How To Deal With Training Frustrations

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Regardless of what kind of training method you choose to employ with your Husky, one thing is for sure, every owner is going to run into some bumps in the road to getting your dog trained.

The other sure thing is that from time to time, you are going to end up feeling very frustrated. This is not a case of if frustration happens, more accurately this is a case of when it happens. It is inevitable.

While there is little that you can do about those times when your dog is just not cooperating with you, there is an aspect to this situation that is in your control; how you choose to respond to the frustrating situation. Today, I give you some tools to take you from responding in a knee jerk out of control fashion to taming this beast called frustration.

As Unique As Snowflakes

Unquestionably the frustration that humans feel when they cannot get from here to there tends to be handled very differently from person to person. Humans are very unique when it comes to their personal levels of both tolerance and ability to be able to take a mental step back from a vexing situation. Some people have laid back dispositions that allow them to take things in stride when things don’t go as planned while others just seem to get angry, flustered, and then emotionally shut down and become “stuck”.

Those feelings of frustration occur when people don’t have any other skills or coping strategies left to try. The frustrated feelings are about not knowing how else to proceed to deal with the problem.

In a nutshell: We feel frustrated when we don’t know what else to do instead of what we have already been doing. And, when we don’t know what else to do we feel like we are powerless and helpless to deal with the problem.

By giving you other options and avenues for you to take, it can hopefully keep you from ending up in that frustrated stuck feeling when your dog’s training and behaviour don’t seem to be progressing as you had hoped or planned.

How Your Frustration Negatively Impacts Your Dog

Falling into frustration does not only affect us. It has a ripple effect. Most people may not see it but there is a dark side to the frustration that may be impacting your dog and your relationship that you have with your dog.

Frustration, when left unaddressed, can eventually lead to a human emotional melt down. During an emotional melt down people’s behaviour is really not that well controlled nor well thought out. That means in a fit of angry frustration you may find yourself reacting to your dog’s behaviours with shouting or hard physical corrections.

If training is about building a strong trust bond with your dog, then what does reacting to your dog in an angry frustrated way do to this trust bond? It erodes it. On one hand you put effort into trying to forge a relationship through training only to destroy it because of your angry frustrated actions.

Still think that owner frustration is of no substantial consequence when it comes to training your dog? Here is what else can happen;

  • You’re angry frustrated behaviours can very easily create a fearful anxious dog who emotionally shuts down when they are faced with not understanding what is being asked of them. If your dog shuts down then your attempts to train your dog do not progress.
  • Since dogs are masterful at reading body language and bio-electric energy, when you are angry and frustrated your dog can feel that energy and react to it. You can actually be causing your dog’s reactive behaviours.
  • The pain or fear from an aversive correction that might be given during a moment of frustrated anger might temporarily stop a dog from doing an unwanted behaviour but it does nothing to help foster a trust bond relationship with you. It actually creates the opposite reaction. Why should a dog trust you or have a bond with you if you yell at him or inflict pain on him?
  • When aversive training methods are used, any changes that you might see in a dog’s behaviour will only be temporary. Compliance gotten through the inflicting of pain or fear only lasts only until the animal has a chance to be out of your reach or grasp. After that they will do their best to stay away from you. So you end up sabotaging your relationship bond with your dog to attain a behaviour which is not even permanent. Is that really worth it?

Aversive training methods are reactive. It works on the premise of waiting for the animal to do something “wrong” and then the unwanted behavior is punished with a correction. Positive Reinforcement is proactive as it rewards the positive behaviour that you do want to see. Unfortunately, when you are frustrated and your behaviour is out of control you really are in no position to make good or rational choices about training methodology.

Coping Strategies For Dealing With Frustration

The best and most realistic way of dealing with frustration is in learning to find other ways to manage the feelings of frustration in ways that does not involve taking your frustration out on the dog. Most frustrated behaviours come from not having a Plan B. If we had a Plan B, we would have a solid Go-To Plan when things started going badly.

To Prevent Frustration

Breathe

As soon as you start to feel the tension and frustration rising, stop and take a few deep breaths. Being stressed out causes us to take shallow breaths which in turn impacts our body language. Your dog will pick up on this and react in kind. So remember, when your emotions are beginning to rise to take a pause and just breathe until you feel like you are back in control again.

Look In The Mirror

Your dog can be your mirror to show you when you are getting stressed. To see how your stress levels are doing, just look at your dog. Is he relaxed with a soft face and body or is he mass of tension and frantic energy? If you’re stressed, your dog is going to feel stressed too. If you are seeing your dog exaggeratedly yawning, flicking and lip licking, or purposely avoiding your gaze, perhaps your dog is trying to self soothe and send you calming signals because your behaviour is not in control. If you see your dog exhibiting these behaviours take the hint and check in with yourself emotionally.

More Is Not Always Better

Know that it is okay to call a stop to the training for that day. If things are not progressing very well, if you are not in the right frame of mind, or if your dog is not in the right frame of mind, then hammering away at the behaviour not going to be very productive or helpful. You really do not want your dog to be struggling too much with these lessons or he will shut down at some point. Just call it a day or take a mental health break for an hour and then try again when you and the dog are both fresh and ready to pick up where you left off.

Learning Is a Process

Remind yourself that training (or retraining) is a process and it takes time so make sure that you are being realistic about how fast you think that your dog should progress.

Do a reality check

Are the expectations that you have of your dog, breed and age appropriate? Maybe it is not your dog’s performance that is not up to par, perhaps it is your expectations that are out of balance? Is the amount of time you are putting in reasonable compared to what you are expecting your dog to do? Are you putting in a minimal or inconsistent effort and expecting maximum results from your dog?

Is your dog too young or immature to be able to comply with your request? Young puppies cannot hold their bladders and they have the attention span of little child on a sugar high. Mature second chance dogs require more time to unlearn poor habits and re-learn new ways of being. Senior dogs need more time to be able to process information. Always see the dog that you have right in front of you and be willing to work at that level.

Be Willing To Shift Your Perception

Double check to make sure that are you being reasonable in your expectations. If not, then they key to diminishing your frustration is to adjust your perceptions of reality and your expectations. Until you do, you will continue to be frustrated.

In the wonderful book, Tales of Two Species: Essays on Loving and Living With Dogs, author and well known trainer Patricia McConnell reminds us that it takes humans about 20 years to learn how to control their emotions. So is it really reasonable to expect a dog to learn how to dramatically change its behaviour in a few hours or in a few weeks?

While training your dog is important, keep some perspective. The balance of the world does not hinge on you accomplishing this task today. Relax and remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day and it begins with a clean slate.

Log Your Process

Many people become frustrated because to them it feels like their dog’s behaviour is just not improving. Quite often the behaviours are in fact slowly getting better but because the changes are slow and minute, the owners may not notice. To help with this, keep a training log of what you did and how your dog responded to the training each day. If nothing else, just keep a running tab on a monthly calendar and mark the days with a “smiley face” or a “frowny face” symbol. Very often you will be able to see the slow but consistent progress of your dog.

Glass Half Full Or Half Empty?

It is very easy to become bogged down focussing on how far your dog still has to go rather than seeing and appreciating how far your dog has come. Recognize, appreciate, and celebrate all accomplishments, even the tiny baby steps.

Bite Sized Manageable Pieces

If your current training method is not working for your dog, change how you approach the training. If you are trying to train using one large step, break it down into smaller more manageable steps. There is no rule that says that “one size fits all” when it comes to dog training. Sometimes breaking the action down into smaller steps makes it easier for your dog to digest what it is that you want him to do and how exactly you want him to do it.

Prevention Rather Than Extinction

You can prevent many unwanted behaviours in your dog by planning ahead and being smart about how you approach training with your dog.

Many problem behaviours are most efficiently dealt with by not allowing them the opportunity to happen in the first place. If your dog is not toilet trained yet, do not give him the run of the whole house and you will not have to deal with the behaviour of unwanted peeing in the house. If your dog is reactive and a barker, do not allow him access to the front of your home where he can look out the window where he will have a melt down every time a person walks by.

Yes, you will still have to teach and train an alternative behaviour and address the root cause of the problem but preventing the challenging behaviour from happening in the first place means that you will not have to waste your time dealing with the behaviour AND having to teach an alternative behaviour too. Less training equals less stress for you.

Taking Responsibility For Your Part Of The Problem

While there is no benefit to finger pointing or just laying blame, you do have to be prepared to accept responsibility for what is not working in your training. It’s not about beating yourself up of feeling less than competent. This is simply about understanding how and why you are having a problem with your dog so that you can act to fix it. If you don’t understand how and why there is a problem, how can you ever hope to fix it?

Einstein aptly pointed out that a problem cannot be fixed at the same level where it was created. If you want a different outcome you have to be willing to approach the problem from a different perspective. This requires you to be willing to own your part in the problem.

It’s Not Personal

When your dog is not complying and you have become frustrated, it is pretty easy to internalize your dog’s behaviour as non-compliant and as a deliberate attempt to defy you. Even though you may logically know that your dog is not just out to mock your authority, in the heat the moment, it can be pretty easy to start taking the dog behaviours as a personal affront. These moments can be especially difficult if you happen to be a perfectionist, a classic A Type human, or a “gitt’er done” kind of person.

Don’t make this about you. Make this about your dog. What does your dog need from you to fix this problem? Do you need to change your approach? Does your dog need more practice time? Do you need to be more patient and understanding? Do you need to change the environment where you train?

Your dog’s non-compliance is not a personal attack on you rather, it is nothing more than a reaction to what you are, or are not doing, with your dog. The non-compliance was never personal.

Besides, your dog does not hold your mistakes and errors in judgement against you. He is willing to be non-judgemental and to love you unconditionally so shouldn’t you be willing to reciprocate?

Dogs Get Frustrated With You Too

And finally, don’t forget that dogs can get frustrated, too. They are trying to operate in a world very foreign and artificial to them.

Imagine yourself suddenly finding yourself living in an environment where people made demands on you that made no sense to you and you did not speak their language. How frustrated would you get at trying learn and function in an environment like this?

Be aware of the level of frustration that your dog is having at trying to function at the level where you are trying to teach him. Some situations and environments offer more challenges to your dog than others. What are you doing to make learning the lesson less frustrating for your dog? Are consistent in your communication and your expectations of him?

If you want consistency in your dog’s compliance then you will have to make sure that you are consistent in the way that you interact with your dog. Always make sure that you are setting your dog up for success when you train.

The Recipe For Success

In training, as with all things, the recipe for success is to find the balance, keep things in perspective, and train using the respect, grace, patience, compassion, and understanding that your dog deserves from you.

And always have a good Plan B in reserve for when Plan A does not work as you might have hoped. If you always have a back-up plan then you will never feel stuck and frustrated again.

As always we welcome your questions, comments, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our wisdom and our stories we may be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.

Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.

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6 Comments

  1. Very good advice. I’m glad I stumbled on to this site. I realized that I’m the problem. I’m going to use this advice in life with people.

  2. I now own my first Siberian Husky after having Keeshounds, I just love my baby girl now and have been fairly strict/tough in my training, its all going well, so far. I like letting her off lead, in my local woods shes just started hunting rabbits, her focus is so good on hunting I worry about her getting lost although so far so good, whistling, calling is not stopping her, she does come back always to me or the car, eventually, 10-45mins later, but any useful tips would be helpful, recall is a struggle for me and her to do, if I recall her, I get everyone elses dog appear.

  3. Definitely good advice! Sometimes it can be frustrating, especially when your dog has a dead bang Recall and then one day he just decides that something else is far more interesting. It just happens, you have to accept it and move on.

  4. I love how comprehensive your articles are. I’ve learned that keeping training sessions short yet frequent help to keep both myself and my dogs from getting frustrated. If I still get frustrated, we stop training for a while and I consider the training from another angle. Every dog learns differently and so whatever training method I used for one dog may not work for another.

    • Very true! Short training sessions are always preferable to long ones. And one size really does not fit all when it comes to dog training. You are so very right about that. That is why I try to offer people as many fixes as possible in my articles. Hopefully they can find one that works with their dog. Thank you for your lovely feedback. Much appreciated 🙂

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