Dog training is about communicating with a dog. It is letting a dog know what you would like it to do, and then getting compliance from that dog. There are three skills that I use when I train a dog or help a person modify their dog’s behavior. The three skills are awareness, patience, and practice. Anybody can be aware, anybody can be patient, and anybody can practice.
Part 1: Awareness
Awareness simply means attentiveness. Awareness is the act of paying attention. We influence the world around us through our own behavior. The awareness that we need to develop first is self-awareness. To be aware of myself, I question myself about my own self-awareness. Before I work with any dog client or human client I ask myself, “How do I feel physically and emotionally, and what is my energy level like right now?” I am not always looking to feel great, that would be unreasonable. I just want to know does anything hurt? Or is everything healthy? Am I happy? Distracted? Anxious? Nervous? Relaxed? Calm? I also need to be aware of my desire and what I would like to communicate, and what I would like to see done, as well as my goals. Then I will be aware of my actions, and how I feel physically, my mood, and how my energy levels at this time will affect my actions. I am also aware that my actions are bringing me closer to my desired result. The point is to acknowledge and accept the facts of the present moment, not to change, or even judge.
We also need to be aware of our dog. I ask myself, how does my dog feel? Do I see any signs of physical or emotional comfort or discomfort? What is my dog’s energy level right now? Is my dog tuned in and paying attention, or is she distracted? Does she look nervous, anxious, over stimulated, or calm and attentive? How does her physical state, mood, and energy affect her current behavior? How am I affecting my dog, her mood and her behavior? I ask myself, how is her current behavior different from the behavior that I would like to see? Again, the main point is not to judge but to simply to be aware.
We also need to be aware of the environment that we are currently in. The environment as I am defining it here is everything that is not me or my dog. What are the facts of the current environment? Is it hot, cold, wet, or dry? Are there a lot of distractions? Is it quiet? What is the feeling that I sense from the environment? What is the energy level of the environment? How does this environment affect me physically? How does it affect my mood, feelings, and energy level? How does this environment affect my dog? Are there things in the environment that my dog is aware of but that I am not? How influential is this present environment on my dogs behavior? Is this the right environment for training my dog?
These are the types of question that I ask myself whenever I am with my dog. I try not to be distracted away from these types of questions. Distraction is everywhere. I developed a program that I go through when I am with my dog to help me stay focused on my dog.
- I have time limits for activities. That way if someone calls or texts, or if my mind wanders to a worry or a thought, I can always tell myself that this time is for me and my dog.
- Before interacting with my dog, I check in with myself. I ask the self-awareness questions that are listed above. If I find myself too excited, I take a few breaths and calm down.
- I check in with my dog. I assess her body language, and energy level. If I am doing a lower energy activity like walking I look for her to be calm before proceeding.
Developing this awareness can be difficult. There is a lot to be aware of, and no matter how hard I try, there are times when I am with my dog and I am not giving her the attention that the situation requires. All I can do is trust that she will forgive me, and try to be more aware the next time. With patience and practice I am sure that there is room for improvement. I have done it and I have seen others do it. So I you can do it. Thank you and Enjoy Your Dog!!!