This morning I came across this blog post a friend had shared. I’ve read it repeatedly now and it’s still resonating in my head as strongly as it did the first time.
Different ringing but close enough.
There’s been a rash of fairly low-level competitor acquaintances dumping (Not always literally but returning to breeder or finding them a pet home) dogs for reasons that I can best describe as asinine. I’m not talking permanent injuries or congenital defects that make training impossible in a situation with limited time for a limited number of dogs where the dog in question would be left out or not given the attention needed. Nor am I talking about major dog v dog conflicts where management is not an option. I’m talking about the person with no titles complaining about the lack of drive in her eight week old puppy. I’m talking about the person bitching about how her 10 month old just wants food when their tug game is lackluster at best. I’m talking about that dog you seen in class who just sparkles with how gifted they are and all their owner can see is how easily distracted they are by “Everything!” and all that they do wrong. This is of course a vicious cycle of stupid and only leads to more dissatisfaction down the road. It’s not an easy cycle to break out of either (I would know since I’ve been there) so I wrote down my own personal mantra and I’ve decided to share it because I am generous and loving and pretty. You’re welcome.
1. There is no perfect dog
This seems kind of obvious but you’d be surprised what a trap it is to fall into. Fun exercise for you, think of your perfect dog and the traits it would have… Now how many of those do you think you have control over? How many of those traits are fluid? Are you really confident you know what it is you have at 8 weeks old, or fresh from the shelter or rescue? A puppy out of two ideal parents is not necessarily going to be a carbon copy of them, though the chance is slightly higher. Personalities are as changeable from one puppy in a litter to the next as the weather is in Maine and trust me when I say sometimes personality clashes between dog and owner do occur. Good breeders can direct you to ameliorate this issue but you’re SOL if your breeder is stupid/incompetent or just Craigslist garbage. If you get exactly what you want in temperament, skill-set and drive, what are the odds they’d be sound too? What are the odds that with that perfect dog who is sound too, that your training and relationship won’t ruin it before it has a chance to reach the top? Even people who espouse owning their perfect dogs are doing a major disservice to the rest of us. Kennel Blindness isn’t just for breeders. Glossing over the journey and difficulties you had getting there insults not only your work ethic and the meaning of the title. It also propagates the myth of certain breeds being the lone victors in specific sporting areas. No dog comes pre-trained. No dog is born bonded to their owner. The sooner that ridiculousness is dissolved the better.
2. Train the dog you have
So your dog isn’t perfect, sorry about that. I’m sure it was a major blow. In the spirit of that, no two dogs are the same. While you can use frameworks of the same ideas for training etc. it will rarely progress in an identical way. Things go faster or slower according to handler skill and dog aptitude and how many times you have to start over or try something new. As an example, after nearly two years of dubious success I went to a new trainer and started my bitch functionally from scratch on her heeling. She had been trained by me sans much assistance to heel off-leash with no leash ever really having been used. It was pretty swiftly pointed out to me in our first session that she didn’t seem to know where heel position was and would drift in and out to get her snacks and then go back to doing her submissive wife impression six feet behind me. On leash we go, back to the beginning, and what do you know in two weeks I have better heeling that we had in literally months upon months of effort. What had worked for the gander did not in fact work for the goose and being willing to change the approach patched a giant leaking hole in the big picture. Unwillingness to be flexible in your training is a road to ruin. There is always another option and just because your dog doesn’t fit in your normal sequence of events, doesn’t mean there is even a problem.
3. Until you get there, you don’t know what it is that you need for the ride
Why is it always the people who’ve never been there who know best what it is that their dog is lacking and therefore preventing that success? I know more handlers with RNs who have never even stepped into the Obedience ring who “know” that their dog can’t do that because of some perceived flaw; More in fact than I know people who train for success… For my training purposes Z is an OTCh quality dog. She has truly terrible ring stress and she is not a speedy working border collie nor will she ever be a flashy retriever and not what many would select off-hand as a competition dog. She is however well-trained, tidy, precise, a naturally gifted training dog and while I’m not holding my breath for many HIT they’re within reach if we work for them. I train her like I’m training a dog who is going to be the National Obedience Champion. Is it realistic? Probably not. While I could realistically envision a UDX with much tribulation, an OTCH is unlikely. My dog however doesn’t know that. For all she knows and anyone watching would know, I have a world class dog and I’m training her to be world class. I won’t know how far we go until we get there and neither does anyone else.
4) The dog probably isn’t the problem
Dogs are rarely the problem. Pretty much all problems come down to training and/or relationship. If you neglect one, or both you won’t succeed.
5. If the dog is the problem, you learn to work through it
Okay sometimes it is the dog, so what? Very few issues are insurmountable if you’re serious about your goals.
6. If you can’t find the good in it, it’s time to stop
There are days when nothing is working or going right and usually when those hit it’s time to call it for the day. When those days turn into weeks or months and you find the joy sucked out of your training, it’s time to give yourself and your dog a mental holiday maybe even a change in venue to find the joy again.
7. Expectations should be fluid
I may train my dog like a world champion, but I’m not going to leave her tied to a tree if she’s not one. While we all have hopes and dreams, tempering those with a healthy dose of reality is a good thing. I know what my dog is; I choose to see her how she can be and where she can go once ‘x, y. z” are fixed. I’m not the kind of person who is happy with just a “Q”. Our highest score, or our fastest clean run is worth very little to me if I feel something lacking in bond or effort. I’ve won decently sized classes (Rally, don’t judge) where I was disappointed in my performance more so than the dog. While there is nothing inherently wrong with being pleased with a “Q”, as a highly competitive person (I know. It’s not a trait I’m proud of.) I know myself well enough to know what it takes to make me happy after a competition. While I work to improve scores etc and my goal of a HIT at our national is still very real to me, I know that if I’m getting something resembling effort in a new place from a tired dog in a crazy venue, my expectations will have been met.
8. At the end of the day I have my dog
And she still loves me even if I made her prance around a ring and didn’t buy her the hotdog she was eyeballing over in concessions.
I’m not out trying to be a motivational speaker (If you knew me, you know I’d be really really bad at it. I’m too practical to disagree when people point out the bad) but this is the list I keep when I feel myself wishing my monsters were anything other than who they are.
Many thanks to Sarah Stremming for her thought-provoking blog post. Great stuff and great points. Good luck and TDS wishes for your success in the future.
And… in case you missed it, we’re having a mini-contest on the Facebook page. Share the link for the ACDCA Team Rally group raising funds for our mini-snob in training, Carlin from our Facebook page, and you can win a new TDS t-shirt design. Donations, well-wishes and Dog-in-Tutu photos also appreciated We’re almost halfway there and only a few days into fundraising. It’s a good cause kids. Break out your change purse.