Sunday, December 20, 2009

Taking a break . . . or not

Every year, I swear I am going to give my dogs and myself a break from training for a couple of weeks. We'll still do "stuff," like play ball or go for walks or whatever, just absolutely no skill training for either obedience or agility.

It never works for me.

Never, ever.

Chris Zink (Coaching The Canine Athlete) says she gives her dogs a month off once a year. She feels it is mentally and physically helpful and they come back recharged and ready to tackle whatever performance venue she is pursuing. I always think that sounds like such a great idea until I try to do it. Then it just doesn't happen.

The reason I'm writing about this now is because I actually did go for six days last week without training. It took my father's funeral to make it happen. There have been very few times in my life when I didn't feel like training my dog and that was one of them. But after the funeral and all its draining social demands were over, wanting to work with Phoenix came back like an almost physical need.

Apparently, I am addicted to training. Like a junkie, I crave the rush I get from interacting and communicating (or trying to communicate) with another species. Take that away from me for a couple of days and I start going through withdrawals.

There are times of the year when I train harder than others but in reality, I train year 'round. I love to show and can't justify mailing entries if I'm not consistently preparing my dog and me to be ready. No, I'm not talking about hour-long sessions at the club building every day. I try to go to the building at least once a week but most of the time, we just train at home most evenings, after work or after supper, for 10 minutes or 20 minutes or whatever we feel like. 

One thing I've learned is if I'm feeling worn out, frazzled, drained, annoyed or just plain crabby, DON'T TRAIN THE DOG! Those are the nights we sit in the recliner and drink cocoa. In other words, there are times when you SHOULDN'T train and it's good thing to recognize them. If I want my dog to be bright, energetic and creative, I need to be, too.

This is a slower time of year. The holidays bring a ton of other demands on my time, plus with a foot of snow outside, going out to the back yard to train isn't going to happen. In fact, right now I'm missing the first session of an Open/Utility proofing class because it's snowing, not a blizzard, but hard enough to make me reluctant to drive the 50 mile round trip to and from Iowa City for class. 

So Phoenix and I worked finishes (doG, we're going to be working finishes until we're both old and gray) and signals in the living room, then Jamie joined us for stays. Apparently that took every ounce of energy both dogs possessed because now they are crashed out by my feet, sound asleep. Or maybe that's because we had some friends over last night and both boys were up late and stayed VERY busy keeping track of A) people and B) plates of food.

For me, the bottom line is I enjoy training very much. Even when we're having a problem with something, I still enjoy interacting with my dog and trying to resolve the issue. Training has never been something I feel I have to do. It's something I need to do, like eating or sleeping.

Yep. Addiction. There's probably a 12-step program out there for me.

What about you? Do you schedule "time off" from training for your dogs?


  1. like you I rarely get to schedule time off - this past year has been a year off competing altogether though and I find I now miss a day or two here and there and don't even realize it!!
    Sally won't allow it actually - she demands work in a way I haven't experienced before - if I don't think of working her she decides to work me
    Brody is quite happy to truck alongside of me not actively training though ..

  2. I am like you in that we do something every day. Last year I was laid up for about two months with some health issues and could not work my dog at all. When I first came home from the hospital I did not feel well enough to even have my dog in the bedroom. When I was finally able to train again he was very excited and energetic. My family was also very relieved that they did not have to entertain a bored border collie any more. He wore them out dropping tennis balls in their laps and whining nonstop for them to throw the ball.

  3. Hi there,

    I came across your blog recently and am enjoying your posts -- I love your writing style. My condolences about your father's passing.

    I think time off from training is a good idea, though it can be harder said than done. I haven't done it yet but plan to next summer (summer rather than winter is our down time since my dogs go flat quickly in the heat). Time for any unnoticeable little physical issues to heal up and a nice mental break from it all. Though I imagine doing "just for fun" training like shaping silly tricks would be fine, a way to keep the dogs' minds engaged and sharpen our timing.