What word do you believe is synonymous with the word criteria?  I want you to pause for a moment right now and think of the first word that pops into your mind when you think of the word “criteria.” Don’t read on until you have that word. Say it out loud when you hear the word Criteria what does it mean to you? Do you have the word?

If you are like most people the word you would come up with is the word  “rules.” Criteria equals rules. It is what govern the expectations we set in place for our dogs. Criteria for a start line, criteria for a contact position, criteria for the execution of weave poles, criteria when meeting guests at the front door . . . the list goes on.

Of course criteria must equal rules. Doesn’t it?

So right now, before reading further get a mental snapshot of how you think about your dog when you are thinking of his criteria for any behaviour. Lets take a behaviour you are struggling with right now.  Something that maybe is frustrating you in training or competition. Maybe it is a down on the table or a nose touch at the end of the contacts in competition or a straight front in obedience. Think of your dog, that behaviour and the word criteria (or rules).

Try to take a body scan of how you feel with that specific combination of thoughts. The mental image of your dog, THAT behaviour and the word criteria (rules).

Now how does all of that change for you if was to suggest we change the meaning of the word criteria from “rules” to the word “joy”. Rather than working to teach our dogs to “maintain our criteria for a behaviour” what if we changed it to “how can we help our dogs find the joy in the work we want them to do?”

Criteria = Joy.

Take the example of a dog at the start line in agility. You have been frustrated by his lack of self control or his inability to stay where you want him to stay. You may have angrily stomped him off and given multiple time outs or physical corrections for his naughtiness.

THIS dog is not meeting your criteria, or THIS dog isn’t  living by YOUR rules at the start line. Now lets make that mind shift and rather than it being about the dog, lets make it about you.

Have you showed this dog how to find the joy in his job at the start line?

See how thinking of criteria as joy completely changes your mindset in training? It takes away responsibility from the dog living up to your expectations and puts the responsibility on us as trainers to create motivation and desire in our dogs to do what we want, how we want and when we want.

Anything your dog has pure joy for he never has to be nagged, reminded or corrected for does he?

He will do it and he won’t disappoint us if we can help just him to find his joy.

I think that could be my new job description; Susan Garrett, Keeper of the Joy. Sounds much better than plain old dog trainer does it?

Today I am grateful for Encore and Feature who had such a terrific weekend of agility. Even though they have had very little training over the past six months. They inspired this blog by demonstrating their joy to me.