I see it all the time. When I coach students, from beginners to advanced, they engage in negative self talk as they work with their dogs. These personal put downs don’t help their training, instead they are roadblocks to better results. In some cases, the negative self talk is an indicator that the student is about to quit the training and to quit on their dog. Dog training isn’t just about training the dogs, it is also about training the people. If the handler’s head isn’t on straight, then the training isn’t going to work out over time.
It also doesn’t help to have friends and family members continually denigrating the dog handler or dog. It is enough to carry your own emotional baggage, you don’t need to be carrying everyone else’s emotional baggage, too. They either need to get on board with the training program, or get out of the way. This also applies to the Instructor. There is a fine balance between giving constructive advice, and critiquing (analyzing) what is going on… versus the Instructor taking out their life’s frustrations on their students and their dogs. This is why, if I’m having a bad day (which happens once a year or so), I will cancel lessons. If I know my attitude stinks, I know my instruction will stink. I cancel the lessons, take the day off, and get my attitude back at the proper altitude.
I have seen dog trainers beat down their students. It’s like having a bad boss… eventually it wrecks the entire experience. And I get it… we all have our own lives, challenges (personal, medical, financial, etc.). But the good trainers learn to recognize when they are having a bad day, and they don’t let that leak out into the training or their business. I have had trainers challenge me online about some article I have written that they disagree with. I used to respond, now I don’t. They are having a bad day, and they are just looking for a fight, not to learn something or to make a professional connection. They are looking for a punching bag, and I’m not going to be that for them. You can probably guess, if a trainer is seeking to fight another trainer online at 2 am, they are probably going to take that anger and frustration and depression out on their students the next day.
I’ve seen students verbally beat down on their dogs during training. I see it all the time with rescue volunteers, who basically limit the success of the dogs by labeling them as being untrainable. One of my first tasks as an Instructor is to turn that around.
Peace is one of the most valuable commodities in life. It is hard to maintain. Everyone. EVERYONE has life challenges, even if they don’t let you see them. It is important in the training to help students manage their life challenges in the midst of the training. And I think it is also my job, as an Instructor, to also manage mine for the benefit of my students.
I have specific exercises and advice for my students which I incorporate into all my lessons to help with negative self talk. I started this from the beginning, but it has become more formalized and purposeful over the years. I have seen better results with the dogs as a result. Dogs can’t handle solving your life’s problems. They deserve a good life, free from your issues, so they can do what dogs do best. Thus, I’ve become a very patient trainer, and I teach that concept to my students as we work together.
So… have a happy day. Don’t engage in negative talk when training or engaging with your dog. Enjoy your dog. Enjoy life. Look around and find good thoughts. Do the lessons and things will work out well.