Winter has been shockingly mild here. I started Quirk, the pony, back up on February 1st instead of March 1st with her 5-minute walks. We’ve been doing daily walks with Leo and Salem and come back invigorated but not frozen. I haven’t used a hand warmer yet this year. If it weren’t terrifying it would be wonderful.

Today winter is rolling through. It’s blowy, snowy and not very warm. Two kilometres plus walks don’t sound like much fun (although Salem would disagree). Today will be a very good day to work on foundations in training. Here both dogs are working on pretty basic skills still. I am always looking for short training that can take place in small spaces.

My quick plan for Leo for the day will be to do a little scent work (he’s done one session so far) and some pivot work. He met a pivot bowl last night for the first time.

Salem will do a little work with hoops to begin an Olympic Title from Do More With Your Dog. (She watched Leo earn his with great curiosity one night this week.) I am contemplating if scent work or pivot bowl work will use more of her brain power today. Perhaps a 10-treat session with the pivot bowl (it’s new to her too so reinforcement will be very high and quick) and scent work this evening will be a good division of time.

Even with my experienced and well-trained dogs, I would grab a day like this to do similar things. It’s important to find the spaces and places to back up and glue foundations together. Split, split, split and then split again. You can start a fire much more easily with well-split, dry wood. the same holds true for putting together more complex training. If your dog has been struggling in trials or classes today would be a great day to take things back a layer or two. If you have been struggling with a big title on the line, or goals not being realized you too will enjoy a return to basics.

Why do I recommend backing up a little when things feel hard?

Clarity sometimes when things get hard in trials or training it’s a sign we’ve lost our way. Without understanding the WHY (as those of you in the Habit Challenge and Go For Goals keep hearing) progress is often a fluke as much as a deliberate action. Finding our why, and where the gaps lie, can help with progress. Throwing a whole bunch of options at a team struggling does not help you. back up to a place of success and build on that.

Focus when you have the opportunity. When things aren’t going perfectly focus allows us to look for holes and gaps and decide how to best remedy them. If your dog is not as successful in trials as at training something is different enough to throw them off. It might be environmental, it could be longer delays in reinforcement. It might even be your mental state throwing them off. Focus on a small step will help you determine the root issue that is having the most impact and let you work to make changes there. (Because honestly – all three elements plus physical health might be influencing factors- we have to start somewhere though!)

Efficiency breaking things down allows you to decide exactly how to train something and how to build something up. Often building many small pieces and then gluing them together is the most effective way to create the picture you want.

Better Communication revisiting known behaviours, cues and rewards will improve and streamline communication with your canine partner. Practice makes a difference so grab the opportunity when you can.

Reduced Stress practicing in small little bites reduces your stress, and also your partner’s stress. Understanding expectations, cue sequences and reinforcement will improve performance. Taking tiny pieces and putting them together will build better performance for both big and small things.

In summary

Think ahead about ways you can seize opportunities – and what you want to accomplish when chances present themselves. Where can you eke out times to work on your why? Where can you fill gaps and look for ways to improve your performance? Drilling and forcing are not going to get you where you want to be; nor is doing nothing. Finding places and spaces to visit foundations will serve you well. No matter where your training and trialling experiences are at the moment.