Logan – part 19 – What is Progress?

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I’m just back in from an 80 minute walk with him. When I go out on long walks in the evening, it gives me time to watch him and mull over ideas in my mind about where we are going next, where we are now and formulate thoughts about what to share with you.

I am going to publish this both as part of Logan’s blog and as one of mt GDT blogs to please forgive the repetition.

I had a PT today with my rehab coach, Scott. We were talking about what progress is and how we measure it. Last year, my back was in such a state that I couldn’t properly lift a 12kg kettlebell. With Scott’s help and tuition, today I cleaned the 32kg kettlebell for 3 reps left and 3 reps right for 2 sets. A personal best which I am delighted with. Around 10 months of work, one session a week with lots of stretching in between. Could I have progressed more quickly with another session a week? Yes, possibly. During one of the reps, my technique was a little off and I didn’t rack the bell on my chest well enough and had to adjust a moving 32kg (70lb) weight without dropping it or injuring myself. Scott’s observation was that the recovery from the failed rep shows how far I have come and how much I am getting stronger.

I’ll get to how this applies to dog training in a moment but I find my clients learn well from human analogies. My sport is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I have been training for seven and a half years and have been a blue belt for 6 years. I am on the cusp of being promoted to purple belt. There have been times in the last six years where I have come in from the gym feeling dejected and disheartened that I am not improving as quickly as I want to. My Coach, Ricky reminds us that it’s a personal journey and that the comparison is only with ourselves. This is hard as the ego kicks in and it takes intestinal fortitude to keep coming in and getting smashed by a 25 year old monster who has only been training for 5 minutes.

This evening on our walk we had a mixed bag. Loads of really lovely connected walking on a loose lead, less reactivity to the dogs we encoutered. When I say less, I mean that; less. Not none. I measure our progress in many ways. Out of the hour, how much time does he spend pulling on the lead versus engaging with me or walking with me? How readily can he take food reinforcement from me? (I talked about this in the last blog). When he reacts to a dog, how many barks, how long does the barking last for, how intense is the bark, can he take food during it, how quickly does he recover and go bark to his baseline behaviour? If he reacts to one dog will he do that same to the next? Does he react to everything which previously upset him or only some of those things? This is the big one; when he is stressed what will he do now? Tonight we saw a few dogs which upset him a little. He was then able to calm down relatively quickly and a few minutes later was walked past several traffic cones. Result! If that had happened a few months ago the traffic cones wouldn’t have been safe.

I have been lifting weight on and off for 20 years. Would it ever occur to you to say to me “Why can’t you clean and jerk that 32kg kettlebell?” Maybe yes but more likely no. But we feel under pressure from others (usually via social media from those who make assumptions from little information) as to why our dogs are not doing ABC after so many months or are still doing problem behaviours XYZ after an arbitrary period of time (usually ones they have come up with). Life gets in the way. Injuries, other commitments on your time, other interests. When you are working on a project with your dog, whether problem behaviours, trick training, competition etc, the progress is against where you were yesterday or last week, where your own head is and how your own skills are developing, not in relation to anyone else. I tell my clients that progress is not linear and a few are quick to mention it in comments back to me which I am thank ful for. It is ok and sometimes necessary to regress. Last week at the gym, by back was stiff so we dialled it back and did some movement exercised and stretching. Is this regression or is this taking the break my body needs? That break allowed me to hit a PB today. If it’s not going well with your dog, take your foot off the pedal and do  something else with your dog and try again after you regroup (yes, Linda, I know!). Again, progress is not linear.

Keeping this in mind will keep us sane and focused (at least that is the plan).

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