I absolutely loved the slide Steve showed us of the J-Curve of Change. So much so that even though it was only one, single powerpoint slide, I’m making it into an entire post. It is not an idea unique to Steve; a quick google search will show it being used to explain everything from the economy to political change to psychological progress. Still, it’s an amazing way to explain dog training skills of both the people and the dogs.
Simply put, the J-Curve of Change shows that any time there is a change, there is a natural dip in progress. Here’s a great graphic I found on this website (and then modified slightly to remove confusing bits) that helps illustrate the concept:
Before you start something new, such as a person crossing over to more positive methods, there is a certain level of mastery. You might be getting results you like using a prong collar. When you step out of your comfort zone to try something new- in this case, clicker training- there is often a decline in performance. Steve attributes this to the intense concentration needed to learn new skills. All that thinking often makes it hard to be successful.
Since we expect that progress will go up, not down, we often give up at the deepest part of the J-Curve. This happens either because we don’t believe in the method, or because we begin to assign harmful labels to ourselves or the process (“I’m stupid,” for example). This really is unfortunate as recovery and improvement will happen if the new procedure is better and if we stick with it. Steve recommended that we have a coach that can help us maintain faith in the change and encourage us to keep moving forward.
I definitely think this is something I see with my students who are working on reactivity. Not only is the dog learning new skills, but the handler is, too. I sometimes hear people say in the first few weeks of class that their dog is getting worse. Of course, by the end of the class, they have both made so much progress! I’m really excited to have a way to explain this to my students.
I also really appreciate that Steve showed us the J-Curve of Change before we started working dogs. “Failing” was seen not only as useful information, but also as an expected part of the seminar! Well, then! No pressure on us to be shining stars. I really felt like I could learn without worrying about judgment.
But what do you think of the J-Curve of Change? Is it something you’ve seen in your life, either in dog training or not? I’d love to hear some examples of how others have experienced it!