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Slogging Uphill on the Learning Curve

Jan 9, 2015 by Lynn Dowrick

At the end of 2013 I decided to create a new web site. Sounds simple enough. I’d created my original site, which had served me well for several years, and it was definitely time for an update. That’s when the trouble began.

There are a LOT more dance steps to the process than I’d anticipated: ending the relationship with the company that hosted my previous site (and the associated email address); the technical intricacies of transferring the web hosting to the new company; working with a designer to create a new company logo and then the web site itself…It took far longer and way more of my time and energies than I could have imagined. My frustration level ebbed and flowed as I learned about something I had no experience with and, to my mind, no skill to accomplish.

During the process it hit me—THIS is a lot like what my students experience in classes!

That internal dialog of, “Sure, makes sense, I just need to do this, followed by that, then…” Learning the dance steps when you have a dog on leash, a treat pouch, clicker and head full of instructions can be challenging for new learners. It may sound sensible, then you begin doing it and find yourself lost—just like me in my tangled web site. It is a learning curve that takes patience, with your dog AND with yourself.

Learning how to interact with your dog in ways that create trust and two-way communication is different from the old-school way of training. Years ago, teaching heeling consisted of a firm, “Heel!” command, marching forward, and if the dog strayed or pulled, a quick jerk on the leash and repeated command was all it took. Once I began studying how dogs learn, and was introduced to positive reinforcement training, I started educating myself about how to teach dogs what I want from them and rewarding abundantly, rather than waiting for them to mess up and punishing them.

Make no mistake, the old way of doing things works. Over the years I’ve had some really well behaved dogs. The process was more or less painful to us both. Until I found out it didn’t have to be that way.

I love teaching people how to work in concert with their pooches. Yes, the process takes a bit longer (at least in the beginning) than simply yanking the dog around by a collar and leash. Yes, there is a decided shift in how the human at the other end of the leash acts, and reacts, during training. Yes, just like me in my web site adventures, you will find yourself frustrated at times.

Reminding myself that I have little skill set to accomplish the technological task before me has given me new appreciation for my students. “Be patient with yourself,” I often say to students in class. That’s something I’ve repeated to myself a lot lately.

The learning curve in both endeavors can be pretty steep.