I’m not perfect–not even close. I have personal faults and I’ve definitely made mistakes with my dogs. I really try not to make the same mistake twice and I do generally learn from my mistakes but I’m human. I’ve been fortunate enough to have not made mistakes that I cannot fix (or that becomes a long standing issue).
I’ve been involved with dogs my entire life. When I was 12 I got my very own dog (we’d always had family bulldogs but I wanted a more athletic dog to play with). Once she was about 6 months old we brought her to a training class with a trainer who agreed to let me shadow him after I completed a few classes (he was a friend of a family friend who got me “in the door” so to speak). The first thing this trainer did was show me how to fit and put on a choke chain correctly. During the first class we practiced sit, down, and heel. He had us teach “sit” three times using a treat then we dropped the treat and corrected for non-compliance. If the dog didn’t go into a sit we were to pull up on the leash and push down on the dog’s rump. There was very little teaching in this class mostly correcting dogs for things they didn’t know. I finished the class but barely. My poor 6 month old puppy started to avoid me and every time I put her training collar on she sort of froze and was very slow in her movements. Something inside me said “y’know this just isn’t right” and I left. During this class I learned the finer points of the leash pop and goodness did it take me years to get the muscle memory out of my vocabulary. I hated training… she hated training… it was just awful.
So, I ultimately found a more positive trainer (though no purely). The first thing she did was fit my pup with a head collar. She was very clear that corrections should not play a role in training until the dog knows the behavior and expectations. She did not allow physical corrections in her beginner or intermediate classes. It took a little while but my pup finally started to like training again (even though I still had to fight the leash-pop reflex). I learned from my previous mistake and even took this training further as I took up clicker training. In the end she love training and loved working with me… it was a rocky start but I learned from it!
When I got Shayne, I was made aware that she had some food aggression problems and was “lacking confidence.” Alright, that was good to know. I knew after my 25 minutes of sitting in the meet-n-greet room without her approaching that she was a bit tentative, but she was willing to eventually give me a chance. I brought her home with me and she was doing beautifully. She was immediately comfortable with my mom, met a neighbor successfully (I wouldn’t call her friendly but she was pretty much just shy), and seemed to be adjusting well. Somewhere between 7 and 14 days after getting her I needed to go to the pet store to buy some new toys and I figured she’d been adjusting well enough that she may like the pet store. Well… yeah, not so much. Poor Shayne was terrified. She was happy, happy, happy until we went inside and she instantly tucked her tail, dropped her body position, was very reluctant to walk, and had major whale eyes (these are what I clearly remember, I’m sure there is more). Yeah, I made a big boo-boo. Although she had been doing beautifully at home, she was definitely not ready for the pet store. This misstep caused big set backs at home as well as out and about.
I had to do quite a bit of work to get her comfortable at the store (and it was actually set back a few different times regarding her increasing fear of other people, particularly men). When I got Rio, although he was confident and comfortable as a puppy, I really resisted the urge to take him to the pet store. Instead he went to friends houses, out on walks with friends, to our neighborhood book store, and training classes. It was probably a month or more before he went to a pet store and his first time in the pet store was all about him getting in, being fed yummy things, getting a toy, and going home. Short, sweet, and not during busy hours.
When I get frustrated working with Shayne, I’ll stop doing what we were doing and rough house a little with her. She gets amped up and gets to blow off some steam and I get to blow off some steam as well. She loves this, she play bows, throws her hip at me, gets all happy and jazzed up and goes back to working with a new zest. I may grab her scruff, or push her body, tap her rump, thump her sides… to an outsider I probably look like I’m beating her up but she really loves this physical play. I had been working with Rio on something and I got frustrated and he was starting to shut down, not even thinking about it I moved in to start rough housing with him. Yeah, that is the wrong thing to do with him. He is much to soft and sensitive to handle that type of play. He dodged backwards and slunk away–oops, I then threw treats on the floor and threw a party but he was not convinced. For a few days after this he was very sensitive to my frustration level and would slink away if I was feeling frustrated (with anything in life…). I felt awful… it didn’t take too long but it was still a concern that I caused him and ugh, it wasn’t fun.
I had to classically condition my frustration with good things but it was football season so it worked out well. I got frustrated with the football and and would throw food for the dogs and would reach toward Rio and feed him. It didn’t take long for him to no longer react to my frustrations but the fact I had to fix this was sad. I still have to be very careful because he’s a ridiculously soft dog who wears his emotions on his sleeve (the smallest amount of stress causes some very visible stress signals).
I wish I could say these are my only mistakes … but alas that’s not the case. But y’know each mistake I have made has taught me something and I’ve become a better dog handler/owner/trainer.