Thursday, May 3, 2012


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.


  1. Why not? LOL

    Did someone question you on why you are doing this? I hope not. I dont think there is a problem or a need to question why. My dog hasnt gotten on the table in the agility ring in 2 years. I keep working and trying to figure it out. Try different things. We will never get a MACH. Thats ok. I love my dog, love to train and she loves to run. So there you go.

  2. Oh please do not quit. I do not get the impression from your posts that Phoenix is stress or thinks this stuff is extreme boredom.

    I have a golden that loves to work, loves to learn new things but my stress in the ring means I have a social butterfly that turns into the class clown. Very fixable, I still love trying and I know she loves doing things. But I am sure I get lots of people asking why I am bothering...I do not remember there being a deadline :)

  3. Melinda, I so enjoy reading about your adventures (and misadventures) with Phoenix. Actually, I've enjoyed your writing for many years, since I first subscribed to F&F back in the '90s.

    I found myself in somewhat of a similar situation with one of my BC's. I got an OTCH on my previous BC, who adores working and is just a fabulous obedience partner. When he got stressed, he responded by trying harder. My other dog, however, is soft to the point of melting into a puddle any time he thinks he's done something wrong. No matter how gently I treat him, how much "fun" I try to convince him we're having, his response to stress is to quit. And utility training stressed him A LOT. Just the training; we never even got as far as showing in utility.

    I eventually decided I was torturing him by asking him to make decisions on articles, or go all the way to the center stanchion all by his lonesome (far away from Mom!). I retired him from obedience, but I continue to go back and forth on it in my mind. Was he really that bad? Should I have gritted my teeth and pressed on? Am I a "quitter" or just a realist? Etc., etc.

    I'm now considering trying again. Maybe. I dunno. He is a wonderful boy, probably the most affectionate dog I've ever had, sweet enough to eat with a spoon. It would be great if I could get a UD on him (I'm not crazy enough to even consider going further than that with him). Should I or shouldn't I? The eternal dilemma. :-)

    Anyway, I wish you the best of everything with your wonderful Phoenix.

  4. I agree, I don't think Phoenix dislikes obedience at all. Uncertainty (or whatever you want to call it) and dislike are totally different. If he didn't like it, you'd know! I respect you a lot more as a trainer, dog owner and obedience enthusiast for sticking with Phoenix and working out your problems than if you'd gotten another dog and gave up on Phoenix because of the difficulty. I agree with you on that 100%. Obviously, I'd have switched to an "easier" breed if I was in the other party. Keep up the great attitude and I'm sure you'll have an amazing time, regardless of what the outcome ends up being.

  5. Beautifully said. It's not about the titles, it's about the journey!

  6. You didn't list the other option: Phoenix gets his OTCh before his UDX. I can totally see that happening.

  7. Been there, done that with Legend-but insert agility instead of obedience. She's still not a perfect agility dog, but she's a lot better, and we love training together no matter what happens in the ring. And I love her to pieces with or without agility. She is the dog I had to work with and if agility didn't work out for her, then oh well. Now I've also got Lyric, we are having a few issues but trying to fix them. Overall she enjoys the training and we will either overcome this teeter and table issue or we won't. But we will try and if we can't then there is always NADAC right?

  8. This is one thing that confuses me about many of today's trainers, that they automatically assume that if someone has to work thru an issue with their dog, the dog must under a lot of stress or even being abused. If that were true, the only dogs who could get titles would be the dogs like BCkeepers first dog, the ones we don't have to spend the long hours driving home thinking about what we are going to try next. Shoot, I put OTChs on NOBs, for me the allure is the challenge - I wonder if folks think I must be stressing my less than perfect dogs out?

  9. I applaud you for your decision. I think as long as you're both happy, keep going. It reminds me of how Denise re-thought her dog Cisu and went back to work with her. You have to work with the dog in front of you. YOu are still figuring him out! And that's part of the learning journey. it's wonderful. Now give him a sweet kiss from Juno...

  10. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I too am struggling with the same challenges. I just need to fix the part about staying engaged and focused when something falls apart in the ring (like no sits, that is probably our biggest issue). I enjoy the fact that this is work, I've never been the type of person to want or expect something to come easy. And when you are in the ring with a Weim, and I'm not making excuses for that, there are things that are different.

    I hope I've made some adjustments with my youngster (who came along somewhat unexpectedly, I did not go out and get her because I was frustrated with my current partner, on the contrary...). Please continue on your path Melinda and sharing with us. I find myself nodding my head every time I read about Nix and you. Thanks.

  11. While not an obedience person, but an agility person, your post still resonates with me. I have hit (for quite a while now) a rough patch on the road to our MACH. The dang table has stopped us in our tracks. And I'd be lying if I said I don't think about just giving up...I can't just get a new pup and try again, I love the game, I love my dog, so I guess that means I just keep trying!