But I found no joy in it. Instead, I got overwhelmed by the prospect of doing it wrong. I worried endlessly about breaking my dog. I was positive I would make a mistake so serious that I’d never be able to fix it, and I’d be doomed to unreliable and sloppy performances forever after.
Between all of the different dog training blogs, forums, and email lists I read, it’s no wonder I freaked out. Should I use pivot boards and platforms, or are these impossible to fade? Should I use a target on the ground or on the wall for go-outs? Tie down scent articles or not? How often should I reward my dog, and with what? Should I talk or remain silent? And how do I tell my dog she was wrong if I won’t use physical corrections?
In the end, I was paralyzed by fear. Faced with so many choices, I made the easiest, and did nothing. By not training, I couldn’t make mistakes… but my dog wasn’t learning anything, either.
So what’s a perfectionist to do?
Well, I started by acknowledging that there are many ways to train a dog, even within my particular training philosophy. Doing this allowed me to accept that even if I made a complete and utter fool of myself with one method, there would be another way of training the skill. I would not have to give up on my goals entirely.
|A video still from a heeling session. We are having FUN.|
I also decided that Maisy should be having fun, too. Unlike me, Maisy does not care one whit about scores and placements and titles. She just wants to go and play with me. As it turns out, I don’t get much joy from watching her plod through an exercise, so this worked well for us both.
And then I started training. These days, I train for speed and enthusiasm. I train for eagerness and intensity. I train for joy. Yes, we make mistakes, and yes, it’s quite possible it will all fall apart some day. But so what? It seems like everyone has to re-train something anyway, so we’ll be in good company. Besides, if we have to start over again, it just gives us that much more to do together.
This has been working quite well for me. Maisy has learned a lot, and we’ve been making great progress. She picks up on things quickly, and she’s developed skills I’d almost written off. As for my desire for scores and placements, well, Maisy’s recent success seems to speak for itself. Oh, and did I mention that we’ve been having tons of fun together?
Perfectionist or not, this is why I train: because I love my dog and want to do things with her. And I’ve been able to enjoy our time together even more by discovering the joy of making mistakes.