10 Habits of Mindful Dog Trainers

1. Persistence: Mindful trainers are willing to try, try again. They know that there will be more runs, more days, and the slow and steady approach wins. They understand that frustration is part of the learning curve and don't threaten to quit after every mistake. They don't make excuses; they don't blame others. They carry on. They live in the present experience without wallowing in the past or dreaming of the future. What is happening today is the focus of their attention even as they build for the big picture.

2. Open-mindedness: self-actualized trainers know there is something to be learned from everyone, even if to see proof of why NOT to do something. They are not handling preachers, and are always aware that good handling is good handling no matter the style (even if they may not believe that the training methods used are the best for the dog or trainer).

There will be days that you will wonder why you play this sport, if your dog is happy and what the point of working so hard is. Accept that and be for the challenges and effort needed to support your team. Without being too new age about it, you can learn and have fun together even if you never go to a trial. In fact, some of the best fun I have had with my dogs did not happen at a trial. The journey is fun – enjoy it! You can accomplish goals without a show – honest!

3. Responsibility: Good trainers understand that they are the leading member of the team. Our dogs would not train without us. Mindful trainers celebrate an error as information that they use to make better choices moving forward. They take responsibility for the holes rather than being upset by the dog. They "get" that they are the ones with the ultimate responsibility for both training and competition. Mindful trainers understand that training isn't always going to be about the fun thing or the thing that makes audiences gasp. Each and every brick needs to be solid for the house not to fall. The same is true of training. If something doesn't feel "sexy" to you make sure it's part of your training plan so it doesn't get neglected.

4. Enough is enough: knowing when over facing or drilling a dog into the ground is a critical component of being mindful. Feeling frustration well up and taking positive action to mitigate these feelings matters. A mindful trainer can quit when ahead, they can also quit when things aren't going well. They remember the age and needs of their canine partner. They seem to intuitively know when enough is enough. They have the patience to invest the time to develop the skills needed. Their dogs want MORE play, more training or more attention.

5. Timing: Self-aware trainers have fabulous timing. Timing in training progression, timing in rewards, timing in mapping increases in difficulty. You don't see them stalling out on any single step for months on end with no progress. You don't see them over facing their dogs and selves. Mindfulness includes giving due thought to all aspects of timing as a piece of the puzzle of training.

6. Self-Improvement: The most mindful trainers work to understand their whole dog and their whole self. That doesn't mean jumping on a bandwagon for the sake of it (chiro, yoga, acupuncture, meditation, raw fed, gratitude, animal communication, whatever!) but it means thinking about what their team really needs and making it happen (which could be any of the aforementioned things). They seek to be better handlers of the dog they love. They understand that this takes money, time and humility!

7. Seeing the Big Picture: Mindful trainers enjoy the "play" and the path as much as they do the goal achievement. They know that each day and each step is as important as the other and is a natural progression in development. All comes in the fullness of time – any day might be your last day to play so they let each one count, and find things to celebrate whenever they can. Balance your workouts. Training only what you do well is pointless. Training only your weaknesses means your strengths will erode. Training only what you like to teach means there will be holes. Training what you don't really understand will lead to great confusion on everyone's part. Balance also includes taking time to just be. Sometimes let your dog be a dog and enjoy that. Take a camera in your hand with you – it's hard to train and snap pictures. Get a new toy that is just for playing not for training. Take a day or two or a week off. My dogs come back from a training break better than ever with tough concepts nailed down. I am a huge proponent of cross-training – a little rally, a little obedience, tricks, running flat out in a field, swimming – whatever floats your boat!

8. Positive Problem Solving: Mindful trainers can tackle issues in a variety of ways to solve challenges. They understand that different dogs may require different strategies to be successful. Further, they embrace the uniqueness of each canine partner they play with. They understand that punishment is destructive to relationships generally, and that kindness starts with self. When you or your dog makes a mistake know how you are going to react and what you are going to do and then (the hard part!) respond in that way. If you get frustrated give yourself a time out and go relax. You won't ruin your dog by taking time to calm yourself but you will affect your relationship and your sense of self if you don't! As you play with train your dog(s) mistakes will happen. Absurdities will creep in, have no doubt of that. That's OK! In fact, it's a cause for celebration. It shows you where holes are and gives you a chance to patch them. Patch them with joy and thoughtfulness, not the panic you might feel at first. I get fed up sometimes when I am playing lawn agility. When I am wondering why something I am doing doesn't seem clear to the dog. I stop, regroup, and maybe even adapt the plan! (Be Flexible very nearly earned its own number!) What I learn in lawn agility I bring to trials and public training.

9: Good Listeners: Mindful people have open ears. They are aware and sensitive to the feedback from their dogs, and process feedback from others without feeling defensive. They take the information they hear and adjust their responses and plans accordingly. That does not mean they agree with it always – but they have a framework to assess and process data and information that is not self-destructive.

10. Joyful Role Models: While mindfulness isn't about being happy explicitly and it is very possible to be unhappily mindful, modelling awareness of self is inspiring. These trainers embrace those who will not only help them improve on a competitive level but also on a personal level as well. They bring joy to those around them including their dog partners. Celebrate your victories together … in a way that is meaningful to you both! I have said it before and I'm sure it will come up again – positive mindful training leads to encouraging results in the ring. In terms of rewarding Brody could have cared less if I picked him up and danced with him after he did something right. He wanted to run to a crate and be fed and told he was a superstar! Dora likes to be cheered and then fed (she doesn't care where). Sally likes applause and to bark at me for a toy (or more agility). I enjoy each of the routines for each dog. Training calls for the same level of celebration as competition. Often, we ask for more difficult things in training than in the ring so we should reward both whole-heartedly and with joy. Being kind, thoughtful and celebratory is easier if we are mindful and conscious of both the challenges and delights inherent in training.

I thought hard about this next point and decided it should be a bonus. Mindfulness is not all sunshine and roses. It can lead to a deep understanding of your current state and awareness of those around you but it is not "being happy". It's about self awareness and appreciation of self. Mindful trainers identify and know their collective limits. In no way do I mean they limit goals and aspirations but they recognize where they are now. For example, if you have financial limitations it may not be the year to chase Top Dog titles. My biggest limitation at the moment is time, creating time for training and competing is tough and has been for many years. If your canine partner is ageing, or has soundness issues, or whatever, perhaps you'll have to pick and choose how often and how long you train and what your end goals are. Maybe you have physical limitations? Acknowledging the limits you face will help make training time much more meaningful and useful.

Mindfulness is not easy, it takes work and conscious effort but it is something well worth working on – to bring a better trainer to your dog, your sport and yourself. 

E144: Chrissi Schranz - "Get More Done (And Have M...
E143: Denise Fenzi - "Engagement 2.0"