Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thought for the day - perspective

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?


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.


  1. VERY well put my dear. Perspective and expectations can ruin relationships. Doesn't mean you can't strive for better but come on people it is a hobby (and even if it isn't lighten up!). I'm one of those that does this competition stuff with my dogs for the fun, if we Q great, if we don't oh well I want to walk out of the ring able to say we had FUN and oh maybe we'll work on this or that more! Needless to say - those people coming apart at the seams when things go awry are a pet peeve of mine. I've come out of the ring ONCE (in conformation) in my life and not because of me or my dog but because the judge was out and out mean!

  2. And who will even remember!!! LOL

    Note to self - Add "MACH" to tombstone!! VBG

  3. It was so good I shared it on my FB page!

    My first time making finals with Fancy at the agility Invitational, while I was walking the course I had a very similar thought. I thought- No matter how I do on this course, my life will be exactly the same afterward. It is good that my thought was, "how I do" and not "how Fancy does" because it was in fact ME who mis-cued a rear cross and pushed her off a jump! Yes, I kicked myself for a while afterward, but because I had that thought while walking the course, I was able to enjoy the entire experience more.

    Now this past year... when I messed up with BOTH dogs on the SAME jump... I wish I could have had the same thought before hand, to make it easier on myself! J/K

    Sometimes I do get too wrapped up in success (or more likely, lack there of.) I think I am better than when I first started. Thanks for the reminder. "It is the journey and not the destination..."

  4. I kind of think the same thing beforehand. Nobody at work will care how I do. I don't think they even understand what I do with Layla half the time. The people at the library where we do therapy couldn't care less. And my bill collectors definitely won't care!

    But on the other hand, sometimes I wish I COULD blame the dog. Not to the point of being bitchy and screaming, but enough where I don't feel like a failure 100% of the time things go wrong.

  5. Well said! I have run into quite a few competitors who need to read this! A good reminder for us all!

  6. Hear, Hear!!!! Falkor ALWAYS has fun in the ring. I need to make sure I am too!!

  7. Hmmm... As someone who recently had a bit of a crying jag at a recent agility trial, I both agree and disagree.

    I ABSOLUTELY agree that it's not the dogs fault, we shouldn't take it out on the dog, this is a hobby, my life won't be any worse for it, keeping it in context, etc.

    Where I start to get a little sideways is some of the judgement that comes out when people start to talk about "those other people" who cry or get upset. This doesn't automatically mean that they hate or blame their dogs. This doesn't mean that they can't keep things in perspective. It just might mean that they are having a bad day, or are frustrated that they can't find the solution to what's going on.

    There's a place for empathy and understanding. We shouldn't rush to judgment about a fellow competitor just because they are emotional. (Exceptions allowed for those who take it out on their dogs).

  8. Hey Lani,

    Everyone's entitled to a bad day now and then. We've all been there.

    But sometimes I see people who are constantly upset about their dog's performance. Not just being critical but truly steam-coming-out-of-their-ears angry. I feel badly for them that they are so frustrated and not able to find a solution or approach to make things better. Or that they're unwilling to try changing anything.

    Maybe they have some other crappy stuff going on in their life, too, and just want to enjoy their dogs but then that doesn't go well and that's the final straw.

    Not trying to judge anyone, just hoping we can keep dog sports a happy place where we can enjoy each others' fellowship without getting too stressed out about stuff. And that we can help each other through the rough spots cuz we all run into them sooner or later.