Progress Not Perfection

I find as I coach people on raising a puppy they can be proud of, one of the mantras I use over and over is Progress not Perfection. What do I mean by that? Let’s take a look deeper into the relevance of this when working with young puppies.

First thing for you to remember, is even though your puppy is growing by leaps and bounds they are still babies and as such have immature brains, especially long term memory. The memory is developing but it takes time and loads of repetitions of your lessons before you begin to see progress.

I mark progress for things like, a puppy anticipating what we will do next, not having to reward with food every time and keeping the puppy fully engaged. When you start on day one with your 7 or 8 week old puppy you’ll be lucky if you get 2-3 minutes attention from them. You certainly won’t be able to get them to hold a stay unless you are right in front of them and then only for a few seconds. Progress is being made when you can ask for that same stay and be able to walk to the end of the leash and pup does not move. As long as you continue to make progress the perfection will come later. What happens if you demand too much perfection from the puppy in the beginning you will not be able to keep them engaged for longer periods of time. You also, will not be able to develop the relationship you need for higher level tasks, tricks or work you might be training the dog for.

When you watch any video of the top performance dogs in their respective venues what you are seeing is a long series of training days that have led to perfection. I assure you not one of those trainers starts with such demands on their puppy that they lose that enthusiasm that makes all the spectators go “Wow!” when they watch them perform later as adults.

Let me set up a simple exercise for you and your pup here that will illustrate the point I am making and get you started. This is a very simple look at my face drill. Get your treats and a slightly hungry puppy and go to a quiet room or place to work. Whether you keep the pup on leash or not will depend on how much the dog likes to work with you and responds to the training. If your pup is totally distracted during training, then very definitely use the leash. Drop the leash on the floor and step on it to restrict your puppy.

It doesn’t matter if your pup is in front of you or by your side. Choose a word that will be the pups cue to look at your face. For this exercise I will use “Look”. For lesson 1, I start by giving the pup in short succession tiny bits of a soft treat and say “yes” each time I feed them. This both gets the pups attention and also adds value to the marker word “yes”. When the pup looks up at your face, say “Yes” in a very positive and nice voice, and instantly feed your pup. Don’t lure the pup to look at your face. That means do not put the food in front of their nose and then up to your nose to get them to look at you. Wait until the pup looks at your face and mark that look with the “Yes” and the food reward instantly. After a few session you can start asking for “Look” and get it. Remember to mark with “Yes” and instantly give a treat.

Depending on how much fun you make this game you should have your pup looking at your face more than looking at other things. As you progress in each session, you can begin to ask for longer looks before the food is delivered, but the yes always happens as soon as his gaze locks your. You can add in distractions, starting with mild ones and working up to more difficult ones. A really difficult one might be doing the exercise at the train station when all the trains are rolling by. A really easy distraction might be doing this in a room filled with toys scattered on the floor. The progress comes before the perfection though and by the time you are perfecting things the reward is becoming harder to earn as well. But all this does not happen in a week, it might be months of practice every day before you get to any thing even remotely difficult. But keep progressing and asking for more perfection as the pup matures using the pups attitude as your benchmark.

All training should start and end with a happy puppy.