Friday, October 18, 2013

Excuses . . . or Facing Reality?

I often hear trainers lament the "excuses" that people make for why their dogs struggle in training or in competition ring performance.  "Train, don't complain" is the new catchphrase that is intended to snap people out of making "excuses" for their dogs.

Granted, we all do make excuses at times.  I know I did that with Maddie in a big way when she first came to us.  I saw her as a poor, abandoned, second hand dog who had been damaged beyond repair and who could never become the dog she "would have been".  I didn't train with her at first because I thought she was too broken to be able to learn well and enjoy it.

Looking back, I was making excuses for her.  That said, I would say there was more ignorance (on my part) at the root of that attitude.  I honestly didn't know that Maddie was far more resilient than I realized and that she had the potential to become an enthusiastic and solid performance partner.  Once I did come to understand that Maddie was not nearly as broken as I thought, we started training together and we shared some very good years together.

On the other hand, there have been occasions where I have been directly accused of making excuses when that is really not what is happening.  Dean's noise phobia and anxiety disorder are realities.  Believe me, if I really could make them disappear through positive thinking on my part, it would have been done a long time ago!  If training could have "fixed" Dean, it would have happened.

I have made many training and performance decisions for Dean based on these two realities.  While some would call that "making excuses", I consider it to be doing what is truly best for the individual dog.  There is absolutely no reason, for example, why I should force Dean to sit in a crate in a room where a teeter is banging over and over when it would, in fact, shut him down completely.  I am not talking about some mild avoidance when I say "shut down".  I am talking about hyperventilating, shaking, pupils dilated, drooling, completely frozen "shut down".  Not when he can hang out in the car with his "Through a Dog's Ear" CD playing and be happy as a clam.  That is not "making excuses" it is finding good ways to make it work!

It is a fact that dogs are individuals.  As individuals they come with their own strengths, weaknesses, talents, issues, preferences, dislikes, perfections, and foibles.  Often training can bring out the best in the dog and diminish what is not desired.  But sometimes . . . the dog is who he or she is and there are things that have to be accepted before any progress can be made.

When I look at where Dean is right now, I see that we got here because I made the decision to allow Dean to be Dean.  I no longer try vainly to shove the round peg that he is into the square hole that I want filled.  I found things for Dean to do that he can truly enjoy and we pursued them for the sake of his amusement!  He is still delighted every time I send him around "fly posts" in the yard when we are out playing!  He loves working on the pivots and laterals and backing and the new skills that we work on for Rally FrEe.  We play Agility on his terms, and he seems to have developed a true love for the game.  Now that I am doing these things for his enjoyment, he is thriving, and in turn he is more and more willing to rise to the challenges of titling and competition.

In the end, I am a realist to the core.  It is simply not my way to not face reality head on and base my choices on the individual dog who is right in front of me.  No excuses here.  Honest acknowledgment of the reality of the dog before me - all the way!

My motto:  "Know the dog you train"

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