When training takes years, literal years, don’t forget the small victories

It’s easy to forget how much progress is made with incremental, teeny-tiny baby steps.

When you’re in the thick of it, especially when you’re dealing with a problem behavior instead of, like, a fun trick, you can’t even fathom that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, let alone see it.

Once you get there, having taken those itty-bitty steps for God-knows-how-long, it’s easy to forget every teensy step that got you there. Or maybe not forget. Maybe gloss over. I call it self preservation because if you could conceptualize just how much effort some behaviors take… well, it might discourage you from trying.

You might have something in mind that was like that for you and your pup. Your own Everest of Dog Training. For Lucas, it was his dog aggression. Years and years and years of daily work, tears, classes, setbacks, more daily work, more classes, more setbacks… that ultimately made him Most Popular Jock at doggy daycare (title invented by me).

For Cooper, well, he has a series of Everests. Some are foothills, I suppose, because just about everything with him requires some sort of struggle. (Everything but cuddling and running, anyway.)

Our big victory, though, the thing I want to focus on for this blog hop is one of those that took so long and so many incremental steps that one day very recently (Friday) we realized… oh, my goodness… we’re on the other side of the tunnel/over the mountain and through the woods!

That thing?

The vacuum.

About 4 years ago, Cooper decided out of the blue that he hated the vacuum. Not only did he hate it. Oh, no. He needed to kill it. It came out of the blue because we spent a lot of his puppyhood desensitizing him to things like the vacuum that, post-adolescence, he just wouldn’t tolerate. (See: My theory why.)

Anyway, after struggling with his behavior… both vacuums are covered in bite marks… we decided to tackle the unsafe, unpleasant behavior. At the time I contemplated making a “before” video, but I ultimately decided against it because, once I was committed to addressing it, I didn’t want a single other incident!

We did all the usual vacuum-fear-counterconditioning things: Left it out and periodically put treats on and around it, touched the handle without turning it on while giving treats, moving it without turning it on while giving treats, and so on. The entire time, every time we had to actually run the vacuum, we put him outside or in another room to prevent repeats. Then we moved to running it with him nearby but behind a gate while giving him treats and ultimately escalated to tossing treats away from the running vacuum until finally, finally he was able to take treats from you while you were vacuuming.

Years. Also, our floors were never quite clean because all that? Yeah, it was a giant pain in the ass.

Which brings us to Friday. John got the vacuum out, and as soon as he hit the power button…. Cooper ran straight over to him! To where John was vacuuming! And right up to the vacuum!

Of course, four years later, his thought process is now, “Vacuum turns on, and even though I hate it, I get piles and piles of treattttttssssss!!!!” Which was the goal.

Yet, somehow we never really saw or realized: We achieved our goal!

No, he doesn’t trust the vacuum, and no, he’s not 100%. I’ve realized he still goes after the hose if I let his concentration waver. But. He did it. Or, at least, he’s doing it.

And it was so incremental, we didn’t even realize it!

“NBD! Gimme treats, man!” (Ed note: Please ignore the crappy photo. I will learn how to take pics some day… prob as soon as I get a camera… ha!)

Cooper and the vacuum

“OK, maybe a little bit of a BD here with the hose. See these ears? These are BD ears. More treats, please.”