do we do? We shift our focus a little more to teaching the puppy to settle and reinforce that behavior. We don’t need to stop drive building, but we need to adjust the ratio at which it’s delivered to help that pendulum swing a bit back towards the center of the extremes.

Odds are, in the next few days, that pendulum will swing too far in the other direction, causing the puppy’s drive to drop a little. That’s OK, then we adjust the ratio again and help the pendulum stabilize once more. The good news is that the more we go through this process, the swings of the pendulum become less and less, the extremes not so extreme anymore. Eventually, we stop adjusting altogether and move onto the next pendulum that needs our attention.

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