There are a lot of ways to handle dog training and stewardship when you have a fatiguing illness. I have generally focused my tips on training. But sometimes you are just too sick to train. In fact, taking training breaks is not only inevitable, but useful and necessary for both human and dog. More on that another time.
You may have noticed that it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Tuesday Tip for Tired Trainers, and that my posts have been less frequent lately, overall. This is due to a dip I’ve experienced in my health and functioning. I hope I will pull out of it soon. Meanwhile, though, Barnum and I train when I can, and I try to support our efforts even when we’re not training. How? By keeping ahead of him in my learning.
I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. Have you gone through times where you have not been able to do much training, and you are feeling restless? If you’re training a service dog, a lot is riding on your training, and you’re probably fighting impatience as it is. While latent learning can help both you and your dog — that’s the learning that occurs when you’re not actively training/studying, when your brain is organizing all the information you’ve taken in, so resting is actually a form of learning — you may also find ways to support your sense of accomplishment by other forms of passive learning.
It’s a fact that people have to learn a lot more and work a lot harder to train their dogs than the dogs do. Every time I ask someone to help me train Barnum, I describe in detail exactly what they should do. They almost always respond, in a surprised and joking way, with something like, “This is really human training isn’t it? You’re training me more than him!”
I usually say, “Yes, of course!”
In fact, when it comes to dog training, I find people much harder to train than dogs! The hardest person to train is me. I’ve learned the same lessons dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and I still do the wrong things sometimes! Sometimes even while I’m doing it, I will say to myself, “Why are you doing this?” Or after I’ve done it, and it has failed, predictably, I’ll ask myself why I didn’t see that coming. Well, that’s just human!
So, what if you’re in a position like me? Training is important to you, but you are too darn sick to do much of anything. If you don’t have a lot of mental fatigue or cognitive issues (whatever you want to call it — brain fog, chemo brain, fibro fog, CFIDS brain, Lyme brain, etc.), you might be able to read a dog-training book. I find re-reading my dog training books very helpful, especially because of my memory problems. The same holds true for watching dog-training DVDs.
However, most fatigue-related conditions also seem to affect mental acuity. And chances are good that if you’re reading or watching a dog-training program, it’s important to you to remember it. You might be following a structured program, such as Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels: Steps to Success, in which case you are trying to follow each “recipe” exactly. That’s not very restful! Too much pressure for a tired brain and body.
Recently, I’ve been listening to the podcasts on Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT). These are usually podcasts by individuals or groups of trainers who have graduated from the Karen Pryor Clicker Academy (KPA). They cover a wide range of subjects, from typical dog-training issues (fear, aggression, games) to training other species (cats, fish, marine animals, other people, and oneself), as well as theories of training and behavioral psychology. Benefits of the podcasts are that they are available anywhere and any time you have a computer, and they don’t require a fast internet connection (the way video does). They are also free, which is a real benefit over buying a gazillion training books or DVDs. You do have to be a member of the KPCT mailing list to listen to them. If you aren’t already, it’s a relatively short, easy process to sign up, and the monthly articles you receive in your email are more than worth it.
I found this episode on the Power of Context Cues to be especially relevant at my current stage in training Barnum as a service-dog-in-training. Even though they weren’t saying anything I didn’t know, there are a lot of lessons it helps to learn repeatedly. This was a great reminder of the importance of keeping contextual cues in mind, and manipulating them to my benefit. Indeed, among examples relating to veterinary visits and aggression issues, examples are also presented that relate to guide dogs. (These comments came from guide dog trainer and KPA graduate and international freestyle champion, Michele Pouliot.)
The most recent podcast is this one on “Wow!” Moments by ClickerExpo Faculty. This page also contains a listing of all the podcasts to date, so you can start here and work backward, or pick and choose what interests you most.
These podcasts provide entertainment and education that is not too mentally taxing for me (usually). So far, they have not been on topics I felt I needed to take notes on, so I can just let the information wash over me and feel like I am still doing something to support my work with Barnum, even if we can’t shape behaviors.
If there’s a podcast you particularly like, please mention it in the comments!
– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and lately lead latent learner