To be the best trainer that we can be, we are striving for an impossible goal - a goal that we will never achieve. Even though we set our clear goal, and aim for it, as we begin learning and growing to what we once had our sites set on, our goal will no longer be good enough. Our eyes will have gotten trained to desire a more finite picture, one that we previously could not see. This makes training dogs both impossibly hard, and very alluring!
This is the frustration that I see in many people after having successfully trained their first dog. My mentor says that training your first dog is like successfully completing your first 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle. You can admire your hard work and skill, but in no way has it made the task easier, nor will it allow you to cut corners for your next 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Granted, you might be more careful about losing puzzle pieces, or forcing pieces into the wrong spot, but you will still find the same effort, dedication and work is required to complete the second puzzle. And maybe more, depending upon the puzzle, because generally our future dogs are more challenging, not less so.
There is nothing easy about getting good; it demands effort, grit and deliberate practise, in wind, rain, sleet and snow, often with very little improvement from day to day. It is in these moments that our once 'work' of training our dogs slowly becomes a love and passion as we get hooked on the details and nuances required for each and every dog.
Most often we get the dogs that we need, meaning that the skill required is just within our reach with effort and determination. Though sometimes the work seems too hard for our skill level; the improvements non-existent despite our effort and commitment. When stuck we need to set up moments for ourselves where we can get our motivation back. This might be walking or training with friends, going to a weekly class to keep you on track, journalling, or long peaceful walks where you can clear your head and think.
Only our inner engagement will make us good trainers. We need to stay engaged, and must be thinking about what we are doing. There is nothing rote about training dogs. If you are just going out and doing, that is all that you will ever do. Reading this blog, going to a seminar, or attending weekly class will all have zero benefit if you don't process it, understand it, and later reflect. All true masters of dogs have spent their 10,000 hours thinking. Not reading. Not learning. But thinking, practising, thinking some more, and practising again.
Don't get me wrong. Learning is needed. But learning will often be coming from your own mind, when you work out your problem and brainstorm for solutions. If you cannot find a solution, you can ask, but asking alone without first brainstorming won't teach you how to think. It is even useful to remember things that you did, that got you the wrong result. That action that got you something, even though it was not wanted in that moment, might be right tomorrow when you need that result.
My long winded moral to this story is that we must all learn to think. We must have the tenacity and inner grit to train our dogs even when we don't want to, and then we must process and think about what went right, and what we need to change. Our practise must happen often enough that we remember this into our next session so that we can actually change.
Becoming good takes a long, long time, and probably three dogs before it becomes more fluid. But it is worth it. The process with each dog is such an honour that we are all blessed to have.