Don’t sacrifice your relationship with your dog to get a title.
This isn’t new or original. No doubt you've heard it said before. On the surface, it seems so simple. Duh. I love my dog, right? I wouldn’t want to make both of us miserable in the process of doing something we’re supposed to be doing for fun, right?
But weekend after weekend, I see people who are frustrated to the point of tears, anger and remarkably bad language when their dogs fail to perform in the ring. (I always wonder why people are mad at the dog. Wouldn't the blame be more fairly placed on the person who trained it?)
How do things get so seriously out of balance when it comes to our dogs? For most trainers, this is a hobby. Yes, it's a serious hobby that we embrace with enthusiasm, but aren't hobbies supposed to equal happy times spent doing rewarding activities - NOT wallowing in frustration and being upset at the creature who is supposed to be your best friend.
Let me ask you this, is earning a certain title or score or breed ranking or qualifying for an elite group or being recognized by your club going to dramatically change your life?
Will it get you a raise at work?
Will it assure your job security?
Will it guarantee your health?
How about the health of your loved ones?
Will it bring you fame and fortune and all that goes with it?
Will achieving that one thing make your life so incredibly perfect you will never have to worry about anything ever again?
OF COURSE IT WON’T!
Yeah, it’s important to us but it’s not cosmic (Judie Howard used to say that at her seminars. Maybe she still does. Cool woman, Judie. Haven’t seen her for years.) We're not curing cancer or establishing world peace. We're teaching dogs to run really fast or sit really straight.
If Phoenix and I scored a 200 at our next obedience trial I would come home and the Farmer would want to know when his supper would be ready. My mother would want to know why I don’t come to visit her more often. My boss would want to know if my special section story was going to be done by deadline. My cardiologist would want to know why I’ve gained 5 pounds in the last year. (I would like to know that, too.)
In the grand scheme of things, a 200 would be a delightful experience that would have me walking on air but it would have zero impact on my daily reality. I would have the very same life as if we’d earned a 170. There would be bills to pay and a van that’s overdue for an oil change.
If we were all Big Time Trainers who actually DID make a living giving seminars and camps, then the success or failure of our dogs in the ring might be a little more dramatic. But for me? Not so much.
Yeah, I'm emotionally invested in my dog. He is an incredible, beautiful creature. I love him deeply and am thrilled beyond measure that he is sharing this journey with me. But he's a dog and he doesn't give a damn about ribbons. He's a willing partner in this dance because he loves me, too, and he loves balls and treats and tugs and playing games with me. Even though I may be disappointed with the outcome of a run, I don't measure my self-worth by it and I don't see it as a deliberate reflection of him "flipping me off."
No matter what your dog goals are, what’s going to happen if you reach them? What’s going to happen if you don’t? Enjoy setting goals and expanding your skills and being the absolute best team you can be with your dog. But don’t ruin something beautiful in pursuit of a ribbon.
As you train and show this year, put the relationship with your dog above all else. He won't be there forever.
Next post (I hope): fixing the dog who zones out during heeling.