To borrow from the Beatles… But of course, I’m talking about dog training. Learning is a science, but not an exact one. Mainly because every new dog presents us with a new set of challenges. Sure, in the lab we can precisely control all extraneous variables, but not in the living room with the puppy.

So, I’ve got this great new puppy. Helo is very bright and seems to be thoughtful enough, until he’s not. Of course, he’s also 4 months old and that speaks for itself. It seems like I’m training him a lot. But if you added it up it’s likely 10 minutes a day split into 2 sessions, and then the little bits and pieces that happen as you go through the day. Even without that much time investment, he’s learning lots of things. I always forget between puppies how anxiety-provoking and overwhelming it is. What am I forgetting? What do I need to do today so he’s not ruined? Have I missed something vitally important?

I’ve done this a few times and I know what I’m doing, sort of. I’m not 100% convinced I’m the best puppy trainer on the planet, but I have a good idea of what he should learn and the basic order he should learn it in. And I’m confident that he will learn it all in time.

So today we had possibly the worst focus training session EVER. Ever. With any dog, even dogs I don’t own. Focus is my specialty. I know how to teach focus. I write books and teach classes on this stuff. WTF happened? My brilliant puppy jumped at my hands, offered his latest trick (take a nap), leaped up on a stool, then on the sofa, then back to jumping at my hands, over and over so quickly I could not get a moment to simply reinforce focus. I have a feeling I could have done better with a dog just off the street, not the baby that I’ve lovingly nurtured for months. Not the puppy with whom I’ve carefully laid such a thoughtful foundation. Gasp! He’s doing it wrong! Shock and disbelief!

I need to get ahold of myself. I can come back to this later. Time to move on to a different behavior. We’ve been working on foot targeting and introducing the dumbbell. The foot target session goes extremely well. We move from a foot on the furniture slider on the floor to being able to raise the slider, then switching from the slider to a paw pod. Very quick progress in a couple minutes. The dumbbell has been slow going. I can’t recall the last puppy I’ve had who didn’t have a pretty strong natural retrieve. Helo’s got a natural “chase it and run away with it” behavior. That’s not going to work for me. The shaped dumbbell is going very slowly, but today I got teeth on the bar!!!! Yay!!!! Teeth on the bar is a big giant step! A nice huge breakthrough!!!

So my morning training consisted of a crappy focus session. Clearly, I need to analyze and rethink my approach there. Nice progress on the foot target. And a breakthrough on the dumbbell. Not bad for a morning’s work at all. Have to always remember not to just focus on the errors, or give them more weight than they deserve. Sure, they’re not as much fun, but they are very instructive. The problems force me to be more thoughtful and creative. And that can only be good.

My Performance Fundamentals class at Fenzi Academy started Offered Focus this week as well. They are having the typical issues that I have seen and know how to fix. So I ask myself, if this was a student’s dog, what would you do? So easy to fix someone else’s problem! I shared my very bad training moment with them so they would feel better about their own struggles. Nobody is perfect, everybody makes mistakes, and we all struggle sometimes. Yet it still gets done and we get better. The dogs get trained, sometimes in spite of us!

It’s a good thing he’s so darn cute! That counts for a LOT some days.