11 ways to get the most out of your efforts

Participation in a training program has the greatest value when the impact is felt in the human-animal relationship. There are strategies you can employ to maximize the likelihood of long term benefit for you and your dog. We know from experience that if you employ new concepts the day after the session, you are more than twice as likely to remember what you have learned – and continue to use this learning.

1 – Be prepared

Bring your clicker, treat pouch, ~250 soft, small, stinky treats, proper equipment, a mat for your dog to lay on, a stuffed Kong that lasts longer than 5-10 minutes, a favourite tug toy, wear comfortable clothes, and be prepared to learn. 

Also aim to be prepared in other environments – one common concern from clients is that when they’re in certain environments their dog knows they’re in training and they behave perfectly. How do they know? Is it because you only wear your treat pouch when training in the school? Try not using it at all for a week. Only wear it half the time in all environments. Watch for training cues and change them when you notice them so that your dog learns that it’s always training time! 

2 – Set goals

Before the session begins, set out goals for yourself – 

What do you want to get out of this session?

Which behaviours do you want to change? 

Communicate these goals to your instructor in advance so that we can work with you realistically. Ideally we have all the details about your challenges with your dog in your initial assessment form. Be detailed when filling this out – the more we know, the better we can help you. 

3 – Listen to your dog

You cannot focus on the session if you’re not feeling well, feeling stressed, too hot, too cold, nervous, distracted, hungry, thirsty, and neither can your dog! If you notice signs of stress, anxiety, fear, frustration in your dog, feel free to interrupt the session and together with your instructor you can find ways to alleviate this discomfort in your dog and help them learn comfortably. You know your dog best!

4 – Be patient

When was the last time you learned a new language or skill? Was it easy? Did you pick it up immediately and were you able to execute it perfectly and confidently? Remember that your dog is not only learning a new skill, but they’re learning a new language AND they’re most likely also unlearning an old skill that is well-practiced in their repertoire. Be patient with them and help them through the learning curve without attaching labels such as “stupid”, “bad”, “stubborn” – these are not only inaccurate but they hinder the process and damage the relationship. 

5 – Ask questions

Do yourself and your instructor a favour – if there is any question or doubt in your mind, speak up! Not only does this lead to better understanding for you but it also enables your instructor to be a better trainer. We thrive on people who ask questions! 

6 – Be creative

There is no cookie-cutter approach when it comes to dog training because all dogs are individuals just like we are. Every dog has a motivation; we just have to figure out what it is. Be open to creative solutions – when we shoot down every idea because it’s too hard or it’s too much work, we’re closing doors to success. Be willing to try something outside of your comfort zone and you might find that it’s not so bad! Surprise yourself. 

7 – Be your dog’s advocate

If at any point someone does something to make you or your dog uncomfortable, speak up in that exact moment. It does not matter who this is, whether it is your family, friends, trainer, veterinarian, or a stranger on the street. It’s your job to speak up for your pet and protect them. Be sure that they see you as an ally; someone they can trust to get them out of a scary situation. 

Practice saying “I’m not (or “my dog is not”) comfortable with that. Please stop and let’s give Fido some space and we can find a better solution / take a break / try something different.” – when it is scripted and practiced, you will not hesitate or stumble over your words awkwardly. No feelings need to be hurt but boundaries must be set and respected. 

8 – Turn ideas into action plans 

Go beyond the in-person sessions and the handouts that can get buried in your inbox – write down what you are going to do with the information! By thinking in terms of the application of these new skills into the reality of your life, the ideas will have greater meaning and you will be more likely to follow through with action and be successful. 

9  – Have fun 

 Dogs learn more effectively when they are having fun and it’s no different for people. Be more exciting to your dog than all the other distractions you are competing with! Make yourself high value by ensuring youLoosen up and enjoy the process! This session is quality time dedicated to the bond you and your dog share. If you start feeling frustrated, that’s a sure sign to take a break! 

10 – Track your progress

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for all the trees. Keep a log of your progress so that when you check in, you can see how far you’ve come. While it feels like baby steps (and it might actually be), any progress is still a step in the right direction. 

If you feel like you are not progressing as quickly or as well as you had hoped, speak with your instructor sooner than later. There may be other ways of helping you accelerate the progress or you might just need a different perspective. That’s why we’re here. 

11 – Reward yourself

Dogs respond well to reward-based training as do all animals; humans included, so promise yourself a reward for everything you’re putting into this training with your dog. Tell yourself at the end of a great day where you have dedicated practice time, mastered management, or effectively changed an association or behaviour (in yourself OR your dog), that you are going to treat yourself to a fitting reward. Go out for dinner with your partner, meet a friend for a coffee, see a movie, buy yourself flowers, whatever it is that you find rewarding, do it! You deserve it. 

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