I've been involved with training and handling dogs for 25 years. So what gives? Sometimes I feel I should be much better than I am. I know there was a time I was a good handler, doing right by positive reinforcement training. However, in the past four or so years, I have dwindled. I had been fighting fatigue. Gradually and surely, I reverted to old handling habits that were not so great.
When I'm fighting fatigue, it just isn't about tiredness, my brain is half shut down. I have less energy to think, see, hear and function. Its like being a zombie, but trying to do what you need to get through life, waiting for the next day that your energy comes back. You wait for the moment to sleep or just sit or just rest. When I'm in this state, my handling skills really go down. I recently had a horrible discovery, I am heavy handed on the leash again. I knew it was there, but I thought it was a once in a rare time fluke. Then I found out it wasn't. How heavy my heart became. It was like, what happened!!! I thought I kicked that habit and was better with the leash! I realized that I had been fighting fatigue for so long that I just went into automatic mode. I now steer with my leash. No wonder when Mickey comes to the store with me, he's more like a robot than a happy dog. When you are fatigue, you are unaware what is happening around you. This includes what your dog is doing. You jsut think he's quiet.
At a Denise Fenzi seminar a few weeks back, something hit home while she was talking about motivation. Make yourself more interesting. I realized that I make going out in public very boring for Mickey. I never really talk to him. I get into reading labels and shopping dragging him along. Now I see why Mickey would solicit attention from people around me. They were more interesting and Mickey was trying to balance BORING with some affection. He would bat his eyes as people would walk past him and they would think he's so cute. Of course this would just reinforce Mickey's behavior even more with the attention, while me the Zombie was just trying to get a boring errand done. Of course Mickey wanted to be with me, but it wasn't as fun as it use to be in the earlier days. So he's going to solicit from others. This seminar made my light bulb go on. Like DUH! My poor dog. Since then I now make me a little more interesting in the store.
Also at this workshop, I realized I've been very stuck. I think Denise has felt the same as if, what can I do for you? The past few have seem like repeats. Fighting health issues put me in a weird funk and certainly enabled me to move forward. I thought with some practice we would be decent. Not really. I thought our first time with her about a year earlier was better. At that time I was spending more time with Mickey. I realized, I need to come home and get Mickey OUT to parks, store and just getting out. The boy had cabin fever. The ever so often once a month or less Rally class just wasn't going to cut it. So now Mickey's life has more activity. I see our bond coming back.
Four years ago, Mickey was with me 24/7. We had a stronger bond. He use to side step with me so ever nicely. I thought it was a cool thing, but then as my health dwindled and I became more fatigued, I just drag him along. I was so unaware of what was happening.Those past years were just a fog. They were not torture for Mickey, just boring.
But with recent training and the recent workshop, I realized it is time for me to have awareness that I have seriously slipped with my dog handling skills. Yes, even with the occasional dog class. I had slipped. Time to reassess what happened.
As a child, I learned very poor riding habits. I use to be really hard on a horse's mouth. I was heavy handed and learned the push, shove and compulsive way of training. Force training. Of course it was very well justified why we trained or interacted with our horses that way. I didn't know any better, I was just a kid.
I developed serious eye problems and it was best for me to stop being around horses. About 1984 was the last time I have ever ridden a horse, but all those years of yanking on a horse's mouth and developing bad habits have stayed with me years later. My first learning in dog training was leash correction with a choke chain. Snap pop and release. After awhile I realized I didn't like this. This is why I never went into the obedience competition ring. I just couldn't pop a leash that many times to get a dog to heel. Let them walk naturally. That's all I needed from my hearing dog of the time. I then learned clicker training and slowly transformed to a fairly decent handler with no heavy handling. Even though I have recently slipped, I'm no way the heavy handler I was back 20 years ago. When it comes out now, it is considered wrong to the positive reinforcement world, but rather mild compared to what I use to do.
The more I turned Zombie, the worst my handling got. The more I was on autopilot, the worse my handling became. The more fatigue I got, the worst I got in connecting with my dog. Life was a fog of trying to get to the next day.
Focusing on competition obedience, I have been slowly trying to get my skills back. I now can leave frustration behind and work on creating behavior. Frustration only leads to force. I also want to bring joy back in Mickey's travels out in public with me. I am now talking to him, petting him, and saying what a good boy he is instead of just going in motion to do errands at a store. I stop and look at those beautiful soft precious eyes. He really does want to please me with all his heart. He wants connection and craves it. Yes, this is anthropomorphizing, but also my gut feeling.
I'm starting to get back my handling skills again. I try not to be hard on myself, but I do shake my head and wonder. How could someone like me who had dedicated so much time in trying to learn positive reinforcement skills fall? It is rather humiliating since I have put up such a strong stand and support for positive reinforcement training. Newer people see mediocre handling skills. They don't see how I use to handle my dog. They just see my sloppy, nagging handling skills. Fortunately I'm changing and I'm more aware to shape myself away from this. Self awareness is important.
It is easy to get into a cycle of beating myself up. But what a waste of energy. How does that move me forward to better handling? What brings me to better handling is, hug my dog, and we move forward today. The exciting thing is, recently I have surpassed some of my better handling in the past. I'm moving forward. I'm doing better and that is a very peaceful thought.
As I become more comfortable video taping myself, I will be able to look at myself to improve, not look at criticizing myself. will disregard what I don't like, and focus on how to improve. Watch my dog and watch myself in a positive way. As much as it has hurt to see some old habits come back. Thank goodness it isn't as harsh as I use to do and thank goodness I am working to go forward. Thank goodness my management skills of myself is helping my fatigue. I still have the ups and downs, but just a slight burst of energy lasting a few extra days is a gift. I'm fortunate and I'm so grateful that I can actually improve and look forward to doing better.
I look forward to my debut of showing June 17th. I'm getting out there and I'm at the stage in my life that I'm happy about my handling skills again. An uplift, and this uplift will carry into the ring. Mickey and my love affair will be stronger than ever. We have now put it all together, the good parts that I had been writing about, and dropping the bad. We are moving fast forward ahead. I love my boy Mickey.