Mental Attitude

Sunday, January 22, 2017 12:30 AM | Bob Self (Administrator)

The trainer’s attitude is the one most important factors that affects the person-dog relationship. A trainer must be mentally prepared, approaching training sessions with a positive attitude, under emotional control.  Often dogs do not “obey commands,” but it isn't out of spite.  Dogs are not devious or deceitful and do not fail to perform in order to “get even.”  They don't obey because they haven't been adequately reinforced.  In human terms we would say they are confused or misunderstand.

Sometimes in training it is easy to become frustrated and angry that things are not going the way one expects.  Any time a trainer gets angry during training they cannot think rationally. This quickly becomes a situation where one “dumb animal” is attempting to teach another.  Anger always produces unproductive results for both dog and trainer.

Dog training is a physical activity, and a person with good physical dexterity has advantages over those who don't. However, dog training is as much a mental and emotional activity as it is physical. People with all abilities can excel as dog trainers. The natural athlete, the handicapped, the young, the old, man or woman can have a well-trained dog if they desire. The primary aid to all trainers is to take the time to develop a mental picture of what is expected out of the dog as well as themselves.  Ask yourself and visualize the actions you must preform to get the dog to react as desired. Some trainers seem to have this ability intuitively.  Others need to concentrate until it becomes natural.  Both have the ability to do if they put forth the effort.

To illustrate the mental picture assume you are training a dog to sit and stay.  You must know (carry a mental picture) of the dog performing the action properly to your standards. You must also know what mistakes are possible and visualize a plan of action to correct them. Possible errors could include a foot movement, learning, hunching down, inching forward, whining, or standing completely. By thinking this out in advance and knowing the corrective action to take, a trainer can anticipate the error, improve their timing to correct it earlier, and becomes more proficient. The major difference between an experienced and novice trainer is that the experienced person knows many of the mistakes a dog will make, expects them to occur, and is prepared to correct them.

The first step in correcting any problem is to visually define it.  This makes the trainer more able to continually and consistently evaluate their dog’s performance according to their standards. Is the dog's performance right or wrong?   If incorrect, what increment of the exercise is causing the problem?  An entire exercise cannot be corrected so the trainer must single out that part which is causing the trouble.  This allows the trainer to reinforce the desired behavior to the dog more effectively, more fairly, and more efficiently.  When the dog is performing the part reliably, the entire exercise is assembled again for further evaluation.

To illustrate assume a dog does not come briskly when called on the Recall exercise. One course of action would be to place the dog on leash and work on the brisk response. There would be no formal stay, no front, or no finish until the dog comes as desired. There is little point in taking a chance that the come corrections might transfer improperly causing problems with staying, fronting or finishing.

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