Failure as default


When people get frustrated with their dogs, they forget that basic rule of life: you have to fail to succeed. Making mistakes is the only way to find out how not to do things.


No sane mother expects her baby to learn to walk or speak in one hour. No sane dog owner should expect their dog to learn to read their mind as soon as the said dog is taken to his new home.


English, or in fact any human language, is not easy for a dog to learn. Be clear. Use simple phrases. Control the tone and volume. Use gestures. Teach your dog to pay attention. Accept and embrace failure as it just means the learning process is in progress.


The beauty of working with your dog is that you can shape him, make him your own. You didn’t get a finished product but raw material to work on. Be an artist and create, don’t waste the potential you both have.


And next time when your dog is ‘naughty’ don’t get furious and frustrated, don’t shout or panic. Smile, think ‘good, we’re learning how not to do it’. Recall the signals you use to tell your dog his behaviour is not desirable (I use ‘active ignoring and a frown’) and use them.


This post has been written after I spent two hours washing the carpet (from 4.30 am – Brian had an accident in the house, even though he had never done it before) and got bitten by my normally extremely well-behaved dog (Lily got terrified thinking I was going to take her out in the rain. Her issues are still there, I forgot to make sure she knew I wasn’t going to force her to go out).




24 thoughts on “Failure as default

  1. Really appreciate this post 🙂 We woke up to an accident in the house today too – my partner was cleaning it up as I woke and I almost rolled in it hahahaha!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A thought just popped into my head when I read about language not being easy to learn for dogs. I remember meeting people years ago who had adopted a Spanish galgo and podenco who ended up using basic commands in Spanish as the dogs would not respond to anything in English. I don’t know if you have ever tried any basic commands in Romanian with Brian.

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    1. I don’t think Brian had much to do with people in Romania. Some dogs do seem to like the sound of the language they already ‘know’, but Lily’s Polish and she’s learnt all the English commands in no time. Ardbeg understood them in three languages (just for fun, I get bored and do silly things). It’s more the tone of the voice and our body language that matters, I think 🙂

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  3. I have days like that and they are usually Saturdays too. Patience is so important, I remember my partner being annoyed with my little dog when she had an accident. She was actually ill, and couldn’t help it- point being that ultimately we are different species and it’s a matter of time and learning each other as you so rightly say..are you ok? Tetanus up to date?

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    1. It’s a good day (maybe not the best ever, but a good one). Lily is a terrified dog (she’s still scared of the wind and the sound of rain), I should have remembered about it. Brian will learn, it was raining heavily, so he probably thought it was a better idea to use the carpet (they have access to the garden all the time, so he should have gone out). I wrote this because someone had told me they envy me my dogs, they listen to me, come back immediately and so on…I told him we fail at something every day, but I don’t think he believed me.

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      1. Weather’s been awful-so windy here that when the cats did venture out they were doing the “close to the ground gripping with all toes” walk..not surprised the dogs were afraid…Erin barks at the wind and won’t go outside in heavy rain either. You have such a confidence when you speak about dogs and such an understanding of them, that’s possibly why the man didn’t believe you..x

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    1. It’s been a wonderful day 🙂 The tiny things bother me for a second, but they really don’t matter much. We’ll change the carpets anyway and I needed reminding Lily can get really terrified (she’s been so brave I forgot) My mornings are usually rather hectic and interesting, I got used to all that 😉

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  4. Some basic rules that we learned re training Ray:
    1. Set him up for success so that he gets his treat (and learns how to get another one!). This means often taking “baby steps” towards a specific goal. If he fails, he will quickly lose interest.
    2. Make what you want him to do more exciting than what he wants to do! No brainer really!
    3. Never, ever, shout at him. To him you are barking, and that could well teach him all kinds of bad habits!
    4. He does not, and will never, understand our language. He is simply hearing sounds and relating them to something… so keep the sounds simple (and don’t waste your time talking in complex sentences!)
    5. Remember that he is comparable to a human 3 year old… expect him to behave accordingly. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a lovely post. As usual. And clearly there’s a lot of this going around: Someone Who Shall Remain Nameless… into the garbage…….dear, oh dear. But it is ALL totally about, OK, that’s now not to do it. Now, how to do it? And smiling.

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  6. I don’t really believe that you have to fail in order to succeed, but certainly those who succeed have learned from their mistakes IF they had made them. That’s your strength, analyzing events and learning from them. Your dogs are lucky to have you!

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      1. I’m quite conceited, actually (trying not to be). I seriously have no talents, I can’t see all the colours properly, can’t draw anything more than a stick man, when I was little it was not so subtly hinted to my parents I’m tone deaf (they had send me to piano/violin lessons, the teachers lasted a year, poor things). I analyse poetry but never write it (though, technically, I can). But because I’m obstinate I represented my country in athletics (though it was well over 20 years ago), I studied science (for the first two years I was suicidal), then languages (I’m fluent in five), did my PhD just for fun (not my area of interest), have always had more than one job at any time (I usually have a side business) and changed it as soon as I thought I can’t learn more. I have an innate fear of failure, so to conquer it I do things where I fail and survive. I’m an example of someone, who is persistent. But I have no talents nonetheless 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am sure you are familiar with Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory. You have just listed an array of talents. A great European rabbi who, thankfully, passed away a year before Stalin’s purges, said that people shouldn’t belittle themselves, but accept who they are and try to grow form there which is what you have been doing, from I see. Obstinance, or perseverance, if you will, is a talent.

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  7. Too right. There are also good and bad times to train and work with your dog. When I teach owners relaxation massage for their dogs, we spend a whole module about choosing the right time and indicators of when it isn’t right. Our dogs sense when we are not fully present for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great quote: “You have to fail to succeed. Making mistakes is the only way to find out how not to do things.”

    Whenever possible, I try to find out how not to do things by watching other people screw up. But more often than note, I have to learn from my own mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

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