Have you ever been incredibly excited to go somewhere but aren’t the one driving? You might exclaim “Oh my, are you kidding me… it’s the gas pedal… Just Go!!!!” That can be exactly what going at our dog’s pace feels like. As eager as we are for them to learn every lesson we still have to go at their pace. Why show all this patience? Because they are in the driver’s seat and we are just along for the ride. Every lesson and new adventure should be done at their individual pace for that experience to be enjoyable.
When dogs are having fun they are not in a state of anxiety or on alert, thereby increasing the ability to make new positive memories. In our busy world, we have the opportunity to have fun along with our dogs while properly introducing them to new situations every day. Slamming on the breaks is not needed for every instance when driving a car and will create accidents in some cases. Each outing with our dogs should be a smooth ride in the same way; no need for frantic backseat driving. Our dogs need calm guidance and training in this busy world so they can trust us. That starts with their people having reasonable expectations and understanding that learning is not linear. Knowing when our dog is comfortable is very important so we notice when they are not. This can be easily done when we watch our dogs in a relaxed body posture so we are able to catch their cues when they become stressed or anxious. When we are rushed it is easier to overlook these signs.
Being eager for our dog’s to succeed is amazing!!! That excitement helps them as they are learning, just like the first day of school with a new backpack and shoes. We must keep all of that excitement as we keep in mind that we are teaching our dogs these things for the first time, in a world they don’t understand, or they could have been taught several different ways already by other families. Keep the excitement!! … Remember the New Shoes… They need that energy!! Think about those big top-well worn, heavily scrubbed desks given to kindergarteners. When we are working with our dogs that desk with crayon on it is exactly what we need to be thinking of. Not only do our dogs learn (and walk) at their own pace each dog will begin at their own individual starting point; which is different from their
sibling’s, our previous dog’s, our current dog’s, or our neighbor’s dog’s. Once we truly embrace that we will see a new kind of happy in our relationship with our dog as we both become relaxed. Our expectations should not be based on any relationship other than the one we are currently building.
Going our dog’s pace requires patience. Often we are in a rush to go somewhere or have something else to do even though we know our dog’s need to go for a walk. Especially at these times we may not notice if our dog is nervous about the new environment or if they are ready to move on to the next bit. This causes frustration not only for us but for our canine companions as well. A treat they once adored is something they might not enjoy because they were rushed in that moment resulting in frustration. The first step to avoiding unhappy hounds is going our dogs pace. If our dog likes to sniff then we can give an
extra 10 minutes at walk times for arrivals. This will give time at the start for our dog to sniff while we ignore them (no Leave It’s, no calling, no names: unless it’s an Emergency) and then a cue to begin the walk after that time. At that point our dog will know the walk has begun and they will pay closer attention. The tug of war part of the walk that once was the opening sequence is now a calm preplanned sniff-venture that releases extra energy for our dogs.
Another time that going at our dog’s pace is difficult, yet critical, is when our dog is learning a new skill. We are often ready to jump to that next step before our dog has a true grasp of the step they are still working on. If our dog seems overwhelmed or frustrated when learning go back to the previous step and practice it until our dog fully grasps the foundation of the skill. This will set them up for success with that skill as a whole. When we rush any step of a skill we reduce their understanding and confidence with that skill. By going our dog’s pace at each step they are able to learn with a relaxed mindset, are rewarded for the goal in that step repeatedly, and we are able to make notes for future training sessions
that will help set us up for success.
Enjoy the reward that comes with a little patience, a lot of practice, and going at our individual dog’s pace!!