Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Questions, answers and choices

Wow. Dog people are great. Really. They are.

In the last month, I have received a tremendous amount of advice on how to “fix” Phoenix’s ring issues, as well as support from trainers who are experiencing similar frustrating ring problems. I truly believe it was all given in genuine sincerity and appreciate the thoughtfulness of everyone who has taken the time to share their opinions, either in comments or e-mailing or calling me privately.

Having said that, this goodwill and free exchange of ideas can be overwhelming.

The advice I’ve gotten has frequently been in total conflict: train more, stop training so much, use more rewards, stop using rewards, you’re expecting too much, you’re expecting too little, make training informal, make training look like a trial, it might take a year to re-train, you can re-train in less than a month, etc.

There were days when I wanted to scream ENOUGH! My head is full! I cannot process one more conflicting idea, let alone realistically use it in training.

If you’ve been in the obedience world very long, you know this is the nature of the beast. Fortunately, I've played this game for more than 30 years so the many conflicting suggestions weren't a huge surprise. Everyone follows what they feel is the best training method, influenced by their personality, type of dogs they train, their goals, level of experience and a dozen other unrelated factors.

So how to decide who to listen to and where to go next? Well, I’ll be honest. Everyone has their own filter that colors how they hear advice and how receptive they are to it. Sometimes you only hear things you want to hear because you’re just not ready to listen to anything else. If you hear the same advice six months later, you might pay more attention and put it to use. (Just ask any instructor who has tried to impart a certain bit of knowledge, only to be soundly ignored by the student who comes back a year later and says, “So-And-So told me to do THIS and it works!” Of course, it’s the same exact thing you’d been telling them!)

Other times you grasp onto any new idea with desperation, hopeful that THIS is the answer to your prayers. Or you may roll your eyes and think, I’m already doing THAT, no matter how adamantly someone may insist their idea is a brand new concept that no one could have ever possibly thought of before.

The bottom line is, I have to decide what’s right for me and my dog. Which method seems the most grounded in reality? Which one can I personally adapt to fit my abilities and my dog’s needs? Each person who offered help truly believed their advice was the answer to our problems. It’s good to have strong convictions and I appreciate seeing a view outside of my current training box.

As I (belatedly) realize I cannot work Phoenix with the same approach that helped Connor and Jamie excel, I also know I can’t totally throw my previous methods in the trash. They weren’t bad methods, they’re just not right for my current dog, so I’ll store them away and explore new roads.

The journey continues. I’m moving ahead. I have new ideas to try. I have optimism. I have beautiful summer evenings to train by myself and with friends. Above all, I have a wonderful dog.

Thanks, everyone. I mean it. Dog people are the best.


  1. They really are. It's so nice to talk to people who really "get" dogs.

    I'll add my conflicting opinion to your list: train the same amount. I don't think the issue is too mucg/too little training. Reward more. Go back to basics where a random sit might get a jackpot. Surprise Phoenix and keep him guessing. I definitely think you're on the right track with making you the cookie.

    I don't think you're expecting too much or too little. Your expectations and goals are extremely reasonable and attainable.

    Make training more informal - for now. I know he dislikes the rigid atmosphere of obedience so you'll have to proof for that eventually, but give him all the play he wants.

    And that is the blissfully ignorant advice of someone who hasn't been there :)

  2. I know how you feel. Everytime someone tries to tell me how to fix Miley's table problem. My problem is, Ive tried everything they are suggesting. I just say "thanks". LOL

  3. All I want to add is, store as many of the bits of information away as you can. You do what feels right for you and Phoenix now. But down the road, something that wasn't right when you first heard about it might be right. Something you tried once but it didn't work, might work now. I am finding this out with my Welsh Springer. Stuff I didn't like before, or that didn't work before, some if it is helping now.

  4. BLESS YOU for your honesty in this blog. Everything is so very well put. I'm in a similar situation, so I'm learning/being inspired/commiserating with you. Good luck to you and Phoenix on your journey!