Getting a new dog can be such an exciting time. You have so many goals and dreams about what you can do together. While I think that having a training plan to stick to is important I think that being careful about having too many expectations of the dog is equally important.
Bonding is the first and most important goal I think that any person should have with a new or existing dog. Spending time together doing something that the dog already likes is best. Most dogs like to eat, so spending time hand feeding them their meals or sharing some of your meal is a great first step. If your dog likes to be pet, spending time just sitting and petting them is great as well. My dogs love to snuggle so we do a lot of that.
Training comes after or during the bonding time depending on the dog. Some dogs need time to detox from their past before they are ready for much training and that is perfectly fine. Some dogs don’t have the emotional baggage and are in a head space to start training pretty quickly.As with most aspects of dog training, it depends on the dog.
I do have a formal training plan for my dogs. A list of what needs work and what is ready for higher criteria. The list is always on going and ever changing. While I like this as a reference it is not always my number one objective. If training is going well and both the dog I are are enjoying it, I stick to the plan and we keep training. But if we are both are not having fun, I use that as information and while I add it to the training list. I also let it act as a good chance to step back from the training and make sure that our relationship is on good terms.
Dogs aren’t robots and neither are we. We have good days, bad days and everything in between. I am guilty of holding myself to a sometimes impossible training standard. I feel like I’m a dog trainer so my dogs should be better trained or behaved in certain situations. While I want my dogs to be better trained, their behavior is not always a personal reflection on my training abilities and that is okay! I am seriously reminding myself of this constantly. Having super high exceptions of my dogs is not only unfair to them, but also unfair to me.
My youngest dog Waylon is teaching me a lot in the way of patience, flexibility and humility. He is a fantastic dog that truly finds joy in every situation. So much joy that in some cases, other things are more important than interacting with me. While it is hard to admit, that is okay! I want his life to be more than interacting with me and although it is unwanted in certain situations, I try my best to take it as information and not let it offend my ego!
I had really high exceptions for Waylon in agility and he has exceed my expectations in so many ways. The dog is athletic and smart and that has made so many aspects of his training a breeze. Some of my expectations he hasn’t met yet and you guessed it, that is okay! I am really having to dig deep within myself and let it be okay that sometimes he leaves me mid run to go and say hi. I adore his friendly personality and while it can be embarrassing for me, again it is okay!
So I challenge you, instead of being frustrated when the dog doesn’t meet your expectations in a certain situation, let it be information about what you can do in training to change behavior. Also let it be an opportunity to grow as a person. Really take time to enjoy the journey and be grateful for everything your dog has to teach you!
-Rachel Harris, CPDT-KA