Try not to stay in kindergarten for too long...
For anyone who has ever sought the assistance of a dog trainer, you likely did it because you were struggling with behavioral issues with your dog or because you wanted to start training early to prevent behavioral issues so you took your puppy to basic puppy classes. Either way, when you begin train your dog (or learn any new skill for that matter) you start at the beginning ... kindergarten.
Over the course of your training program, you and you dog learn many new skills and new behaviors and your once bewildering and out of control life with your dog starts to come into focus and feels more peaceful. Life is good. You feel like you have a measure of control over your dog’s behavior and your dog is making better decisions all on his own. So now we’re done, right?
Well, not exactly. During the initial phases of your training program, you would have worked rather exclusively on ‘teaching’ new behaviors (or creating a new state of mind through behaviors) to your dog. And when we are in the teaching phase, we give A LOT of guidance and help to the dog to show him what we want and then we reward him with food or toys to encourage him to repeat the behavior he was just guided into. This is the spot where a lot of people get stuck and a lot of owners never move past this phase. And this teaching phase where we guide, show, lure with food, etc. is what I call kindergarten.
So, in order to get out of kindergarten, we have to move to the next phase of training. This next phase involves helping less but knowing when to step in and only give the dog guidance if he gets confused. There is a very fine line here. This is the phase where you HAVE to let the dog struggle a bit and try to figure things out for himself. BUT (BIG BUT here) you don’t want to let him struggle so much that he feels frustrated, cranky, defeated, depressed, etc. And this fine line is so completely different for different dogs. Like humans, dogs are unique individuals with unique and varied learning styles. I have never met 2 dogs that learn the same tasks in exactly the same way. Every dog needs a different amount of guidance and help during the learning process. So, you start by giving less guidance and only stepping in when the dogs gets stuck. And now we have a dog that starts learning how to be an independent problem solver and is eager to work in anticipation of his reward rather than being bribed or lured into working with the reward. Do you see the difference? The first way creates dogs with great work ethics that offer behaviors willing, while the second way creates dogs that we must beg and bribe for those same behaviors. So let’s push our dogs out of kindergarten and help empower them to be problem solvers who are eager to work for you. Happy training my friends!