I always say I feel lucky to have started in dog training and agility in a time where the Internet and all its wonderful tools did not exist. I’m thrilled to be part of a world in which, because of these tools, dog training has been taken to a new level and agility keeps evolving every day.
That said, I feel that because the information is so easily accessible, it can hinder the process of training. You look at a video and go out in the yard and expect your dog to do it, because after all, SoandSo BigName said that was the only way to do it and their dogs did it, so it MUST work for your dog too. We feel the pressure of getting a behavior or a performance based on what is possible and not based on what you have trained YOUR dog to do. There are so many opinions and different training styles that if one doesn’t work, throw it away watch another video by another trainer and start over. Confusing!
Getting back to my original statement, I grew up with dogs, but it wasn’t until I had my terrier Pepper that I got involved in agility. And then came my heart dog Nina. I remember the feeling of what I had no idea would be a long, successful training career. I remember coming home looking forward to rolling on the floor with her playing and getting her to chase me, all done without a hidden agenda. I wasn’t playing with her because it would improve our relationship; I wasn’t hugging her because it would help our agility training. Frisbees were thrown for free and no one told me that if I had a party every time she chased me it would improve her speed on lead outs. I was doing all this because I enjoyed spending time with her. I loved the interaction with her after a hard day at the office and she seemed quite happy with our exchange.
I feel like whether you have goals of gold at Worlds or you are just a weekend competitor, the training has become so micromanaged and dissected that the reason why we all started doing this has been clouded. We all started training dog sports because we love dogs. That is the first and only reason we once went to a local club or trainer. Because it looked fun and it was something you thought you could enjoy with your dog. Those words are repeated over and over and I hear them time and time again, but the definition of fun has changed. After agreeing with that statement, do you truly go out there trying to change your attitude? If a dog is injured or stressed and a trial has to be missed how could you possibly have fun if you can’t attend a trial this weekend? What a bummer that you have to stay home and miss class because your dog is sick or the training is not going the way you want it and it is time to take a step back and work on simpler stuff?
I am sure no dog ever asked to be trained or to do agility. The ones that “seem” to enjoy it because they are fast and successful had the decision made for them and would LOVE to go for a sniff in the park or a dip in the pool without any instruction or direction. Training and competing is something WE want to do, so WE find a way to make it rewarding for the dog so WE can do it.
Agility judge Michelle DuBois always says in her briefing…”be kind to your dog, they didn’t ask to come here. They are here because you made that decision for them”. I always keep that thought in mind and say it to my students all the time. If we could only dig deep and remember the feeling between us and our first “untrained” dog and always direct our training towards achieving that feeling in everything we do with them, I think dogs would be happier to perform and would enjoy themselves more.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not by any means saying you shouldn’t be competitive. Through the years my agility career has been upgraded unconsciously. I never thought I would compete in the US, let alone move here; it was not in my plans to go to a national competition and I didn’t even dream of attending two world events. After all, I just wanted a cool dog to take to the beach! When the time felt right we took the next step. But I never think of what’s ahead for us. Just like my dogs, I live my agility career in the present moment! I don’t want to miss the now thinking about the ‘what if’ or the ‘one day’. Every day is a day I learn something new from a dog.
I have had all sorts of different personalities in my pack, even though they are the “easy breed”. My border collies are weird and quirky, smart, driven but all have one thing in common. From the softest to the hardest, they all have the right attitude, because I have the right attitude. I could leave the agility world tomorrow and love every minute I spend with my dogs as much as I appreciate and thank them for every experience they have given me and have turned me into the person and trainer I am today.
Long story longer…..look at your dog and feel who they are. Don’t read a book and try to make your dog who you think they should be or what you want them to be. Why are we so tolerant of people’s characters and so impatient with our dogs? Dogs have all the information and give it to us for free every day in everything they do, we just miss it by looking at what we don’t have or wish we did have. Sign up for online classes, watch YouTube and go to seminars, but to educate yourself in how to understand your dog, not to change who they are. Set high standards and dream big. Achieve your goal, but not at the expense of your dog’s essence and your happiness.