Thursday, May 17, 2012


I wanted to title this post “How to be an optimistic and self-motivated trainer for high-end obedience achievement when it seems like you’re the only one who cares” but it wouldn’t fit on the subject line.

Nevertheless, the question has arisen. How DOES one stay optimistic and forward-thinking while working toward obedience goals with an incredibly talented dog who has some hang-ups when you don’t have a ginormous support network of nearby personal instructors and/or an abundance of like-minded friends who can regularly offer support and feedback?

When it comes to staying the course mentally, I count myself fortunate in two respects:

A) I have always been very happy and very comfortable training by myself. Probably too happy and too comfortable. I like training by myself because I can use MY time to MY advantage for MY dog. It’s all about ME. I can train when and where I want to and focus entirely on what I think is important that day and still be home in time to watch “Criminal Minds.”

Of course, this has the obvious drawback of never getting any feedback and I always have to put out my own gloves and articles.

B) I have a small circle of friends who I routinely round up for a group training session where we help one another with our dogs. Of course we’re all going a dozen different directions with work and family demands so it’s hard to meet very often but our sessions — while erratically scheduled — are tremendously valuable, not only from a training perspective but from a motivational standpoint.

Sometimes there are four or five of us, other times, only two. We all have different goals and different issues to address. The important thing is that we are there for each other. Advice and suggestions are always given from the heart, no matter the level of training experience. I love my obedience friends!

But since 98 percent of my training is still done by myself, the thing that keeps me going is the simple enjoyment of working with my dog. I love training time with him, learning how to teach him new things, to build his confidence, to share the joy that bubbles out of him when he does something he loves and to let him share the delight I reflect back at him. Does that sound really dumb? I hope not. I love this dog. The desire to bring out the best in him is what drives me.

And I simply enjoy obedience training more than any other dog sport. I know this puts me in the minority. But! I have tons of wonderful friends who don’t show in obedience at all but sometimes there are training elements that transcend a single discipline and can be applied to obedience work as well as agility training. So I think cross-training helps, too. And it keeps me from bogging down both myself and Phoenix with obedience overload.

Plus, with Phoenix I’m paying a lot more attention to the subtleties of canine body language than ever before. I’m trying some training methods that are totally new to me. I’m finding more joy in the journey than I have with previous dogs. While it would have been awesome to fly from UD to UDX/OTCh. in a matter of months, I would have missed out on a lot of learning.

Letting go of deadlines helped, too. I used to see levels of achievement (as represented by titles: CD, CDX, UD, etc.) all neatly organized into time slots. X title would be achieved in X year, followed by X title six months later, etc. Obviously Phoenix does not see it quite the same way. Things will take as long as they take. I’ve let go of a lot of the frustration and disappointment that used to come with what I perceived to be his inability to “get it” in my pre-determined time allotment.

By the same token, I’ve quit linking the concept of fun and success to a specific ring achievement. Have we earned his UDX? No. Are we having fun training? Absolutely! We’ll keep having fun and I believe eventually it will transfer into the ring and eventually the AKC will send me a certificate validating what I already know - my dog is capable of doing some very high-end work.

But basically, I just enjoy being with my dog. We are soulmates.

Readers, how about you? What keeps you training when things get tough?


  1. It is easy for me to keep training...I believe what makes a person or dog 'old' is to sit on your butt and quit using your brain. My girl loves training, loves learning, loves treats! Her enthusiasism is very contagious!

    it is harder for me to keep trying trials...the cost, the embarrassment of having a dog that looks like she has never been train in her life. Back to training and I will be starting to include playing with me. One of these days I will be as exciting as the figure 8 posts!

  2. It really helped me when, at at Susan Garrett ob. camp, Susan mentioned that one thing that differentiates a highly successful trainer and the average trainer is that the former knows that there will be problems, and knows they will get past them, whereas the latter gives up all too quickly when faced with a road block. Problems are just something to fix, not something that means you should give up.

  3. What keeps me going is that one (or hopefully more) amazing moment when you and your dog realize that you're a TEAM. Not just an owner and their dog, but an equal parts team. Little glimmers come through often enough to keep me wanting more.

    Also, I blogged about my camping trip today. We had a WONDERFUL time! I can't wait to do it again.

  4. Reading your blog about Phoenix has been spooky. It's like you and Phoenix are channeling me and my golden girl, Maple, except you and Phoenix are working at a much higher level. Maple is the best dog I've ever the yard. Maple hates traveling. In the yard, she's a 200 dog. At a show, she stress pants, avoids eye contact, and heels about a foot away from me in the ring. So, I figured maybe she had figured out that there were no treats in the ring. Time to take the treats away and insist she must heel with attention. Did that go over like a lead balloon. Things got dramatically worse in the ring. I didn't think that was even possible. So, now I'm trying a version of Choose to Heel. No force at all. Maybe it will work, I don't know.

    What keeps me it? Well, she IS the very best dog I've ever trained and I know if the Maple I train at home will show up at trials, she'll be my first OTCH dog. Right now, she's the dog I'm keeping in Novice B trying to break into the 190s. We'll get there. Maybe.

  5. Sheer bloody-mindedness and curiosity keep me going.

    And this is what I do for a hobby in my spare time. I love being with dogs, I love training my dogs. I especially love trying to figure out how to get them to do what I want them to do. Each one is different, like a puzzle.

    And it gets me to go out and see other like-minded dog people, in training or at trials.

  6. Really appreciating these posts. After giving Taz the Terv a month or two off training because I was so frustrated with his distraction/stress issues in the ring I have committed myself to putting the "more funner" back in training. After rewarding him only with treats for years, we are playing together, with or without a toy, and going for over-the-top enthusiasm (at least on my part). Lo and behold, for the last couple of days we've both actually had fun at this, and I've gotten more attention on me and less on every movement in the environment. This UD might happen some day after all!

  7. Great post. I'm too competitive and determined to believe there is something I can't do. I may choose not to, but that's a different story.

  8. (Long time reader, first time commenting. Sorry!)
    I understand completely how you feel. I don’t know a single like minded person in dog training. Oh I’ve meet people, and had wonderful moments over Starbucks or at Agility trials, but these are fleeting moments never lasting friendships.
    It used to get to me, but then I realized I do have a partner though my training, my dogs. The whole reason we dog trainers do what we do are they not?
    They are my confidents and friends and world to me. They don’t just know what I’m going though with training, but are going though it with me. Sure they can’t answer my sporadic questions but they do smile at my antics with genuine love. I don’t think I could ask for a better training buddy.

  9. Thanks for the post. It certainly speaks to the question I posed in my comments to your post from Monday, May 14. I'm in it for the journey and the challenge of training. What continues to drive me is seeing that moment when they "get it" and suddenly the next challenge becomes easier to conquer. Regardless of whether or not we Q I want to always walk away from the performance learning something and looking for ways to improve. I never want to get stuck in one method or thought process as I feel it holds both of us back from achieving success. And like Nicki I also am determined to prove that it can be done (my dad always said that "a Wilhelm is not a quitter!"). Now if I can put one discipline on the back burner while I work on the other one (darn agility has gotten in the way of our obedience work but now that the title is complete I can move on). Thanks again for the great post.

  10. I do many dog sports but always prefer obedience, I think because it's the one I started with and the one that takes the most work to get to the top level of performance. Every dog is going to come up with something new and working thru that is what fascinates me. Love working those NOBs! ;-)

  11. Great post! I hope to get a CD on one of my dogs someday, I've been doing rally but am training for formal obedience now - definitely a challenge since I like to cheer-lead my dogs.