Dog Training When You're Frustrated

“Frustration is the nagging feeling that tells us we are not listening or following our intuition.” – J.R. Incer



Woman training her stubborn dog

I don't get frustrated very often, especially when I'm training dogs. My husband says that I have an infinite amount of patience...when I'm working with my dogs. Your dog is merely asking a question, and simply Piloting them is how you answer their question (learn about Piloting, and why it's better than traditional dog training, here).


How long does it take for your dog to accept the answer? Depends on the question. If you have dinner at my house, I'll ask if you would like the salt and pepper. You may tell me that , no, you would like not like them, or yes, you would. Pretty easy question to accept the answer, right? You would either give me a positive or a negative.


Obviously some questions are harder than others. Like my husband asking me where I want to go for dinner. Essentially it's about 2 hours of us shooting down each other's ideas until we both die of starvation.



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The hardest questions are ones that require the most money from that Piloting Piggy Bank. See, asking if you want salt is maybe a $.50 question. Almost anyone can cover that amount.


But some questions are harder to accept the answer to, and you might get a case of what I call the "Are You Sures".

You may see this on a walk with your dog, especially if they are reactive to other dogs. You may answer your reactive dog's question, (no, the dog across the street isn't a threat) but there's no reason your dog will accept that answer immediately, especially if this is the first time you've ever Piloted your dog and actually answered their question, rather than placated/bribed/manhandled your dog past the situation.


That dog across the street is a $20 question, and you've only got $15 in your Piloting Piggy Bank, so when you do answer your dog's question, there's a deficit. And dog's don't take credit cards, so you have to pay that up front. How do you get that money to cover the tab?


By answering more questions in general.


However, here and right now, your beloved Chihuahua/Jack Russell Terrier/Mastiff mix is going full throttle nuts over that other dog, you need to answer the immediate question your dog is asking: Are we going to die?


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And that's a pretty big question. Your Frankenmutt is going to have a tough time with that deficit in the Piloting Piggy Bank, hence you've got a case of the Are You Sures. And since this is such a big ticket item, it's going to take a bit of Piloting to get them to finally accept that answer. Your dog is anxious about the other dog. And you need that money right now (learn how to get past the situation in this post).


The textbook definition of anxiety is fear of the unknown (the other dog in this case).

"Is that dog a threat? Not a threat? Are they going to kill all of us, or just me? Am I big enough to protect you and me? What if he hurts my mommy?" These are all the questions that are going through your dog's head. And until they are answered and paid for, your dog will go bananas at that other dog.


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That's why I'm always communicating with your dog during our training session. I see so many unanswered questions your dog has from the moment I walk through your door, (usually starting with, "Who the fuck are you?!"). But by starting to sift through those questions, a snowball effect happens. The first question I get them to accept the answer to bring me money into the Piloting Piggy Bank so I can answer the next one more easily, and so on and so forth.


Dog on leash
It's not about training your dog, it's about communicating.


It's pretty cut and dry in my eyes, and therefore not a source of frustration. Sometimes I simply don't have the money to pay for an answer, and I know I'm going to be locked into a Q & A for quite a little while.


But I've been working with dogs for a very long time. So long ago that the first dog I trained wasn't even a dog: they were all still wolves.


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Actual footage of my very first puppy session. I'm the pretty one.


So I'll bet you're wondering why I've been on my soapbox, ranting about never getting frustrated when working with dogs. Great, Kerry, you don't get frustrated ...how is that supposed to help me?!


But I never said I don't get frustrated. I just stated I don't get frustrated with dogs. I actually get frustrated quite easily. So let's break it down: How I Deal with Frustration


Typically, frustration is what happens when there is either a break in communication, or a gap in knowledge. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”


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Very recently I had the most lovely training session with a couple and their dog, Chloe. They were open to learning more so they could do better, and in the end, I think that they are going to truly shine through for Chloe, and guide her through her anxieties by answering her questions. They just didn't know how to handle her reactions to people coming to the door, the random barking problem, or her behavior on a leashed walk.


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During our 2-hour training session, they learned how to do better. And they did so much better, it was amazing.


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By filling in the gaps in their knowledge (namely, how to communicate with Chloe), they were able to do better, and end the frustration. They understand better now because they actively sought out new information. In other words, I Piloted them, and answered their questions until they were able to Pilot Chloe. What a beautiful, wonderful cycle. Obviously, Chloe will never be allowed back into the Piloting position during walks or when answering the door, and she's fine with that! She never wanted to Pilot those situations to begin with, so it was a relief to have someone finally Pilot her through those stressful situations.


Chloe's family was my third session that day, and I frequently am exhausted after training so many dogs, but I was energized. I truly love my job, and all the wonderful people I meet. I got into my truck to leave their session with a feeling accomplished.


Until I put the key in the ignition and my beloved truck, Matilda, wouldn't start.


Full sized Silverado, stuck in your client's driveway after a session on a late Saturday afternoon the day before Easter. Yeah, not my best moment. Now, I know nothing about tinkering with a truck. I'm smart enough to know what I don't know. But what I did know was one thing:


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Now I could have chosen to panic.


Why wouldn't my truck start? How am I going to get Matilda out of their driveway? Did I accidentally trap my clients in their driveway? How long would it take to get a tow truck in there?


Frustration due to lack of information could have been a very real issue right here. And nobody acts rational when they're frustrated.

So I called a Pilot.


Namely my husband. Now he's not a mechanic, but he definitely has a better sense of troubleshooting a vehicle than I do. He's fixed so many minor car issues, and is usually in charge of the maintenance on our vehicles, plus the fact that I trust him, made it a no brainer to immediately call him. Fortunately, he was less than 2 miles away, and said he'd be there immediately. Obviously, I was still a bit anxious about how this would play out, but now at least I had a Pilot here who would better handle the situation.


So I went back to my client's front door, rang the bell, and explained what was going on. Immediately, after finding out what happened, Tim wanted to go take a look at Matilda. He asked me a few questions, and based on what he was asking, I immediately realized he was a better Pilot for this situation than I would be. He dove under Matilda's hood, and starting making a racket in there. Meanwhile, my husband showed up, and both started discussing potential issues, but with Tim obviously leading the way, as he had more knowledge.


Rebecca came out of her house and sat with me on the porch, where we had a wonderful conversation about everything and nothing. She admitted that she didn't know anything about trucks, and wasn't much of a help in that department, but that Tim had been a mechanic in the Army. She felt confident he'd figure it out.


20 minutes later, he did. He performed some magic spell on Matilda, and she roared into life, much to my surprise. I asked him what he did.


"I Piloted her", he said, smirking.


Turns out it was the starter was mildly warped, and he was able to temporarily fix it so we could get it to the mechanic. She's since fully repaired, and I'm back on the road.


So let's break that scenario down as to how it pertains to your dog. In this situation, I was clearly in over my head. I knew enough to know that the problem wasn't the battery, but beyond that, I was lost. Fortunately I had someone who was definitely an amazing Pilot who was able to resolve the situation. But do you always need an amazing Pilot?


Nope.


My husband would've Piloted the situation just fine, trouble shooting as best he could (which was better than me, and still good enough for the situation). He had already called a tow truck as soon as I had called him about the problem. In other words, he wasn't the perfect Pilot for the situation, but he was a good Pilot. And that's all you need.


So when your dog is overwhelmed with anxiety over what's going to happen, be their Pilot. The one who's answered so many other questions, and handled so many other situations, that it just seems natural to allow them to handle the current situation. Do you have to be perfect? No.


As Voltaire stated, don't let the perfect be the enemy of good.

Your dog doesn't need a perfect Pilot. They need a good Pilot. And that is you. Even when you get frustrated.


Remember, frustration is either a break in knowledge or communication. Nobody, not the your dog, your broken truck, not even the universe is against you; it's merely going after it's own agenda. So let's fix the frustration.


So the first way I mitigate frustration is by knowing my gaps in my knowledge.

Don't ever be afraid of the phrase, "I don't know". It's an empowering phrase, because if stated correctly, means you've researched your own knowledge, and the answer isn't there. I'm not omnipotent, and thankful I'm not. I'm allowed to have a limit to my knowledge, even though I'm always growing and learning. In the situation with Matilda, I was beyond my knowledge, so I could legitimately say that I didn't know what to do.

Know when to call in the reserves. By knowing what I don't know, and not trying to be what I can't be at the moment, or even worse, not letting someone who is obviously a better choice as Pilot in a specific situation take over the position. Only an idiot thinks they should be Pilot in every situation. Learn to be Piloted as well. Let it go.


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Understand that perspective is everything.

Are you frustrated because your dog doesn't understand the "come" command, or is it actually frustration that you don't understand your pet. As Morticia Adams said, "What's normal to the spider is chaos to the fly". Understanding your dog's perspective on life can make for a much more rewarding bond for both of you.


You have no idea how long I've wanted to make this reference.


A great example is the "come" command.


When we first got Arwen, she was a bit of a mess: had no concepts of basic commands, not housebroken, submissive urinated all the time. She wasn't a work in progress, though. She was a masterpiece that merely needed to be understood.


She was kind enough to make an effort to understand humans as we began our journey trying to understand Arwen. It actually went rather quickly, though she was a bit shy around my husband, who obviously spent less time with her. He was nothing but patient and kind, but the one day, he was having problems with having her come when he called her. Rather than getting frustrated due to lack of communication or information, he asked me why.


I told him to call her. He did, and Arwen merely looked at him with her head cocked to the side, not moving at all. To my husband, she wasn't responding to a come command. However, to Arwen, he was telling her something completely different.


"You are standing in front of her with your naval pointed at her. That's her body language for 'stay away'. You need to tell her what you mean in her language, not yours. You look vaguely threatening. Turn so your hip is pointed towards her, rather than your stomach, and turn your head slightly away from her as you call her name. Gently pat your leg repeatedly."


My husband did so, and immediately went from looking a bit intimidating to someone who is approachable, which Arwen did.


It wasn't Arwen being stubborn, nor was my husband being stupid: they were both just talking two different languages. Both were having problems identifying what the other was trying to say. By my husband making the first step towards Arwen's way of communicating, Arwen was able to start heading in his direction of communication. They met (literally) somewhere in the middle. Voila: the come command.


So rather than getting frustrated at the situation, take a look at not only what you're communicating, but how you're communicating it. Does the situation present to you the same way it presents to your dog?


border collie sitting
Who's a good dog?

I've always stated that the first place to start in training your dog is with empathy. It should also end with empathy, and have a whole mess of empathy in between. The moment you forget you're dealing with a living, sentient being is the moment you stop communicating and you start dominating, and that's violence inherent in the system.


Given who's running on the 2022 ballots, perhaps we should revisit watery tarts throwing swords as a method of electing rulers


Utilize techniques to manage your frustration when working with your dog.

Regardless of how hard you try, you're still going to end up occasionally getting frustrated, be it at your kids, your spouse, your dog, or just life in general. While I do use the Piloting mantra (control yourself, control the situation, and then act) in all aspects of my life, sometimes it's hard to get past the "control yourself" part. I just get frustrated.


While it's true I don't get frustrated with my dogs, I do get frustrated at myself, or situations involving my dogs. Here are some ways I combat that frustration;


Vent

So your dog just peed on the floor for the 8th time today (see: Arwen's submissive urination problem), or perhaps your puppy chewed something they weren't supposed to. You're frustrated. I get it. While technically, it wasn't Arwen's fault any more than it was the puppy's fault (they didn't know any better), that doesn't mean you won't get frustrated.


So vent. Appropriately.


Take out your aggression in a healthy fashion by paying a game of fetch with your dog, or a game of tug-of-war with a rope toy. Go for a short (or long) hike. Engage in some agility. Anything to get you both moving together. Because again, it's nobody's fault that the situation occurred and that you're now frustrated, but it is most definitely your responsibility to vent that frustration appropriately. And there is no better way than engaging in some physical activity with your dog.


I do a version of this with my children when I'm frustrated with them: we play a few rounds of Super Smash Brothers and beat the pixels out of each other. It works for us.


Force a positive moment.

I actually use this one a lot to help me get over the frustration and mentally reboot, especially if I'm having difficulty teaching a trick or behavior to a dog, or if on of my beloved daughters did themselves a dumb and did something that required a negative: I force a positive.


Example: Let's just state that for argument's sake, a certain daughter of mine did not-so-well on her math score. Yes, I will handle the situation and appropriately respond with a negative (like, no electronic devices until her grade goes back up to a B), but then I drop it. I don't dwell on the deed (it's done), nor do I dwell on the negative I gave; I already gave it, and it, too, is no longer my concern but hers. But sometimes it's hard to just let that frustration go. So I force a positive.


I'll challenge said daughter to a game of chess, where I know she'll beat me, and I and I can then be proud of her ability. Perhaps I will tell her to go do the dishes, after which I can genuinely praise the good job she did. Or maybe I'll ask to see her chemistry grade, knowing full well already that it's a 96, as I check every morning. But I can still dole out the praise like a sailor passing out dollar bills at a strip club in the Pacific.

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Yes, I had to give out a negative, but remember: we only use negative to get them on the right path; we use positive to keep them there. Be generous with the positive, and if you're having problems finding it, create it.


So Arwen and I engage in a lot of agility (tons of praise) and some tricks. Sometimes the positive is playing a game of fetch and watching how much better she's doing at catching the ball instead of deflecting it with her face.


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Side note: do not google gifs for "faceballs". Trust me.


Remove them from your presence.

Remember, God made crates to keep you from killing your dog, and your kid has a bedroom. Allow them to utilize it. Because you can't say/do something damaging to your bond if you're separated. Go to your respective corner until you're able to get ahold of your self.



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As a final thought in this much-longer-than-anticipated post: frustration is neither right nor wrong, it's just another emotion in the cacophony of emotions swirling in your noggin. You can't always choose what pops up, but if it's the wrong tool for the job, don't use it.


And frustration and anger in dog training is never the right tool.



Border collie darwin dogs

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio