Dog training is a physical skill, like learning to drive and it takes time to get used to this. We all go through the stages of learning skills; unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetent, conscious competence, unconscious competence. For dog trainers who have been teaching behaviours for years, we tend to lie in the unconsciously competent stage which means that we’re so comfortable and used to teaching a behaviour that we don’t think about how we have to do it. This is the realm that most drivers are in, you don’t have to think about each manoeuvre before you do it, it happens unconsciously. However, these skills weren’t always like that, do you remember your first driving lesson and how difficult it was to move into first gear? I do and it was a petrifying experience!
When you first start teaching your dog something you’ll go through each of these stages again. The more you practice, the faster you’ll move through the stages and getting the behaviour you’ve been working on will soon be something you do whilst being unconsciously competent. Everyone goes through this experience, even your dog trainer.
In obedience, my instructor likes us to move out of position before we feed, so click, change the picture, and feed. This is infuriatingly difficult when you’re trying to get the behaviour, you’re elated you got it and then you realise you’ve messed up because you fed the dog in position. To start with, I had no idea I’d gotten something ‘wrong’ and now I’m between the consciously incompetent and consciously competent stages. Sometimes I don’t move out of position and I tell myself off for it and sometimes I get it right but I’m very aware of the fact that I’ve done it right. It’s a difficult learning process, but it’s pertinent to realise that throughout this process I’m using a clicker that I once went through the same process with. Clicker training used to be something I really had to think about and I struggled loads with but now it’s a key part of a different skill I’m learning and I have no idea that I’m even clicking a lot of the time.
Every exercise you teach your dog will be hard at first, it is for all of us. The more you practice and make it part of your everyday life; the sooner it will become something you don’t even think about before doing and you’ll be taking that behaviour for granted!