During the two brief years that Connor, Jamie and Phoenix were with me like some furry, fanged version of the Three Muskateers, I always figured there was a really good joke in there somewhere. While their motto was probably NOT “All for one and one for all,” the three of them gave me a gift I haven’t appreciated until now.
This summer has made me realize how each dog is an individual and no matter how much experience you have or how many dogs you’ve trained, it’s in your best interests as a trainer to see each dog honestly for who he really is, not just as an imagined reflection or shadow of a previous, much-loved partner. Although our previous dogs influence our training style, each new dog will insist on smacking us up side the head with something we’ve never encountered before.
With this in mind, the Drop On Recall has been one of the toughest exercises for me to teach Phoenix. While working on it recently, I thought about Connor and Jamie and how their drops compared to Phoenix’s. The following is shameless anthropomorphizing (wow, I’ve used that word twice in a week!) but I think it comes pretty close to each dog’s individual thoughts about the Drop On Recall.
Connor: I will drop with spectacular flair. I will put my front end down and skid along the mats with my butt in the air, wagging my tail, until I run out of momentum, then I will plop my butt down. Everyone will stop to watch me do this thing they call a Drop On Recall because I am the best they’ve ever seen. I am God’s gift to obedience. I am beyond brilliant, I am incredibly awesome. I am . . . the Skunk Dog! Behold my greatness.
Jamie: Mom wants me to drop so I drop. It’s that simple. I will drop quickly but in such a way that my fur does not get mussed. I like people to admire me. I like to admire myself. I will drop with grace. I will drop because it makes Mom happy and I like that. I will drop on wet grass but I will not drop in standing water. Really. No. Not going to happen.
Phoenix: Make up your mind, lady. You want a recall or you want a drop? I haven’t got all day. Why don’t I go bite something while you decide.
Yeah, that pretty much covers it. Connor was an arrogant show-off. Jamie was (and still is) mom’s pretty boy. Phoenix? Phoenix has to be the most honest, down-to-earth, practical, sensible dog I’ve ever trained. He’s not arrogant or a diva. He just wants to know what his job is and how to do it. Realizing this has been one of the biggest lessons he’s had to teach me. His approach to learning is not tempered by an intrinsic love of all things obedience nor is it driven by any dubious "desire to please." It's more of a "Let's do this thing together, you and me, cuz it's good to do things together and then you can throw the ball."
Now . . . back to a sheltie, a terv and a malinois walk into a bar. I’m not sure how this ends but there’s going to be barking and furballs involved and something is going to get ripped up.