For people that don't know me, almost every weekend is dedicated to something "doggy." If I'm not hosting a trial or seminar, I'm at a trial or seminar and if I'm not doing either I teach a lot of classes on the weekends. A few weekends ago I didn't have anything scheduled other than classes, so my husband and I went on a short getaway and took a blacksmithing class. Yes, that is what I wrote, a blacksmithing class.
Why on earth would we do that? There's actually a really neat facility located about an hour from us that offers regular welding and trade classes, but also offers date nights where there's a specific project (blacksmithing, welding, borosilicate glass making and more) and everyone works on that project and gets to take home their "masterpiece." The class starts by the instructor going over all of the safety concerns and a brief explanation of the project we would be working on. We signed up for "dog head trinkets" (so technically this was still a doggy weekend!) We could either make leash hooks or a bottle opener. Each of us got to make our own, so we went with leash hooks because we were dreaming about how awesome they will be and we can't wait to hang them up in our new home. Right…
If you don't know anything about blacksmithing, we were basically taking a bar of metal and heating it and bending and shaping it with a hammer until it looks like a work of art dog head leash hook. Sounds pretty simple, right? Maybe for some! What the instructors did well for the most part was break down each step. There were a lot of steps! Things weren't so bad at first. Use the clamps, heat the bar, bring it out, hammer one end down, heat some more, bend it the other way. Okay. Cool. I got this. Not so bad.
Onto step three. Got it. But when the instructor explained that step she said, why don't I show you how to do the ears while we're here. Making the ears was complicated and kind of difficult (that's why mine looks like my dog has cropped ears!) But here's where things started going downhill for me. Not only were there two steps I had to remember, but because of the shape of the metal now we had to start using larger clamps to hold the piece. I couldn't quite hold them correctly even when the instructors came around and tried to help me. By the time I took my metal out of the fire, got it on the anvil and tried to hold it so I could do the next step it was cold and had to go back in the fire. I was getting super frustrated at this point and was ready to give up. This is when my husband said, this is no different than when we are trying to teach the owner of a dog something and it looks easy to us but they're having a hard time. Lightbulb moment!
One of the simpler things I like to teach people when I do private lessons is a hand touch. It has so many uses that are beneficial for most any dog no matter what the issue is we're working on. First of all, it's a fun game for dogs so that's reason number one. If you're teaching loose leash walking, why not give a target for your dog at your side to reward. If you're teaching a recall it's nice to have a target for dogs to come close to you rather than start coming in and then running away again. I can go on and on. When I teach this I start by explaining why it's an important skill for the dog in front of me. Then I explain how we're going to teach it step by step and demo it with the dog to get them started. I get a few reps in, the dog is doing it, then I have the owner try. Sounds good on paper, right?
The first thing I say is, start with your hand really close to your dog because they don't really know what we're asking yet. They might just smell your hand and accidentally bump it with their nose and that's all we're looking for right now. And the owner then starts with their hand six feet away from the dog and the dog is just staring at them. Okay, now try moving in closer to the dog. So they do, but their hand is open, fingers splayed. Okay, that will work, but let's make this picture real clear for the dog and keep your fingers all close together like a karate chop like I did, remember? And then the dog gives their paw and the owner rewards. Okay, that was awesome and it's great your dog knows how to give paw, but right now we want a nose touch, so let's not reward for giving paw. And then the owner will ask, why are we doing this?
At this point I am thinking…why is this so difficult? Did I not explain this clearly? Did I not demo it well? That's very possible…lol…but I think the real reason is that I work with dogs for a living. I do this every day and have been doing it for years. It comes natural for me. Many of my clients have either never had a dog before or have had dogs that never really had any problems and they just went about their day and never had any formal training. The whole concept of why we would teach a hand touch is completely foreign. And then coordinating rewards in one hand, other hand open, where to stand, what position your body should be in and if we're working on leash – that is a whole other complication right there. It takes a lot of coordination and timing to teach this "simple" exercise.
This brings me back to my blacksmithing class. Everything was foreign to me. I should also add that this was a four-hour long class. How are our dogs feeling about forty-five minutes into a lesson? In my experience, they're usually fried at this point and the owners are usually pretty overwhelmed. At about hour three of my class I was exhausted. We were standing on a concrete floor the whole time and were roasting from all of the forges running. By the time I finally got the basic shape of the leash hook I was done – and now it's time for the most important part – the face! Everyone was scrambling at the tools to get the right shapes for eyes and whiskers and mouths. I needed my husband to hold my piece with the clamps because I just couldn't do it anymore. The instructors were all looking at the clock because they were ready to go, too. I didn't have the energy or the skills or the correct tools to create a masterpiece at that point. Sound familiar?
All in all, I'm pretty proud of my odd looking dog head leash hook. He may not be the best looking dog, but I made him! I took a bar of metal and created something that almost resembles a dog! I'm sure if I took the class again my next one will be much better. I learned a lot, both about how to blacksmith and how to be a better instructor and have more empathy for my students. Learning new things is hard. Instructing people is hard. But if you try your best, you WILL get results. So, if you are new to training your dog – be patient! Keep trying and working at it and you will gain skill as you go. If you are an instructor – be patient! Break things down and don't push too hard. And most importantly, learn to do something outside of your comfort zone so you know what that feels like ?
Lori Timberlake is an Summit-level competitor and instructor who is also an approved AKC Scent Work Judge, UKC Nosework Certifying Official and USCSS CSD and Judge. The owner of Do Over Dog Training, Lori is extremely active in the Scent Work community and Scent Work University is beyond fortunate to her as part of the team!