Stuck in a Rut? Take an Improv Class!

Dog Trainer Steve DeBono Austin Texas

We've all been there. You find yourself saying the same things over and over again. Working through the same old problems. The dogs start to annoy you. The clients really start to annoy you. You feel like your skills are not improving and maybe even worsening. You feel like you've “lost it”.

You're in a rut.

Sometimes you attend a seminar, or read a new book, or simply allow the passage of time to get you past these frustrating points. Other times, you need something else.

I recently went through one such rut. I didn't feel like I was getting any better at what I do. I wasn't communicating to my clients efficiently. It was like there was no real energy behind my words... no conviction. I was speaking like someone who had said the same things over and over again. I felt like a robot programmed to explain the concept of “house training”.

A client of mine owns an Improv Theater in town that offers 6 Levels of Improv Classes. Despite finding the notion terrifying, I decided to take their Level 1 Improv Class.

I arrived a little early for the first class. Nervous as can be, I sipped a beer at the adjacent cafe to take the edge off. It didn't work.

There were about 15 people in the class. Each class would consist of a series of games. Our instructor would lay out the rules of each game, and we would play. Anytime someone made a mistake or broke the rules, he or she was encouraged to proudly throw their arms to the sky, proclaim “I'VE FAILED!” and take a bow while the rest of the class applauded.

How liberating! To be encouraged to fail! And furthermore, to be applauded for failing!

This proud proclamation of failure completely took the pressure off for the duration of the class. Coming in, I was nervous about messing up and making mistakes. And almost immediately, that pressure was alleviated and I was actually reinforced for making mistakes.

We would build on each game and eventually play improv 'scenes'. At no point did I ever feel pressure to perform or get it 'right'. I knew that if I screwed up, I would be applauded. I would then just accept my ovation and try to get it right the next time.

To be a good improvisor, you need to play by The Rules and to take Risks. Not one or the other, but both. Are you more likely to make mistakes when taking risks? Of course! The important part is to recognize and take ownership of your mistakes. Then you need to move on and not be afraid to make new mistakes!

The same is true of dog training.

A thorough knowledge of the rules of dog training is essential... the learning theory... the techniques. Knowing the rules is what makes us professionals. Just as important is the ability to be spontaneous and take risks while adhering to the structure of these rules. We can not be afraid to fail. We can not be afraid to make mistakes. When a mistake is made, we must acknowledge it, throw our arms to the sky and proclaim “I'VE FAILED!”. And do our best to never make the same mistake again.

Now I can't wait to make some new mistakes in my Level 2 Improv Class! Not to mention all the thrilling mistakes I'll be making at my next Puppy Kindergarten!