Progress, not perfection

Last year I set myself a few challenges in the gym. One of them was to bench press 100kg. My coach and I worked out a plan based on how many times I could train per week and we started working towards it. We had several setbacks, not least the amount of time the gym was closed due to covid. When the gym was closed, I worked on other things which would help towards my goal. During one training session in December, Scott loaded the bar for me. I didn’t know what weight was on it. 95kg was a success. 100 kg – the bar went down but wouldn’t come back up. An unsuccessful attempt. We then did a couple of partial reps at the top range of the movement at 130kg. The lower range was my sticking point but the 130kg got my mind and body used to a much heavier weight. Next time in the gym, 100kg flew up with lots left in the tank. Did I fail the first time or was I just not ready? Did I fail to achieve my goal or make progress towards it when the bar wouldn’t come back up? It depends on our mindset. Progress towards the end goal was important, not perfection.

This week I worked with two young dogs who had difficulty focusing on their owners when there were other dogs around. They would pull towards the dogs, run around at the end of the lead and bark. No aggression, just frustration. We got some really good progress during the first hour of our training. Lot’s of focused attention when the dogs were further away, less attention when they were closer but no pulling on barking, around 50% “appropriate” social interactions when the dogs were close and greeting each other. Those moments where the dogs pulled and barked? Are they “failures”? Did those dogs deserve to be corrected on the end of the lead, shouted at, told no just because they weren’t doing the perfect behaviour? When the bar came down and didn’t go back up, did I deserve to be given a hard time by my coach? To me, and trainers who trainer like me, the answer is obvious. No. In the space of an hour, we all made progress towards to final, sophisticated behaviours of walking politely passed another dog.

Finally, let’s look at the human client. They are learning a new skill. How to observe their dogs, how to move, how to deliver reinforcement, when to relax and when to be more strict, when to move towards the dog and when to move away. How to move with their dog. When they got it “wrong” do they deserve to be shouted at? Mocked? No, of course not. Progress towards the end result.

Just as in the example of me at the gym, when the gyms are closed, I can work on other skills. So when you can’t work around dogs, can you work on other skills? Can you practice your timing with your dog, your movement, your lead handling? Of course. And the same as with me, practicing these things makes us stronger when we go back out around other dogs.

Progress towards the end goal. Progress isn’t linear. Progress not perfection. Striving for perfection kills excellence.

We have a number of online courses available – loose lead walking, better recall and aggression towards people and dogs. If you follow the lessons, I can all but guarantee you will see improvements in your dog’s behaviour. Please comment for details.

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