Today, I took Luna to a busy trail to practice things we’ve been working on for weeks. I was hoping to get some great videos of her demonstrating what she’s learned; unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Some stress in our household this week after the loss of a family member may have been one reason, or it could have been something totally different. Either way, I was reminded that, as a trainer, I should focus on the dog in front of me.
Luna is dog reactive, and we’ve worked on this for many years. Lately, she’s been able to watch dogs calmly and even pass them as we walk by. This is awesome progress. We’ve definitely come a long way. Today, however, Luna was not herself. Instead of focusing on me and her training, she was seriously obsessed with chipmunks. She was focused on every movement, every noise. She seemed to have forgotten her training.
Rather than get upset, I had to focus on the dog in front of me. Instead of using her pattern games to pass dogs, I used them to keep her focused on me and not on the movement in the bushes. This was an awesome reminder for me and really helped me connect with Luna. I had to drop my expectations for the session, but Luna walked away proud of herself and wanting to train.
Another time this really hit home was when I signed Leda up for a recall class. We spent the entire first class just working on being calm and focusing. She couldn’t do the activities that week, but it was still a huge learning experience for both of us, and since I didn’t push her and helped her become calm in the situation, the next several sessions went extremely well. She was able to return to that classroom for many other classes. Had I pushed her and ignored her anxiety, we may have had a different outcome.
Often, we have expectations for pets. We may want our dog to be able to accompany us in outdoor dining scenarios, but it may not be possible for our dog or it may require a lot of training. We may sign up for a really fun class and be excited, but our dog may need more support in that scenario than we anticipated and may take a few class sessions to become calm enough to learn in that environment.
As pet guardians, we have to remember this and find ways to support them even when they aren’t meeting our expectations. I could have left with Luna today and just trained another day. I could have pulled Leda from that class and never returned with her to that classroom too. Instead, I chose to make the most of it and get through it. They’re better for it, and I was reminded that they aren’t robots meant to perform for us. They can have off days or need help in certain situations, and it’s our responsibility to see this and act upon it. They’ll appreciate us for it.