Last week I hired a dog trainer. After Malcolm nearly broke my finger chasing something, and his baby sister, Charlie trips me every time we go out the door, I realized that we all needed training. Malcolm and Charlie are both Sheepadoodles. If you’re not familiar with the breed, just picture the cutest dog you’ve ever seen times ten. Half sheep dog and half standard poodle, they look like muppets with a silky shaggy tuxedo coat and the soulful eyes of Paul Newman.
They look like Muppets, but they are, in fact, strong, smart, stubborn furry little monsters with a mind of their own and a decided tendency to want things their way. Hence the trainer. I love them both with a white hot passion. The dogs, not the trainer, although the trainer, Greg, is very nice too. Anyway, we had our first session Friday, and it’s been 4 days on our own working through the lessons Greg gave us. I found some remarkable similarities between dog training and knitting, because of course I did. Here are my top 10
Start with the fundamentals
Greg: So, what is your biggest challenge with the dogs?”
Brand new knitter:Pointing to a fantastic colorwork sweater or an intricate lace shawl “I want to knit that.”
Me: Let’s start with Knit and Purl. .
It’s not going to be perfect the first time After sit, Greg was helping me teach the dogs to sit rather than bolt our and pull me down the stairs. “Tell them to sit and then start to open the door. If they get up, close the door and start again.” I did and they started to get it. Malcolm was pretty willing, but Charlie is impatient and mouthy. Finally she had italmostright, and Greg said “good enough” and we went out the door. It wasn’t perfect, but it was waaaay better than it had been. And it was a step in the right direction
Whether it’s our first garter stitch scarf or our first sweater, it’s not going to be perfect. But we strive for progress knowing that we will get better each time.
Reward baby steps Greg keeps more treats than I thought possible in the pocket of his hoodie and is lavish with them. Every sit earns a treat. Every head turn toward him earns a treat. The progress we’re making deserves to be recognized and rewarded. Even if it’s just one row without an error, you deserve a treat. M&Ms are perfect for this.
Verbal praise can be as good as treats: For most dogs a smilingYes!, orGood Boy, or a pat on the head are as good as a bit of kibble. Our words are a powerful signal of a job well done. As you knit, take a moment to look at your progress and validate your work out loud. “Wow, my knitting looks really even,” or “Look how much I’ve accomplished on this project.” Unlike dogs, our self speak is powerful. We can, and should, self-validate
Practice makes perfect - Sit, treat, sit, treat, sit, treat, That’s how they learn. Knit knit knit knit knit knit, and purl purl purl purl purl is how we learn
Do a little each day- Greg said that we should take maybe 20 minutes each day to work with the dogs. You can’t train all day one day and then nothing for a week. That’s not how dog brains work either. And it’s not how we get projects done. A little bit each day.
It’s challenging, but it should be fun - It’s a lot of brain power for the dogs to learn this, but they really seem to enjoy it. I do too. Sure, it’s frustrating, but it’s kind of a game. Knitting can be frustrating too. Complicated stitches, reading patterns, multiple simultaneous shaping, - it’s a challenge, but we learn, and it’s fun. That’s why we do it.
You’re on your own journey- Malcolm seems to get it a little faster than Charlie. He’s not smarter, or abetterdog. He's just older, and for good or ill, he’s been through my previous attempts at training. That’s it. Charlie will get there just the same. It’s tempting to see knitters’ projects and compare yours to them unfavorably. You don’t know how long it took them to get there, or how much time they have to dedicate to their project. Doesn’t matter. You are on your own journey, and you will get there when you get there, and that’s fine.
Know when to take a break - I can tell when the dogs have had it with training. I might have allocated 30 minutes for practice, but when they simply lie down in the yard, it’s enough. Dogs know when they need a rest, and they take it unapologetically. When we’re tired or frustrated, we should do the same. Everything will be easier and make more sense after a little break. We’re not on a timetable. It should be fun.
Having a coach makes it more efficient. As I mentioned, I’ve tried to figure out the dog training on my own. There are tons of great resources out there - Zak George, Cesar Millan, and others have awesome books and videos. I should know, I’ve watched them enough. But having Greg right there with me, demonstrating exactly what to do, answering all my questions, and giving me in-the-moment, step-by-step guidance has been better than all the books and videos I’ve watched put together..
It’s the same with knitting, and that’s what our in-store classes and the live sessions in Club Crazy for Ewe are all about. We demonstrate the techniques, answer your questions, and work through the sticky bits. There’s nothing like having a coach right there with you every step of the way to help you learn and grow and master it all.
I look forward to seeing you in person or on Zoom. Either way, you are always welcome here
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