Ohh, it seems so easy to see wherein lies the FAIL.
The dog is trained. The dog is proofed. The dog is in a familiar environment.
So he should know better.
And thus Dart Beagle recently went to obedience drill and wouldn’t.
He flopped around when asked to sit for the stay exercises. He got up. He got up. He got up.
He flopped around when asked to go on a down for the stay exercises. He crept. He came running to me when reminded to not creep, wagging his tail in a you-know-what-eating grin. Back in the line, he flopped around some more.
If you’ve ever seen a toddler doing a passive-aggressive “no I won’t get in the stroller” flop, it’s something like that. Legs everywhere, body made of silly putty.
Dart held his stay, finally, and did it well. Then I went to get him and gave him big praise as he shifted into hyperactive excitement at his accomplishment.
Have I mentioned that Dart is a really, really emotional dog?
After that he forgot what it means to go down on recall. I helped him into success and gave him cookies for it. “Me!” he said. “Me me me me me!”
You notice there’s no room for thought between the “me’s” in his little dialogue bubble.
After that, I broke out the clicker and took him outside. He loves the clicker dearly. Every click it makes, it says DART IS CORRECT! DART IS AWESOME! DART DART DART! A few moments of this and he came back inside to work heeling patterns with excellence and pride.
There is no halfway with Dart.
None of his behavior was about not knowing. It wasn’t about not understanding or not being trained or…
Or even aurgh, he KNOWS this.
In fact, the finger of FAIL wasn’t pointing at Dart at all.
It was ow pointing right at OW me and stabbing me right in the OWW! chest.
(*Nostalgic Remington Steele fans can thank me for that later.)
Dart has a puppy at home. His home gestalt is upside down and inside out.
Dart is an emotionally needy dog of extremes.
Dart is a jealous dog who has been known to start fights because Connery got an extra pat on the head.
Dart is a dog of easy overstimulation who needs to reorient after changes and chaos.
And Dart arrived at the drill a few moments later than he should have, got popped in a crate, and then watched while Tristan Puppy socialized until suddenly his handler (ME) was caught by surprise that it was time for class to start.
Connery has no trouble with any of that. Connery did a lovely, lovely job that night in all things. But Dart is…
An emotional dog.
Sadly for me (she says, dodging another jab from the finger), it’s my job to support him through that. So while he does know his job, and while I did play obedience with him this week in ways that should have prepared him fully for drill night, and while at five-plus years he darned well ought to be able to walk into a familiar space and perform familiar exercises…
It was a handler fail.
So much of training is like that.
It’s tempting to look at what the dog is doing “in this moment” and respond to it in terms of what he ought to know/do/perform. But it can be more complicated than that—a whole lot more complicated.
When a dog does the inexplicable, there’s usually an explanation lurking. Sure, you have to handle “that moment” as best you can, in a way that creates the most clarity for the dog. But that doesn’t mean stopping there—it means looking back to the moments before the moments, and the moments before that, and…
Well, and figuring out at exactly what point the fickle finger started pointing your way.
Truth is, I think most of training is about figuring out that crucial little detail. Or it should be. Because when you stop blaming the dog for what he should have known and go back to the moment where things really went awry, that’s how you figure out to prevent the problem from happening again. And the moment where things really went awry isn’t usually the same moment at which they actually happened.
(I swear that made sense when it was still just inside my own head. Quick, have a puppy photo!)