Dog Training Fundamentals - Focusing on Failure
When you have a dog that doesn’t do what you want, or makes things stressful for you, focusing on failure is easy to do. After all, you didn’t ask for your dog to be a bad roommate or houseguest, and it gets tiring having to deal with the same problems over and over. Focusing on failure can sour a lot of your relationship with your dog, to the point of making you quit doing things you want to do with your dog. I know many owners who gave up walking their dogs because of the overwhelming nature of their dog’s behavior on walks.
Finding and recognizing patterns is part of what has made humanity what it is today and part of the survival instincts in many animals. It’s natural to focus on something that bothers you, and it’s very common to struggle to NOT think about that thing. We’re only human.
Failure vs Success
Failure and success are tricky. What one person considers a success, another would consider a failure. Perfectionist procrastination paralysis revolves around things not being perfect enough (so they never get done and no action is taken), and there is a huge stigma around failure and not getting things right the first time. Failure seems like the ultimate disaster, when really it’s just information pointing you towards success.
Without mistakes learning can’t occur. Mistakes are learning opportunities and nothing shows learning from mistakes more than improvement. But to have a measuring stick of what improvement looks like for you or your dog, we have to determine where it is you are. If you’re at a place with little success, that’s ok, we can change that. It’s not the end of the world.
This is where focusing on failure will bite you in the ass. Not only are failures magnified the more you scrutinize them, not only are they more noticeable the more you’re looking for them, but they will minimize what success looks like. It becomes a “can’t see the forest for the trees” type of situation and leads to other negative consequences like labeling your dog or yourself. This really gets you stuck in a rut, having your own personal groundhog day with your dog.
Change the Focus Away From Failure
Mistakes happen, big and small. These are times for us to reevaluate what is going on and how we can prevent it in the future. As humans this is a gift we have, and it becomes an obligation to share this with our dogs. They are not going to figure out anything by themselves or magically develop skills overnight. It’s up to us to help and guide them, to build habits that we DO want them to have, instead of getting into trouble.
Failure shows us exactly where our skills or our dog’s skills are weak. This shines a spotlight on what we need to train for, and gives us a clear beacon to work towards. This is a key component of developing a strong training plan and moving towards your training goals with your dog. Without knowing where it is things are going astray, we can’t make good progress, nor can we judge when you and your dog are ready to move forward as a team.
All of that said, the focus is also on the end goal and the successes, much more so than the failings. Focusing on the success changes the way we see ourselves and our dogs. They become the dog that can lay quietly with us, walk on leash without pulling each step, and comes when called. They become a student who is learning just like you, not a trouble maker out to rain on your parade.
This paradigm shift is vital for success. After all, empathy is extremely important when it comes to training. Without it the relationship that you have with your dog, the views that are held of them, will remain fractured and fragile. This can hold you back from ever developing a deep and trusting bond with them, and also stifle parts of their life.
Mistakes and failure are valuable information. Showing us where we need more work as well as what isn’t working. This always helps us narrow things down and get closer to our goals. There’s only so many variables to change before successes start happening with regularity, and often there’s less to change than you’d thing.
See the good. Reward the good. Keep track of what you like to see and grow it. Your dog will thank you for your guidance.