The first time I tried to publicly teach a dog “down,” I bombed horribly.
It was before I graduated from FetchFind. Class that night was hands-on. Each student was assigned a couple concepts or behaviors to teach to a group of dogs and their owners that had gathered to simulate a group class environment. One of my assigned behaviors was down.
That night, each of us got a chance to teach in front of two groups. One group came at the beginning of class and the second came a bit later. I wasn’t supposed to teach down until the second group, but an owner in the first group asked about it. So I, being the enthusiastic student, jumped in and said “Hey, I can talk about down!” And my teachers called my bluff and gave me the go-ahead. Confidently, I dove into my demo.
Technically, I did pretty much everything right. I got the dog into a sit. I held a treat to their nose. I slowly pulled it down and then out, hoping the dog would follow it to the ground. When that didn’t work, I pulled the treat down and slowly pushed it in toward the dog’s chest, hoping the pup would kind of settle backwards to the ground.
The dog was having none of it. That dog just would not put their belly on the ground. It was a blow to the ego, to be sure, especially since I had been so confident and sure of myself going in.
But it was so much more than that. In fact, that incident taught me what has become one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my short time as a professional trainer:
At some point during a class or training session, everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
You can’t prevent those moments. They’re going to happen when you least expect them. Everything can be going great when you’re teaching and all of a sudden, you have a dog that won’t respond to you or a group of dogs that won’t stop barking or something else entirely.
What matters is how you handle those moments. You can’t let them disrupt you or the flow of your class. You just have to roll with them, keep the class moving and make it work.
If that sounds overly simple, it’s because it is. But the strategy works. I’m living proof. Just a few weeks back, I was teaching down to another class. But this time, it wasn’t a mock class. It was a real, honest-to-goodness class of dogs and their owners.
I was using a big, beautiful pittie mix as my demo dog and I was going through the motions of teaching down. And just as before, the dog wasn’t buying what I was selling. He would get close, but he just wouldn’t put his body on the ground. But instead of getting flustered, I just went with it. I acknowledged that it wasn’t working (as I kept trying to make it work) while still explaining how it should work.
And much to my surprise and delight, the dog eventually responded. That’s right, folks. I got the dog to go down. And the class loved it.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro trainer or a first-time dog owner, at some point during the training process, stuff will go wrong. But as long as you don’t let it frustrate you and are able to troubleshoot on the fly, those little setbacks can easily be overcome.
After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill Mayeroff‘s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter. He recently graduated from FetchFind Academy and is a Junior Trainer at AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups.