Thursday, May 20, 2010

Staying balanced

Here I go again with more random ramblings. These reflect some conversations I’ve had with friends and students lately. If you recognize yourself, don’t feel bad! You’re in good company!

What got this train of thought started was my summer to-do list for Phoenix: continue to proof Open, build the Utility exercises, strengthen stays, introduce the UKC Utility glove exercise, work weave pole entries, continue building an auto drop on the table, strengthen heelwork, revisit his 2o/2o contacts, work on a couple of relationship issues . . . oh make it stop! How am I going to get all this done!

Balance — as it relates to our dogs and our performance goals for them — can be an elusive quality many of us struggle with at one point or another. On the surface, the biggest challenge many trainers think of is the balance between using positive methods vs compulsive methods, but it goes beyond the physical elements of cheese and chokers.

You have to find a balance between keeping your sky-high dog from orbiting right out of the ring and cheerleading your low-drive dog to play the game. There’s the balance between how often to train, how often to train in familiar environments, how often to train in new places and how much pressure to put on your dog while proofing for the obedience ring. Not to mention finding an overall balance between work, family and dog activities.

Getting over-balanced one way or the other can lead to disastrous results. Continually fine-tuning your training to find the optimal mix of methods and time can keep your ring performances steadily improving. Like folks who feed raw like to say, “Balance is achieved over time.” You can’t bounce between training exclusively for an agility trial this coming weekend, then switch to training exclusively for an obedience trial the following weekend and expect your dog to be optimally prepared for either in the long term. I know because I've tried it!

Sometimes you have to eliminate something to achieve balance when it comes to pursuing a goal. When I was chasing both Jamie’s TDX and his OTCh., we were not making much progress with either. I decided I could not do both at the same time and realistically expect to achieve either. I focused on his OTCh. and within a year, we had achieved it. Admittedly and regretfully, I never returned to his TDX work. Alas, the balance of dogs, work and family had shifted yet again.

Keeping a training program in balance doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to be balanced equally. Many of us enjoy more than one training discipline. For some folks, there will be one venue in which they truly excel or at least enjoy the most, while only having a little time to dabble in others. When you train and exhibit in multiple venues, one will naturally rise to the top of your priority training list while the others — although still enjoyable — you might not take as seriously. That’s just fine. Few of us have the resources to devote to achieving OTCh., MACH, VST or world team caliber skills in every training venue we enjoy with our dogs.

Part of the key to finding balance means finding training methods you are comfortable with and enjoy employing. Trying to train with methods that make you feel like a square peg in a round hole is self-defeating. If you’re feeling out of balance with your training, decide what needs to change and find someone who can help you. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

Balancing a current dog’s on-going career with the demands of a new puppy often turns a balancing act into a frantic juggling sideshow! Dividing time, attention and priorities may seem to be in a constantly changing fluid state but it’s also the key to success . . . be flexible and willing to change in a variety of aspects that relate to training.

Balance over time. Are you enjoying that with your dog? I’ll get back to you in the fall and let you know how it’s going for Phoenix and me. I'm really looking forward to this summer!


  1. Well said. I was surprised to find that training two dogs is helping me. I get a new perspective which is always good and Jazz isn't under so much pressure. I had trouble quitting when Jazz was done and I wasn't - now I have Coach to train. Jazz can get a break and I get to continue working with a dog. That was not a result I expected.

  2. Great post-that's where I am now with 3 dogs training in various sports. Lyric is limited to agility only and I'm going to focus on Zodiac's TD instead of his UD. I want the versatility award and we both enjoy the tracking. Not sure he's that in the utility these days.

  3. FANTASTIC POST. Couldn't have said it any better!!!

  4. well said...great post Melinda. So glad to hear you had fun at nationals.