Brandon McMillan's Canine Minded | Mental Dog Training
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Mental Dog Training

Mental Dog Training

The mental aspect of dog training is just as important as the physical. The question is why? Why is the mental just as important as the physical when it comes to training? Training is just physical techniques right? Wrong! Here’s a good example. Athletes train their mental game just as much as the physical part of their game. Working out at the gym is only partially physical. Showing up there and forcing yourself to work out is purely mental. Your mental ability drives your physical ability. If you’re planning on doing 30 sit ups and you get tired at 20, it’s your mental ability that drives you to complete the set. This is pure determination because physically you’re getting tired and beginning to fade. This is why I say it’s so important in dog training to keep a strong, mental game. Your mental game is what’s going to drive you through those frustrating moments with your dog and keep working at it till the issue is solved. Now this is easier said than done because it does take a lot of practice. Very few people have the ability to just put on a game face and keep it on when they’re frustrated without a little practice. Much like the physical aspect of dog training, you’re gonna have to practice the mental game many times. Trust me I had to train a lot of animals before I really got this one down. When I finally did it paid dividends.

The following words I want you to keep in the back of your mind while training: The Face You Show is the Face that’s Shown Back to you. These are the words I live by when training an animal. These are the words I heard from one of my mentors who taught me about training when I was a teenager. Animals are always looking for leadership so they’re waiting on you for a cue to tell them what to do. If you don’t show them leadership skills from the start they’ll simply look elsewhere, effectively turning yourself into one of the pack instead of the leader of that pack. However if you show a leader’s face right away they’ll stick around for a while and see what they can learn from you. This face you’re showing them is not physical. It’s much more mental because it’s the face that tells them you mean business. It’s the face of a boss, not an employee. It’s the face of a teacher, not a student. The boss is never supposed to show frustration just as a teacher is never supposed to. When a student sees a frustrated teacher that’s when the teacher starts to lose control of the student. Even if you’re frustrated DO NOT show it. This is the mental game that a good trainer plays when training an animal. I’d be a total liar if I told you I never get flustered or frustrated with an out of control dog the first few days I’m training it. They don’t know one command and they have zero control so the first few days can be a little frustrating especially when they’re not grasping it as fast…but I never show my frustration because I’ve learned my lessons when I was younger that that was a deal breaker. The same rules applied when I trained large predators. The only way I could ever get a 400 lb Siberian tiger to do what I asked was from a purely mental game I’d have to play with them. Physically I couldn’t compete with that cat’s strength. Anyone who believes they can force a 400 lb cat to do something is not only kidding themselves but also putting themselves in a very dangerous situation. A tiger takes down animals twice the size of a human so trying to compete with them physically was out of the question. But my game face is where I’d find success. And just like that a 400 lb predator was calmly doing exactly what I was asking it to do. When I dive with great whites and get myself into a dangerous situation it’s my mental game that gets me through it alive. When I used to train dogs for commercials I’d always be under a serious deadline to get teach that animal to do a high level trick for the camera. And of course frustration would kick into high gear when it was the final 2 days before the shoot and the dog didn’t have the task down that I’m training on them yet. Big money was riding on me and my dog to perform on shoot day so if I showed up with a dog that wasn’t trained for that day on set my career would be over. A BIG part in what successfully got me through most times like that was my mental state of mind while training. The dog would not see my frustration. They would only see my determination. My face said to them I’m not quitting and I don’t want you to either. My mental determination beat their stubbornness and I pulled this off because the face I showed was the face that was shown right back to me. The dog saw determination and fed off my energy. The dog didn’t suspect any frustration or anxiety in me. If it did it would’ve been a wrap and that dog would’ve walked away from me faster than I could even catch it. Be sure your face remains calm and determined. This is what pro boxers and MMA fighters so in combat. Even when they’re injured they don’t show it on their face because if they did their opponent would go in for the finish. Many fighters have won their fights injured because they don’t show their injury through their facial expressions. Animals are very keen to this as well because they’re always looking for mental weakness in someone. Just like the pro boxer, your frustration is their injury and you’re not gonna show it on your face. Trust me when I say it’ll double their respect level for you if you can just follow this rule. Like humans, animals are always looking for a strong leader with determination. If they don’t find what they’re looking for they simply move on. Keep that game face on when you train. Don’t show your weakness and remember the face you show is the face that’s shown back to you. If you can follow this simple rule you’ve accomplished 50% of the training game. Ruff.

  • Brandon
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