Tuesday, June 3, 2014

An Epiphany to Everest

This morning I was reflecting on some things our obedience instructor had told us yesterday, and I had an epiphany: I think I finally realized why I've been feeling so down about Pongu's and my progress in obedience training.

We've been working on one of Silvia Trkman's tricks DVDs recently, and that is going beautifully even though the behaviors are way crazier than anything asked in the obedience ring. (For context, our current projects are parastanding and the backwards figure 8.) We're nowhere near finished with any of the tricks, but Pongu's progressing quickly and I'm happy with our work and it's just been really fun.

(2on/2off: baby steps! But fun baby steps!)

I haven't felt "fun" about our obedience training in a while. It's not about ring nerves or wanting to get a 200-point perfect picture (it will be about those things later, because I can't help myself, but that's not where we are today); it's just about training and proofing the exercises to a basic level of proficiency in the ring.

And the reason I haven't felt "fun" about that is, I finally realized, because the task is so monumental. When it comes to trick shaping, I know what progress looks like, I know how close we are to the final picture, and I am correspondingly confident that we can get there.

When it comes to obedience, I have no freaking clue. First, I've never done it before. Second, it's a huge topic. There are a lot of exercises, and every single one of them is way more complicated than it seemed when I was a clueless newb going "hur the dog just walks next to me, that is so easy, hurr de durr." On top of that, every piece in the chain has to be proofed to ring-readiness, which is another monumental task, particularly for ol' scaredybutt and me.

It's like I'm trying to climb Mt. Everest and I've gone 10 feet and there's still 10,000 feet ahead, every one of them harder and higher and steeper than the 10 feet I've already gone, and it's like "AAAAAGGGH WHAT AM I EVEN DOING SCREW IT."

In short, I've been trying to do everything at once and it's not a good strategy because it makes me feel like we're not getting anywhere. What I need to do is break things down a lot smaller. Not just for my dog, but (this is the epiphany!) for me.

When you're writing a novel, you don't focus on finishing the entire book. Lots of newbies make that mistake and they feel like they're not getting anywhere and so they give up. You can't do that. What you do is focus on each chapter. Set smaller, concrete benchmarks to measure your progress to the end.

So that's what I'm going to do. That is my new plan for working with Pongu. Every week we are going to set one little bitty benchmark and if we hit that goal, I am going to force my stupid brain to accept that as a success. I am going to find a way to measure and mark what we're doing. Not just recording it in a journal, because I've done that and it doesn't feel like progress to me, but setting target goals in advance and hitting them on the way.

If I can get Pongu to nose a correct scent article outside the house this week, WE WIN. He doesn't have to pick it up. He doesn't have to do the full retrieve chain. It isn't going to be on cue. If he offers the behavior of identifying the correct one in some way -- yeah, that's right, we are going all the way back to OB SB 1 on this -- WE WIN.

So there. That's my epiphany.We will start on that first thing tomorrow!

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