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Progress Over Perfection

20/03/2023 - Mindset and motivation

When clients see me for a second visit, I often will be astounded at their progress in a very short time. They are surprised because being so CLOSE to what is going on, it is difficult to see until someone points it out.

It's lovely to be able to compliment them, but the problem of NOT seeing progress is that it can be demoralising and can sometimes cause a plan to stall.

So what can we do about that?

Progress over perfection is an important principle to keep in mind. Sometimes clients are simply expecting too much. They are looking for their perfect goal rather than steps towards it.

Simply find some way that works for you to record your what you are doing so that you can look back and see the inevitable improvement. If you see there is NO improvement, or things are getting worse, you have the information to know that you need to change your plan.

Here are some ideas:

  • Video to benchmark your dog's behaviour now, then once a week to see the difference. You might be surprised when you look back at the original videos.
  • Pop a sheet on the fridge with dates so that you can write down each walk or incident. I like to score in some way. 1 to 10, or red, amber and green, or count the numbers of times things happen.
  • Write down both what goes well, and what you struggle with as those are your training gaps that you need to work on.
The more data you have, the more likely you will see trends and know where you need to concentrate your time.

How does that work in practice?

Here's an example on coming back when called.

Record how many times you call your dog and how many times they came back.

  • 5 out of 5 - Amazing, how about pushing on to something more difficult.
  • 4 out of 5 - Push on, but think about what was the reason your dog did not come back that one time? Is there something to work on here?
  • 3 out of 5 - Stick at what you are doing, but maybe a few easier ones to build up your score.
  • 1 or 2 out of 5 - Assess why and drop down to an easier recall, closer, or on a long line, so that you can both manage and work on your comng back when called without you worrying about what might happen with your dog.

Or how about a dog who you would like to be calmer on walks.

  • Record how many dogs you saw, and how your dog coped with each dog.
  • Or score the walk 1 = calm and 5 = not calm.
You can then think about the location of the walk, time of day, levels of arousal, dogs that you saw, and what made the difference.

Or if you are wondering how your dog is coping in certain situations, video as a benchmark of how things are going now, then video once a week so that you have a visual record to look back on.

To understand your PROGRESS, you need to record and assess what you are doing, then it is time to celebrate those successes.

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Breaking things down

Very often in working with clients they are just thinking about the end goal, but sometimes we need to break things down.
For example, recently I worked with someone who was trying to teach their dog to go along a ramp in to the car. The goal was taking over the training and because the dog was not going along, or even getting on the ramp, it felt like they had failed.
So we broke it down into tiny pieces and heavily reinforce each step. Each training session was less than a minute, and within 4 sessions their dog was walking along the ramp on the ground.
Here’s how it went, with each stage being heavily reinforced with pieces of turkey –

  • Approach the ramp.
  • Lean over the ramp.
  • Pick food off the ramp.
  • One foot on the ramp.
  • Two feet on the ramp.
  • Three feet on the ramp.
  • Four feet on the ramp.
  • Walk on the ramp.
  • Walk from one end of the ramp to the other.
  • Extend the ramp to full length and walk from one end of the ramp to the other.
  • And so on.

More steps to go before she is getting in the car, but great progress.

Progress over perfection ´╗┐

 I often say this to clients, but what does it really mean in practice? ´╗┐

  • We can focus on smaller steps rather than an overwhelming goal.
  • We can recognize evidence of our progress.
  • We can enjoy progress even if things are not perfect,
  • We can get things done with acceptable success rather than an ideal outcome that might not ever be achievable.

´╗┐Progress is about being realistic and practical, and sometimes, in the real world of dealing with life and time constraints, any step forward is a big achievement.