My dog is not perfect.
Wait, what? I'm a dog trainer and my dog isn't perfect?! Nope. My Ruby is absolutely not perfect. And, you know, we love her just like that!
I often joke with clients that Ruby serves as an excellent example of things I talk about with them and she's my training guinea pig because she has me practicing a wide variety of skills as a trainer. In just the last year, we've worked on each of the following at some point (or at several points) in our house:
Last Summer, suddenly and for reasons unknown to us, Ruby didn't like her ears being inspected (found that one out at the vet's office).
We dealt with some counter surfing issues.
We managed a small resource guarding situation under the bed.
She's not a huge fan of nail clipping, so that's a near constant skill we practice.
Some of Ruby's favorite pastimes involve stealing socks and slippers and shoes (to get us to chase her, I assume), barking and general grumbling when she's frustrated or not receiving the level of attention she feels she deserves, and climbing on the couch for a nap (though she's - until recently - not been allowed on the couch without us).
Her hand target behavior, which is "supposed" to be her nose touching my hand, is actually a hand lick because, when teaching her it as a young trainer, I always clicked just a second too late. I've not bothered to change it or teach her otherwise, so that's what it is!
When Ruby performs her Relax behavior, which should be laying out on her side in a relaxed manner (as the cue implies), she dramatically throws herself on to her side, lifting her head to see that you've seen her do it. Basically, she's not at all relaxed in that position; she's prepared to spring to action in response to your next cue.
Would life be a lot easier on all of us if Ruby was perfect and didn't have any of issues ever...? Without a doubt! However, she's not a robot; I can't and don't expect her to be perfect. Important to note is that I'm not perfect and I'm also not a robot. If I'm making mistakes - either in training her something or in managing her environment, she's going to make mistakes, too!
Imperfect responses and "happy accidents" add a lot of fun to training with Ruby. I may set out to do accomplish something while training and envision it being accomplished one way, but Ruby will find different ways of getting to that end goal. Sometimes, the results are even better than I set out for at the beginning!
Sometimes, when I'm working with clients or teaching group classes, I get caught up in making sure we (me, the client, the group class attendees, and/or the SideKicks) are doing everything "right" and getting the "right" responses by following the "right" procedure to get those response. Reflecting on this and thinking about my relationship with Ruby, I'm reminded of a few goals I'd like to keep in mind when I start to feel like I'm getting too caught up in the mechanics of things:
I want to make sure that I'm always asking myself - with every client - what they're most interested in achieving and discussing with them exactly what that achievement looks like to them (before I dive into teaching something). What can I help my clients achieve to make their lives and relationships with their SideKicks easier and better?
I want to make sure that I'm taking into account how much time and energy my clients have to devote to training; a "perfect" dog takes a lot of work, which eats at time and energy stores we sometimes don't have. If I can teach a couple training exercises that can be practiced for just a few minutes each day and that address the biggest, most pressing priorities, maybe that's plenty enough to make things easier!
I want to always strive to learn new techniques and different ways of teaching behaviors and exercises to my two- and four-legged clients; there is no single way of doing anything and I don't ever want to find myself stuck in the type of thinking that suggests I no longer need to improve my teaching or my technique.
A lot of people - myself included - don't want or need a "perfect" dog; they just want a dog that is "good enough" - good enough to make them laugh and have fun, good enough to make getting home from work a real treat (pun intended), and good enough to be the wonderful companions that they are!