Over the last year, I know people have questioned why I am continuing to pursue higher obedience titles with Phoenix when it has been — and continues to be — a roller coaster for us in the ring. No doubt some folks think “She sure is a dedicated trainer” while others think “Why doesn’t she leave that poor dog alone and just let him do something he likes?”
It’s a pretty simple answer:
A) I love obedience training
B) I’m not in a position where I can get another dog to train and show in obedience just because Phoenix “didn’t work out”
C) I really think Phoenix enjoys his obedience work; we've just got some issues to resolve
D) I honestly believe that my dog and I can work through these training issues.
Since Phoenix is a happy, sound, healthy, stable fellow and isn’t being abused in any way in our training, I’m choosing to go forward in pursuit of both his UDX and OTCh. It’s obvious I have a lot to learn from him. I was blessed with previous dogs who brought a lot more to the obedience table than he does, so I never had to learn how to build a relationship and work with dog who didn’t offer attention/engagement naturally or at least with very little effort on my part.
Here are three possible realities for the future of our obedience career:
• We can’t overcome our training/ring issues and never complete his UDX. Game over. We continue to run agility and I have a very nice agility dog who has a UD.
• We complete his UDX but fail to achieve the performance level needed to complete his OTCh. and I retire him from obedience. Game over. We continue to run agility and I have a very nice agility dog who has a UDX.
• We complete his UDX and his OTCh. We continue to enjoy a long and happy career in obedience as well as agility.
Any of these may be our reality. I don’t know at this point and it’s not really important.
The important thing is that I truly enjoy obedience training. While I can't say I'm crazy about facing one problem after another, I very much enjoy learning about my dog and how best to communicate with him. This is a very different journey than with my previous dogs (gee, have I mentioned that before?) I realize many of our problems are of my own creation, so that disappointment and frustration is reflected back on me, never on my dog.
This actually makes it easier to work him, knowing that while some of this behavior may just be who Phoenix is, a large part of it was probably created by my own bad timing, bad judgement, bad decision making and unrealistic expectations. If I caused the problems, I can un-cause them, so to speak. I'm not looking for an "easy OTCh." or an "easy" anything. This will take as long as it takes. If things don't improve, at some point I may have to make the decision if I want to continue working and trialing him in obedience. But we're not there yet.
Phoenix is my companion. He makes me laugh. He does a lot of crazy stuff on a daily basis - he’s my sock-fetching, squirrel-chasing dog who loves to "help" me garden and pretends he’s not on the bed at night when the lights go off. I love sharing my life with him. Obedience training is part of that life. I love the sport enough to keep pushing and exploring and trying new methods. I’ve never seen myself as someone who quits just because the blue ribbons aren’t coming easily. I’ve seen too many people start with promising young dogs, hit a rough patch, and next thing you know, they’ve got a new puppy and the other dog is out to pasture. If they can support multiple dogs, financially, emotionally, physically, mentally and in terms of training, there's nothing wrong with that. It's their choice.
Keep going or stop? It's a personal decision. People who truly don't enjoy obedience work are not likely to push hard to work through problems. As long as they are happy and their dogs are happy, that's all that really matters and who cares what venues they choose? Do what makes YOU happy.
I also know there are a lot of people out there with dogs just like Phoenix - they enjoy obedience training very much and are struggling with many of the same issues. When I started blogging about our training/showing experiences, I decided to tell the bad with the good. Very few trainers go through their dog’s entire career without hitting a few bumps.
When Phoenix is 15 years old, I know I won’t care one way or another how many titles he has. But I will care when I stop and think about how we spent our journey together. I don’t want to have any regrets. Time spent with your dog is never wasted.
Thanks, everyone, for your comments.