One of the most important thing a dog trainer can do is plan.
Whether it's a group class or a private lesson, you have to have a plan. Training requires a plan because it builds on itself and having a plan is helpful just to make sure you're doing certain things in the best or most effective order.
But just as important as having a plan is the ability to scrap the plan and shift gears on the fly. And I was reminded of the need for that ability in a big way yesterday.
I was working with a 7-month-old viszla puppy while he was boarding. I had been asked to do three sessions with him, focusing on leash walking and greeting people politely - both of which are important things for a puppy to learn. My plan was to do one session focusing exclusively on polite greetings, another focusing just on beginning leash walking skills and the third would focus on taking both of those to a slightly higher level of difficulty.
And it was during that third session that my plans had to go out the window. I had planned to start by working on leash walking, so I got his leash on. But I found out quickly my viszla friend had other ideas. He was in no mood to work on leash walking. He was, however, in a mood to play tug with his leash and run around.
Honestly, I thought I was going to have to scrap the whole lesson. But I was able to take a breath and quickly switch gears. I let my viszla friend run around like a crazypants for a minute and when he calmed down slightly, I was able to shove enough treats in his mouth to get him to let go of the leash. I thought that was the end of it, but the minute he finished chewing, the leash was back in his mouth. So I shoved another handful of treats into his head and got his leash off and out of reach. Leash walking was just not on yesterday's agenda, apparently.
But that's when you really have to improvise. I still had an hour of training to accomplish. I'd only planned on working polite greetings for half of that time, but I realized that our environment was perfect for practicing polite greetings with distractions. So that's what we did. We spent an hour on it.
And you know what? My viszla friend crushed it. Without the leash, he was so focused and ready to work. I was able to really work on getting him to stay calm no matter what was going on around him. By the end, he wasn't even thinking about jumping or breaking his sit when people would approach.
Though we didn't get to work on leash walking, I still call yesterday's lesson a success. I'd much rather spend an hour successfully working on something I didn't plan to work on than spend an hour trying to get a dog to work on something he clearly wasn't going to work on and getting frustrated and accomplishing nothing.
And that's why you have to be able to switch gears quickly. If I hadn't, I would have gotten frustrated and my viszla friend would have picked up on it and nothing wold have gotten done. Instead, we had a great lesson and I'll talk to the viszla's parents to give them some extra tips on leash walking.
And I think that's the best result I could have hoped for.
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