When I’m frustrated, my jaw tightens and I make aggravated, deep-throated utterances. When my dog Honey feels frustrated, she sits down and scratches.
Frustration is our body’s way of telling us something. What does it teach us about dog training?
Finding Information In Frustration
If you’ve been reading Something Wagging for more than five minutes, you’re probably not surprised to know that I find lots of parallels between sailing and dog training. Probably the most important similarity is that to be a good sailor as well as a good dog trainer, you need to take in information everywhere you find it.
When traveling in shallow areas, we keep a constant watch on our depth finder. But we also look for aids to navigation, strange ripples in the water, changes in coloration, and yes, even birds standing a few feet away to tell us where to turn to keep from going aground.
When you’re training a dog, you have an eye on nearby distractions, your own body movements, and most especially, the response of your dog.
So if you or your dog are feeling frustrated when working together, what does that information mean?
Lessons From Frustration
Honey is so eager to please it can be easy to miss signs of frustration. But she has one reliable tell: scratching.
So when Honey sits down and scratches her ear in the middle of a walk, she’s telling me she’s frustrated.
Over time, I’ve become a better student and have learned how to deal with her frustration.
Interact with her more directly
Honey does not like to feel ignored. If I spend too long chatting with someone on a dock when she wants to go play, she feels frustrated. And out comes the paw scratching her ear.
If I can’t break off the conversation right away, I’ll kneel down and rub Honey’s ears while I’m chatting. She feels better being the center of attention again. And tolerance replaces her frustration.
Find out what she wants
I once read that toddlers act up because they know what they want but don’t have the means to express themselves verbally. Some parents teach their children sign language to allow them to tell what they want even though they are still learning the verbal vocabulary they need to ask for what they want.
I sometimes think dogs are the same way.
They know what they want. But they don’t have an easy way to ask for it.
So it’s up to us to figure it out to save them (and us) frustration.
Honey gets frustrated walking on leash when we’re crossing a grassy or sandy area. She just want to be free to run and jump and roll on her back.
So if it’s safe to do so, I look around for hazards before letting her off leash for a few moments of play.
After she’s gotten her ya yas out, she’s happy to be clipped back on to continue our on-leash walk,
There have been times when I was trying to teach Honey a new behavior that she just couldn’t get. After a while, she started showing signs of frustration.
Too late. We should have stopped five minutes ago.
But late is better than never.
If either of us starts showing signs of frustration during a training session, it’s definitely time to stop.
Frustration Is A Sign
Frustration isn’t bad. It isn’t particularly good. It’s just a sign. A sign that tells us that something needs to change.
And the better we learn the lessons of frustration the less likely it will turn up when we’re training.
Your Turn: How can you tell when your dog feels frustrated?