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Irritation is Motivation

Posted on 07/14/09 13 Comments

Irritation is motivation. Some of you may have heard me say this before.  When you are really irritated by something you will take action to change it. Those of you that are overweight right now are that way because it doesn’t bug you enough. When something irritates you enough your words and thoughts turn from “it would be great if . . .:” or “I really should . . .” into more like “I must make this different right now!”  For some people if they get to a weight that is 5 pounds more than they would like to be,  it irritates them enough to make a change (man I wish that was me!).  For others, you maybe haven’t even yet decided how much is too much.

With my dog training I get irritated very easily. DeCaff for example,  who is now 9 years old, was a dog that had “issues” as a youngster. She was afraid of different textures under her paws, sounds, certain dogs, even the wind!  She shut down on me once during training as an 11 month old puppy. I remember everything about that session, exactly where I was, what I was working on and how I felt. It effected me greatly

DeCaff in her prime, screaming across a dogwalk.
DeCaff in her prime, screaming across a dogwalk.

 that my little puppy, my family pet that I adored, stopped working with me and had a look on her face that told me “this is not fun for me anymore.”  I was crushed. It was like a dagger went through my heart. It irritated me enough that I swore it would never happen again and it never did. It would have been easy to think, we’ll this is just a shut down dog, I had better lower my standards. However DeCaff and I won everything in agility that available for a mixed-breed dog to win, so clearly that is not the stand I took.

Any of you that own a dog you have labeled as a “shut down dog,”  have such a dog because the first time it happened it didn’t bother you enough.  When DeCaff shut down on me I knew it was something I didn’t ever what to see happen again, with any dog. Lets face it, if agility isn’t an all out rip-roaring good time for the dog then it becomes just something we do to meet our own needs.  So in order to feed my needs (I love to do agility with my dogs) I need the sport to fill the dog’s need of having a good time with me.

This brings me to Feature. Feature is 26 months old today. For the last two weeks I have been obsessing on her contacts. If you haven’t seen the video of her runs, you may think her contacts are complete crap by the way I am going on about them. Nope, not at all it really.  This dog has done nothing more than leave one dogwalk in competition without a release word from me. She completed 80% of the criteria I have for the obstacle, just left out the nose touch and the wait for the release!  How many times has this occurred? Once. Only once. Yet I am irritated beyond belief about it. That is why it is unlikely to happen again (more on Feature’s training in a future post).

If you have a start line issue, it is there because you didn’t care enough when your dog moved one paw the first time it happened. If you have a dog that can’t weave in competition it is because you were happy to just resend him with an easier approach so you could get your qualifying score for that run. You got your Q, and likely never get it another thought when you returned home that night. It didn’t irritate you until you got to a higher level where refusals started to count. I could go on but  I don’t think I need to do I?

Become irritated by the little cracks in you dog training to avoid them from becoming impassible chasms somewhere down the road. Stop allowing ribbons and titles to dictate what is important to you and let your dog’s level of enjoyment and the mastery of the sport be the standard you measure yourself against.

Today I am grateful for DeCaff. I really need to write more about her because not only is she a really cool dog, she has been a great source of learning for me.


  1. Lauren says:
    Friday, December 30, 2011 at 5:34pm

    Rainha, my two year-old Portuguese Water Dog has completely shut down in agility class. She sheepishly leaves the crate for the start line and jumps – walks, jumps – walks, on and on . . . The other dogs in the class are, in my opinion, unmanageable. They aren’t obedient and bark incestantly. The class is an hour or so and we only get to run the course three times?? I’m disappointed because Rainha’s not having any fun at all and neither am I. I’m looking for me motivational advise or perhaps starting over with the more fun Foundations class.


  2. Misa says:
    Monday, July 20, 2009 at 12:19pm

    Ellie, you’re going to get advice from many others, too but here’s my hit list.
    1. Ruff Love – build that relationship. Every time your dog comes out of the crate, it’s for *fun, fun, fun with YOU*
    2. Short training sessions – again, a lot has been written about this.
    3. What’s you dog’s best motivator? What’s the best thing that happens to your dog in the course of a day? There’s a way to tie these things in with your relationship building.
    4. A big ‘lightbulb moment’ for me was Rachel Sanders “We ROC” (Reward On Course) seminar at Clean Run Camp in 2006. She said : Break down those practice runs in to small, rewardable pieces and remember that the time you spend both before and after you run and/or practice are the *most* important. Charging up those times with tons of reinforcement and staying connected with my competition dog at all stages has made the most difference in my dog’s now-stellar attitude.

    It’s a fine line between labeling one’s dog as “shut-down”, or “soft”, and a realistic acknowledgement of the particular training challenges that we face in training our dogs. Surrounding yourself with excellent instruction (as you are, by reading this blog) will help you so much. Good luck to you!


  3. Mary M says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 11:44pm

    I am so glad to hear someone else obsess over the one time criteria issue in the ring…so many people I see let a dog blow the criteria because of the Q…

    Just this weekend I blew the chance of an overall level title with my green pup (okay this was a CPE event so not anything like what you are doing on an international level, but it’s my first agility pup)…anyway, he blew his contact, and I will repeat those silly words, “this has never happened before”.

    So I chose to blow the class and ask him for his contact again (which made the time run out and we did not complete the gamble)…..however he hit the second contact and guess what were working on this week……backchaining contact criteria at home.

    It was a difficult decision to stop the run, change course and ask my boy for the correct contact, but in class today no matter what I did to proof his contact (and boy did I look and sound silly doing it!) his contact criteria is now back again with perfect form and execution…small sacrifices for bigger (and safer) gains in the end I think!


  4. Ellie says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 10:01pm

    I enjoyed your post and find myself easily motivated by irritation. I don’t always have the skills needed to get the criteria I’m visualizing (I’m a fustrated perfectionist) yet I find the process stimulating.

    My young soft dog “shut down” during a recent class and it has left me devastated. How did you and Decaff overcome?


  5. Gay says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 8:18pm

    Wow. Another great post combining guidance and inspiration. I’ve cut and pasted this line and put it in my journal:
    “Stop allowing ribbons and titles to dictate what is important to you and let your dog’s level of enjoyment and the mastery of the sport be the standard you measure yourself against.”
    Perfect. That is usually my goal, but to see it put so concisely puts it in a vision will help me dedicate myself to it.


  6. Krystal says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 5:18pm

    Im so happy you wrote a little bit about decaff. You say that he had some issues with shuting down when he was young and now he’s over it. And i love that. It makes me feel like there might be hope for me and my dog Kasper and his issues/shut downs to. Your such an inspiration!


  7. Sherry in MT says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 1:10pm

    I’m also finding that Inspiration is Motivation! As I’ve just recently found your blog and newsletter, it is inspiring me to be a better trainer, improve my techniques and yes, recognize and be irritated by the behaviors before they get too far out of hand (and am finding that I’ve inspired those unwanted behaviors by letting them continue).

    I’m grateful for talented trainers willing to share with those of us in the “stix” that don’t have access to one on one talent like Susan! 🙂


  8. Trudie says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 10:10am

    Thank you for your newsletter, I’m looking forward to when your preview assemblage of Training Tips and Foundation Notes become available !
    Some feedback for you: we live in the country and my pyr shep dog is a warning barker, who turns into “I’ll cope with this stress by being a frantic, persistent nuisance barker”, even when it’s the mailman, friends, or harmless strangers just hiking by in front of the house. Thanks to “Ruff Love” (– run, don’t walk, everyone who hasn’t got a copy, it’s a light little book, summer reading.) I started doing crate “time-out”, and this has been amazingly effective. Rewarding eye contact, turning back to me — he caught on fast — and this is rewarding for me because he now offers these behaviors. I am calmly chip – chipping away.


  9. Emily Louise Svendsen says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 10:06am

    Thanks! I just made myself the same promise, I’m never going to let the ‘shut down’ scenario happen again. As a reward for that promise (and a result of some serious planning) we’ve just had a kick ass training session. My puppy was showing tons of drive + offering behaviours she has never done before. Magical!
    Please do write more about DeCaff ;o)
    Uh can’t wait until next tuesday…


  10. Chris says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 9:56am

    Sometimes we work for our own rewards in agility – whether it’s Qs or ribbons or finishing a sequence (and therefore not stopping to reward a fantastic execution part way through). I’m guilty of this latter problem, and what it means for my dog is if I ever stop him on course he knows he’s done something wrong and is starting to shut down.

    I’m now going to try to be really irritated with myself for not rewarding him enough, and hopefully get his enthusiasm back.



  11. Adolfo says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 8:38am

    Excelente post, you are so right what you wrote here. It´s everything about not being happy the dog did de job, but he did it correctly as you want him to. If you let him once do it wrong then you will have twice the time to correct that.
    Thank´s Susan, Your blog it´s great. It´s helps a lot for us that we so far away from you and we cannot take your camps.
    Adolfo from Argentina


  12. Nat says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 7:44am

    My Mika used to be one of those dogs who was labeled as a “shut down dog,” and it did irritate me a lot. Happily, she now hasn’t shut down for a year and a half. I do believe that if something irritates you (like my young sheltie Wall-e’s contacts rights now), it will be on your mind and almost force you to do something about it!



  13. Taryn says:
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 7:35am

    Excellent post, Susan! All too often the human teammate gets way too focused on getting that Q, forgetting this is all about fun with your dog! Thanks for the reminder.


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