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Be Forgiving

I am currently working with my dogs on the Fenzi TEAM titles. These are exercises designed to provide a wide variety of competency in obedience. I got to the scent exercise, where the dog must discriminate between three vessels, one of them with odor and the other two without. This is work that Anubi can do in his sleep. He is working through Advanced Scentwork in AKC and has long been my allergen alert dog. He should have been able to discriminate from the vessels with zero error.

When I took my containers out, I placed birch in one and then grabbed two more empty ones out of storage. I placed all three in front of him and he firmly alerted, at one of the empty containers. I tossed a treat away to reset him and then reshuffled the containers out of his view. He came back and again definitively alerted, again to the same empty container. I sighed and directed him to the correct container with birch in confusion. He alerted and then clearly knocked over the same container he seemed so fixated on.

I gave the training session up as a bad session and went to pick up the empty container and spilled a spice blend that contained pine nuts all over the floor and my heart absolutely sank. I am deathly allergic to pine nuts. Aerosolized pine nut oil can send me into anaphylaxis. I've trained Anubi to alert to the scent of pine nuts, because he can detect it before I can and save me from a reaction. So I had set up two containers, one with birch which he's been trained on for competition and one with pine nut trace and he had repeatedly told me that the vial contained pine nuts and I hadn't listened. He in fact had alerted to the more important odor every single time. I've never presented him with both birch and pine nut odor before, because it's unfair. Yet when I accidentally tested him, he absolutely blew me away.

I have never felt like more of an idiot than I did after that training session. I was worried that I'd affected his training in both Scentwork and allergen detection. I was worried I'd shaken his confidence. Yet the next day we went out and did some exterior searches for birch in the woods and he did the best I've seen him search.

So what is the point of this story? Be forgiving of your training errors. You haven't ruined your dogs. Dogs are resilient, especially if you've been working on building confidence and emotional resiliency. There have been so many times when I have almost given up teaching a behavior because "I've ruined it". After taking a break and revising my strategy, I have always been able to fix my errors. Anubi is my first sports dog. I've made so many mistakes in my sports foundation I can't even begin to tell you, and yet my dog has more than twenty titles and he's not even three yet.

You haven't ruined your dog. If you don't know how to teach something, if you taught it poorly, if you lost your temper then take a step back. Reassess, consult with a trainer, get an outside perspective, but more than likely, your dog's not ruined.

I worked with a Great Pyrenees. At just under six months she was extremely reactive to other dogs and people while on leash. Her owner loved her so much, but her anxiety had been feeding into her dog's reactivity. She came to me near tears worrying that she needed to rehome her dog because she'd ruined her forever. Three months later, after working with me and my coworkers, her Great Pyr was walking within five feet of other dogs and people. The biggest problem was that the puppy lacked confidence and couldn't look to her owner to find that. We did so much confidence building and saw immediate improvements. She hadn't ruined her dog and, chances are, you haven't ruined your dog either.

Be forgiving of yourself. Be forgiving of your dogs.

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