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Last winter my family grew four legs. No, we didn’t have twins. We adopted Ananda, a German Shepherd Dog (GSD) that was seven weeks old at the time.
GSDs are great, but also a lot of work. When we got Ananda, my son was almost three years old. Ananda thought it was a little sheep and kept trying to herd it. We also have two cats. He also tried to guard them.
It was clear that Ananda and I would benefit from professional coaching. We partnered with David Kabler, a master trainer with over 25 years experience and founder of the Kabler School for Dogs in our hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. I quickly fell in love with the training. As I pondered why this might be so, it occurred to me that the basic principles of dog training have much in common with those of human training – be it training, developing fitness, or cultivating other skills. Here’s what we can learn from both.
We all want quick fixes and overnight success, but the truth is, progress in almost every endeavor unfolds over time. “When you have a clear picture of your dog’s training pathway – understand the signals your dog is sending you and read the signs along the way – make sure you are not moving too fast and too much of your pup expect, ”says Kabler.
The same goes for humans. One study found that most people experience a hot streak in their career, “a period of time when a person’s performance is significantly better than their typical performance”. What does almost every hot streak have in common? They are all based on previous work where the observable improvement was much less substantial and patience was key to the ultimate breakthrough.
(Photo: Brad Stulberg)
If you do too much to your dog too soon, he’ll burn out, just like a human would. For Ananda, this meant keeping the training sessions compact and having a long perspective. The goal is never to do anything heroic on any given day or week; Rather, you will develop a solid, balanced dog over many months. “In a well-planned training program, there should always be time for leaps in understanding and action,” says Kabler.
People screw up this concept all the time. According to 2017 data from the University of Scranton, only 9 percent of people stick to their New Year’s resolutions for a full year. Most experience a slow decline: 73 percent of people maintain their resolve for a week, 68 percent for two weeks, 58 percent for a month, and 45 percent for six months. Why? Because they tend to do too much too soon. It is much better to meditate for five minutes a day and stick with it than to meditate for an hour a day and pass.
Consistency links in almost anything and dog training is no exception. “Your dog deserves a world that makes sense to him. Consistent training, routines and behavioral expectations give your dog a clear insight into what is expected of him, ”explains Kabler.
There were many mornings that I didn’t want to train Ananda and Ananda didn’t want to be trained. But persistence means showing up even when you don’t want to.
This way of thinking builds confidence and relieves pressure because you don’t always feel like you’re falling short. You just have to show up and run. It also reduces the risk of injury – emotionally and physically – as you don’t have to put in massive efforts every day. The result is more consistent performance that builds up over time. Sustainable progress, from nutrition to fitness to creativity, doesn’t mean being consistently great; it’s about being great at being consistent. It’s about being good enough over and over again.
If you want to get better at anything, you need to focus on what is in front of you. It’s hard to know what to do next when you’re not fully present for what is happening, especially in our current climate of novelty and distraction. In this regard, dog training is no different from any other occupation.
“A large part of the training is about reacting intuitively to your dog,” explains Kabler. “When you learn to move in harmony with your dog during training, it fosters his natural enthusiasm to work for you and to listen to your wishes. Having a rhythm with your best friend helps them see you as someone to respect and follow, ”he says.
While we often think that harmony and rhythm occur naturally, they don’t. They are developed through persistence, care, and attention. “As a trainer, it is important to read the dog so that you don’t miss any important signs and to react naturally to the dog,” says Kabler.
The same applies to cycling, surfing, growing a garden or playing the cello. In practice, this means taking the distraction-free time to be fully occupied with the activities that matter most to you. In today’s world of endless stimulation, it is helpful to schedule this time and make it sacred.
Take care of your nature
There is an age-old debate about what is more important for progress: nature (innate talent, talent and temperament) or upbringing (environment and learned behavior). The truth, however, is that this is a false dichotomy overall. It’s not nature or education. It’s nature and care. More specifically, progress is about caring for your nature – understanding your genetics, and then doing whatever you can to harness and use them sensibly.
In his books The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance and Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, researcher and author David Epstein argues that “fitness is often more important than courage”. In other words, the key to success isn’t just sticking to a plan; First and foremost, it is about finding a plan that works for your unique genetics and background for the task at hand.
For canines, this is perhaps even more important. “Training is a response to your dog’s genetics,” says Kabler. “If I have a naturally shy puppy, I will counteract this tendency through additional socialization. If I have a dog with a pronounced prey drive, I channel this energy into suitable valves and games in order to give this energy a vessel for life. “
Be ready to adapt
(Photo: Brad Stulberg)
Kabler describes his approach to dog training as a master plan, but willing to deviate from it if necessary. Dogs get sick and people get sick. A technique that you thought would work may not work at all in the end. Progress depends on knowing when to stay on the path and when to turn, and then having the faith and confidence to do so. “Some training paths are different from others,” says Kabler. “It is important to have as many ways as possible to the training summit.”
In my own research, writing, and coaching, I call this robust flexibility: “To be robust means to be tough, determined, and durable. To be flexible means to adapt and bend easily without breaking. When put together, the result is a gritty persistence, an anti-fragility that can not only withstand change and disorder, but thrive in their midst. ”Applying this concept to your own goals is a powerful tool.
I’ve said for a long time that training hard is hard. If you don’t enjoy the process, you probably won’t get it very far. I’ve definitely noticed this in my work with Ananda. Soaking up the beautiful and brilliant moments makes it a lot easier to move on into the more difficult moments. Positive reinforcement works a lot better than negative reinforcement. That is, you earn more miles by rewarding the good than punishing the bad.
It helps keep things light. Experiencing joy is associated with resilience, because when you go south you can look back on the good, remember it and work to make more of it in the future. The more you can laugh about your (and your dog’s) mistakes, the more sustainable the training will be. This doesn’t mean that you don’t take mistakes seriously, learn from them, or correct them; it just means you don’t have to beat yourself up or your dog for the occasional misstep or failure. The life of a person – and definitely a dog – is far too short.
Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) trains performance and wellbeing and writes Outside’s Do It Better column. He is the best-selling author of The Practice of Groundedness: A Path to Success that Feeds — Not Crushes — Your Soul and Peak Performance and co-founder of The Growth Equation.