Forgive and Forget. These are words to live by, they apply to a lot of situations in life, and they apply to dog training. As trainers, or handlers, we have a tendency to expect perfection from ourselves, and occasionally from our dogs. We have all had that day where it seems nothing goes right, and while Fido has performed this particular command 600 times with flawless execution…. today at 601 he’s completely forgotten everything he’s ever learned. And you find yourself standing there miserable, frustrated and even temperamental.
And any good trainer will tell you to take a step back. Remember to breathe, and start over. They will remind you that we all have off days, and it’s important to forgive the dog their short comings at that really expensive trial you just watched blow up in your face. And that you can come back to the work when you’ve cleared your head; you can resume training with a clean slate.
But while we all know we have to forgive our dogs - after all they live in the moment; and don’t really understand that you’re annoyed because they ruined your training experience yesterday – we too often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a client or friend tell me the fault with their dog is on their shoulders, that they messed up. And while often this is true, the guilt weighs heavy on them and it infiltrates their training, and their attitude.
So, I am here to remind you that while you’re busy forgiving your dog, don’t forget to forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. You will do something you’re not proud of, you’ll get angry and frustrated and annoyed. You’ll raise your voice when it’s not fair, and you’ll resent your dog for valid, and sometimes even petty, things. And you will realize you’ve done any, or all, of these things and you will feel incredibly guilty for it. You will know it wasn’t fair, you’ll know it probably did more harm than good. And you’ll carry that guilt with you into your next training session…And you need to stop.
I call it the Clean Slate Principle. I approach every training session with a clean slate, for the dog I’m working AND myself. I make certain to let go of any of my own feelings of guilt, or inadequacy; I start with a clean slate. Each session is it’s own new day experience, and that means we have a chance to undo, redo, or reinforce anything we need to; but we can’t do that if we’re not working from a clean slate.
So the next time you start a training session remember to start with a Clean Slate. A Clean Slate for your dog, and for yourself. After all, unlike our perfect dogs, you are only human.
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