What I Have Learned in Dog Training

Maybe everybody does this. I am always trying to relate something I learn from one area in my life to the other areas of my life. The thing I’ve been doing lately that has been one big learning experience is dog training. But relating that to other areas of my life is, well, rude. People do not generally like being compared with dogs.

Still, I think I’ve picked up some ideas from Mac’s classes, and I want to share them. Please do not take offense, or if you do, please do not bite me.

  1. Your dog is not the worst dog in the class. Okay, sometimes he is the worst dog in the class, but then one week you will go and for some reason he is doing everything (and by everything I mean 80% of the everything, which is absolutely the best I would hope for) you tell him to do. He sits. He walks nicely. He pays attention to you when you talk or gesture. It’s like a miracle.
  2. The week after your dog has a great week, he will have a not-spectacular week. Maybe even a bad week. Maybe even an awful week. That’s how it goes.
  3. You will think, from looking at some of the other dogs in class, that they are SO much better-behaved than your dog. But then one day you will get to class a little early and you will see how every dog, even Princess Incredibly Well-Behaved Last Week, is pulling her owner through the door and not paying the slightest bit of attention to anything they say or do. YAY! Your dog is not the only one that does that after all!
  4. Some weeks, something will happen (and it might be invisible to you at the time) and your dog will go on red alert. Our dog came from a shelter in Kentucky, and he is very wary of movement–we speculate that it’s because he was out running around as a stray for awhile and learned to be worried by sudden movement. He does not care for cars at all–not the ones driving by, not the ones he is driving in. And other dogs worry him a lot. On a week when all of his alarm bells are going off, all you can do is listen to the instructor, keep feeding your dog treats to keep him happy, and try to give your dog some space. Your dog gets the message that there is nothing to be afraid of, and gradually, he relaxes.
  5. You will begin to notice that every dog has its quirk. There are the barkers, the lungers, the jumpers, the whiners. They all have some quality that probably makes their owner feel mortified.
  6. Little by little, your dog will get the hang of it.
  7. The dog who doesn’t behave at all for his owner will be perfect for the instructor.
  8. The dog who behaves beautifully for the owner will freak out on the instructor.
  9. If you don’t practice during the week, you and your dog will be nervous at class the following week.
  10. You will communicate your anxiety to your dog. That’s never good for either of you.
  11. Remember how I said little by little, your dog will get the hang of it? It’s true! You have to hang in there.

So what does this have to do with libraries? Dogs and kids are not so different. I just wish that the parents who see little Princess Sits Nicely During Storytime and compare their own child (Princess Roaming Around the Room) unfavorably get the chance to notice that some weeks, their own child is the one who is the envy of the group.

I hope that the parent who is mortified by Child Who Will Not Share notices that Child Who Shared Beautifully screamed his head off when it was time to leave.

I hope that the adults who notice Child Who Screams When It Is Time to Leave remember that their own child was not always so perfect.

I even hope that everyone sometimes remembers to cut people a little slack, especially themselves. Nobody/No dog is perfect. We’re all working on it. Our dog training class graduate Mac is trying hard. We all are.

Mac March 2014

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This entry was posted in Child Development, Parents, Public libraries, storytime, Youth Services. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What I Have Learned in Dog Training

  1. Faith says:

    I love dog analogies. I would take this a little farther. The library that seems to have it all together (much better than your own library) has areas that they aren’t so great in. Also, they probably tried this before and weren’t so hot that time. Just as Mac has different challenges due to his background, each library has its own set of circumstances: different levels of funding, different work cultures, different community dynamics.

    I’m mostly preaching to myself, here. My library may never “grow up” to be my hero libraries, and that’s OK.

    • sdlempke says:

      That’s a great point, Faith, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook about your library, it is looking pretty wonderful!
      Thanks for writing the 200th comment!

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