"The work involved to reach this level of competition is not work for me or Kris, it's a passion, it's a passion for oneness in a sport that requires so much from the both of us. It's my choice to do this game, it's my duty to make this worth doing for Bratska and all the others in our family."
- Chris Tucci
I saw this facebook post a week ago and it contained a lengthy recap by Chris Tucci about his experience competing with his amazing agility dog Bratska at the European Open. These two lines really struck me. They struck me hard! Obviously dog stuff is a passion for me, I love the sense of connection you get from training anything with a dog. Agility takes that to another level, flyball less so but also more so. Daily life, tricks, basic house manners, well they are all about making a connection with your dog. Enough about passionate oneness. What about that choice part?
The way I see it, most everything related to dogs is about the human's choice. You chose the dog (for the most part), you chose what you will allow the dog to do, what it eats, how much it eats, where it sleeps, hell I even teach mine where to potty & where on the tug they can bite. It's a lot of choices to make...and almost none are made by the dog!
Over the years I've really striven to accept dogs for who they are and not try to mold them into something of my choosing. So Nikki, my wild child, is embraced for her wild...but molded to be obedient and make the most of that. Betty, fearful and shy, is embraced for her weirdness...but molded to be able to function in the world. Nikki is an obvious dog to channel into dog sports. Betty far less so, and I've had many internal debates, frustration, and big doubt about choosing to make her go to classes, to compete etc. How do you make those choices for a dog whose happy place is under my bed? It seems to be a complex balancing act. I've done my best to make leaving the bowels of my bedroom a worthwhile choice for Betty. I pledged never to leave Betty alone at the startline, I promised not let Nikki's barking anger me if she's doing everything else I've asked of her. I tried to honor their choice to play with me by making sure I don't forget their individuality. They have needs damn it!
Lately I've been struck by the number of people who make a choice and do not consider the dog in the equation. The more choices I give my dogs, the more they chose to do what I want. That sounds contrary but I've also endeavored to make working with me such AN ENJOYABLE choice for them, that they just about glue themselves to me when it's training or work time. The rest of the time they can "go do dog stuff". Aka, stand down dog, you are off duty! (Thanks to Ron @ Pvybe.com for that term!)
So how do we balance our choice and the dog's choice and frankly, our human desire to make those choices their choices? Overall, I want every part of training with me to be clear, concise and rewarding. I'm not trying to be their leader, I'm trying to be a coach, who brings out the best in you and teaches you how to continually advance. I also understand that there will be communication break downs and frustration on both our parts. I'm not going to punish the dog who is trying very hard to figure out what the human wants them to do, especially when the human is clearly an idiot! If I was your math teacher and kept tell you to solve this quadratic equation. Now. Do it now. Now, no don't look over there, solve it! Now. What would you do? I'm betting you'd clam up, cry, run out of the room, yell at your teacher, or maybe just nod & smile while pretending to write down an answer? Well a lot of dogs do that. They sniff, look elsewhere, get up and walk away, do something else, or just freeze up entirely. Hum. But a good teacher would explain each step of the way how to solve that problem, and how to apply that solution to future problems. So when faced with the same situation you know how to solve for X! I want my dogs to feel smart & in control. If you felt smart and in control, what would that translate as? I'm betting you would be mighty CONFIDENT in your abilities!
Dogs pose a special problem though, they don't speak our language and just like us humans, they can all learn differently. So an extra challenge is learning how they think. Setting aside their emotional issues (um, Betty), just learning how they learn requires patience. For Betty, I had to calm her fears so that she could learn. For Nikki, I had to help her learn to control her enormously explosive energy level so she could learn. For Sway, I just had to make sure she understood what I wanted, the first time! She is easily frustrated by repetition. For Ping...oh Ping. Let's just say he'd be riding the short bus. So things had to be even simpler and not change quickly for him to get it. All this requires patience on the human's part. Most humans have no patience. So how about we just get some compassion?
1. sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
Remembering that our dogs have no choice but to live with us...let's keep some compassion in how we train them. Let's make it worthwhile for the dog to choose to work with us. Then let's be patient so they can build confidence and attack any problem we throw at them!
PS - I don't know why this is highlighted. Sorry!