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?