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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Emotions & Training

Emotions - we all have 'em and sometimes they're a blessing and sometimes a curse.  

I'm mentoring someone who, during the course of training their dog, is experiencing a range of emotions. I'll bet you can relate - they started off with their dog acting brilliantly.  Each week the brilliance increased and the dog & handler were having a great time.  Now as the handler experiences success, they expect their young dog to act brilliantly all of the time and at a moment's notice. They've now gone from a euphoric high to a ground-slamming low of disappointment as their expectations have surpassed the dog's ability.

Rather than go into the "Why's" of the situation, I thought it would be good to address the one thing nobody talks about - Training & the accompanying EMOTIONS!

It's natural for our emotions to take over at times. Like when you've just had an incredible agility run with your dog and you're certain you just conquered the world...or there was that equally frustrating run where you were less than pleased with either yourself or your dog....I'll bet you can immediatly blurt out how you felt in those moments.

The first thing I want to say is that emotions are NATURAL!  Like it or not, we live with them in every waking & non-waking moment.  Some of us are more prone to embrace (or be overtaken by) them and some are in denial that their parents passed on the emotion gene (I hate to tell you, but it's there).

Whatever type you are, I suggest preparing for "emotions" to sneak up on you at some point while training your dog.  It's going to happen. 

Unfortunately most coaches don't talk about this side of Agility and who could blame them? Emotions can be sticky, icky, uncomfortable, personal and honestly, not many agility coaches have a degree in Wading Through Emotional Sludge.

Let me say upfront that I've experienced both euphoric and just plain ugly emotions during my 13 year dog career and I'll bet you have too.  Some lessons I've learned the hard way and some lessons I did just right - life is about learning and you'll find yourself learning as you go too. Any way, since many of us commit ourselves to our dogs & to our training financially, physically and with our souls it's natural - and to be expected - that our commitment level comes out in emotions every once in awhile. 

Some handlers try to pretend that they're always positive and this is simply being untrue, unfair and undermining to themselves.  I say recognize & embrace your emotions because it is a part of who you are.  NOW, with that said, that doesn't mean emotions should necessarily run the show and run your behavior - especially if it highlights the inside ugly monster you swore you'd never let out of it's cage!

Seriously, be aware of how you're feeling (happy or not) and if you're not feeling "balanced", are overwhelmed, irratated, disappointed, etc. then stop, chose not to train, don't continue with what was eliciting the negative emotion, concentrate on breathing and resist the urge to replay the bad in your mind and instead chose to focus on things that went well.

Emotions are going to happen and it's our job to recognize them as they occur and if appropriate, immediately move toward an action that relieves any negative feelings - BEFORE we act upon them.

I share all of this because emotions and training do not necessarily go hand in hand.  Training is about our dog, is more factual based and focuses on a goal.  On the other hand, emotions are about US and they are sporadic and often can be unfair and illogical. 

So the next time you go to train your dog, check your emotions at the door (ok, just the negative ones!) and be prepared to focus on your dog and not your emotions.

As always, have fun and enjoy the training!  Oh wait, those are emotions....

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