Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Answering a tough question

One of the comments on yesterday’s post brought up an interesting question: how long do you keep working a dog who doesn’t show much enjoyment in training for a particular activity?

That’s a hard question to answer without knowing a lot of specifics but here are some thoughts. These are all assuming, of course, that you’ve been able to train with a knowledgeable instructor who recognizes how your dog feels about things and that you’ve sincerely tried some different training methods to build a good working relationship.

It’s really hard when your partner doesn’t share your enthusiasm for the activity, no matter how hard you try. Although I’d like to believe most mentally and physically sound dogs could achieve at least basic novice titles in either obedience or agility, the fact remains there are some dogs who are just not cut out to be performance dogs at any level. For whatever reasons, these dogs would truly be happier at home on the couch or playing ball in the back yard without the demands of remembering anything more important than when supper is served.

It’s a tough call. Your journey with your dog is yours and yours alone. It’s not something you can let another person decide for you. Given that an instructor told me my first OTCh. dog would “never amount to anything,” I learned to rely on my own sense of what is the right thing to do and what is not. It comes down to how much time and effort you are willing to put into building a training relationship and how many resources you have available to help with this.

Some things to consider:

Is the dog’s quality of life being improved by the training interaction? This might be the most important consideration. Kind of like the Hipocratic Oath, first, do no harm . . .

Is your goal to show in whatever venue you are training for or are you happy taking classes and playing around at the park?

If you want to show, what level of achievement would you like to reach (just go in the ring, qualify and get titles, get class placements, get High In Trials, be on the World Team?)

Are you in a position (financially, family support, time, etc.) where you can add another dog to your family? Then maybe the uninterested dog could be retired to happy pet status and you could find a more engaged partner if you really want to compete in dog sports.

Thoughts, anyone?

Coming tomorrow: the tale of the Evil Psycho Killer Bunny.


  1. The debate in my mind of conintueing to put in the training time or not has a couple of main factors.

    One is that this is my heart dog. I have another dog who competes and is amazing at flyball (sport in question). I don't like going to practice and leaving the dog of my heart home without us. I don't have a different sport to try out with her that she shows any more interest in either.
    She obviously enjoys practice, enjoys working with me, just doesn't really enjoy flyball as a whole, and makes very little progress in training despite many very helpful tips and two great trainers helping out.

    The second main factor is that flyball is a team sport. That means that if I go out and compete with a dog who truely doesn't feel like competeing, I feel like I am not doing my full part for my teammates and their dogs who really want to be out there.

  2. I think if this was my situation, since you have another dog with whom to compete, I would continue to take the heart dog along, let her enjoy the practice and time with you and the rest of the team, but don't compete in actual tournaments. That way, you aren't putting pressure on her, nor possibly disappointing your teammates. But as Melinda says, your journey is YOUR journey.

  3. This is a very thought-provoking question. Thanks Melinda for posting. Having a dog that many onlookers might question as to 'why' do I continue training/trialing with a dog that obviously is not enjoying his time in the ring -I have asked myself that question many times.

    For me the answer lies within another question - 'what would this dog be like today if I hadn't put the time and effort into training him?' I believe that like people, dogs also need to stretch/be stretched out of their comfort zone in order to grow mentally and emotionally. It's been a journey of training and experiences to get to the point we are today, in which I see a dog that may not look like he is having fun in the ring, but outside the ring and in social situations he is confident and friendly - not hesitating to approach anyone in search of a treat or a pat on the head. Far removed from the young dog that would pee when anyone in class would approach him to say hello or give him a treat!

    Would I have the same dog I have today without all the training and trialing? I don't think so. Would I have the relationship with my dog that I have today because of all we've experienced? I know I wouldn't. So, to answer the question I would say, No, my dog would not be better off if left at the house, on the couch, etc. I truly believe that the quality of his life - and mine - has been greatly enhanced through our training and trialing - even though it hasn't always been comfortable :)

  4. I think I'd take a closer look at the handler vs. worrying about the dog. The worst thing you could do would be to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. My dogs are pets a heck of a lot more than they are 'performance' dogs. I guess, if when they are performing, they are still pets. Train like you play and play like you train, there shouldn't be a differenc. Sounds to me like something was missed along the way.

  5. But having a pet with good manners and social skills is different than 'making' that pet go into the ring to compete.

    I have a dog who hates obedience. Is she still trained? YES. I won't have a dog (especially in a multi-dog ousehold) who won't come when called, sit, down, stay, and act like a well-mannered part of society. But should this same dog have to endure competing just because I want to show off my training skills? I don't believe so.

    Am I disappointed? Absolutely as I got her because her sister is such an awesome obedience dog. But how can I make her compete when she obviously only does it because I've sent in the entry fee and ask her to do it with me? There is no joy in the performance, no anticipation for the trip with mom. Not terribly fair.

    So she goes with us to trials for the ride and experience. She goes to class and polishes her skills because I said she must. She will get her CDX because I think that an intermediate obedience title is a must for any of my dogs capable of it. She's capable but doesn't enjoy it.

    But she loves herding. Not my favorite activity but an acceptable alternative. Her obedience training has given me a working relationship with her in the herding field. She is capable of and will earn advanced herding titles and even perhaps a herding CH. So she'd not an obedience dog but will be a herding dog with a CDX.

    I just don't think a team member should have to participate if it is patently obvious that they don't want to be there and are only doing it 'because'.

  6. One other thought, we put so much pressure on our dogs for the "outcome". Do they really care? No, but we do. Heck, most of the people I know would be thrilled if their dogs came when they were called!! VBG No matter what, your dog is a treasure! A living, breathing, feeling, being. If you're not enjoying what your doing with this dog, there's not a guarantee you will with the next. Learn from your past, and make your future, and your dogs better! Was that more than one thought?? G

  7. I am also working my way through that question. Jazz and I may have the answer whether we want it or not. He has never enjoyed obedience - the dog communicator says he likes it when I talk to him. Certainly, my training error early on, but he is 7 and since two knee surgeries, he may never have a straight sit again. He loves agility and so do I. I was determined he would get his CD and he did. He loves to train and he can do that all his life. He has taught me so much about how to approach training Coach. I doubt if he will enter any more obedience trials. We are working on agility and trick training these days. It took me a while to realize that I am not "giving up" on him. That baggage is mine and not his. He is happy, active and interested. He just prefers running and jumping and barking, to walking quietly. Coach is a new story and we will see. So far he has indicated a strong preference for treats!!

  8. PS Great post. I didn't realize there were so many others struggling with this.