Thursday, November 1, 2012

Do you appreciate your dog?

I’m taking an online course at Agility University. This is the first time I’ve ever taken an online course and even though I’m only taking it in an observer’s capacity, it’s still kind of exciting.

The title of the course is “Building Relationship Through Play,” and the instructor is Denise Fenzi. I went to one of Denise’s obedience seminars earlier this year (how many different ways CAN you get lost in Mundelein, Ill.?) and enjoyed it a lot. At least I shouldn’t get lost doing an online class.

How many of you have ever gone to a seminar or class that taught you how to play with your dog? Just play? Why do we spent so much time learning how to train our dogs but very little learning how to play with our dogs? I know I seriously undervalued play with Phoenix.

Sometimes people shy away from playing with their dog because they think they’ll have to tug and maybe their dog isn’t a big tugger. Or maybe THEY aren’t big tuggers. I’ve had students tell me “I really don’t care if my dog tugs because I don’t enjoy it.” Well, sometimes you can build tugging in a reluctant dog but if the handler just plain isn’t interested, what are the other options?

This class is going to cover different aspects of play, including play with toys, play with food and personal play, which I find most intriguing and have been working hard to build with Phoenix.

The class just started yesterday but I want to share something I found very enlightening in Denise’s opening comments and it applies to every possible canine sports venue and discipline out there.

In the context of video homework, Denise requested short videos of typical play sessions so she could observe  dog and handler interaction. She encouraged students to submit honest, actual sessions, no matter how good or bad the handler might perceive them to be.

Then she said, “Some people like to complain no matter how brilliant their dog is. I can’t help your dog if you cannot appreciate what your dog does well.”

Love. It.

I often hear people ringside being extremely critical of their dog’s performance. We were probably all taught as children that no one likes a bragger but the opposite is true as well. No one likes to hear someone picking and nagging at elements of a performance that were very lovely.

The fact that you can go into a competitive ring, especially at the higher levels, speaks to a certain level of prior achievement. You didn’t get there by accident and you didn’t get there by yourself. Your dog is your partner. He adores you. Refusing to acknowledge the things he does really well undermines your relationship. Don't get so focused on the weak spots that you can no longer recognize what is truly good.

Try watching video of your run through a stranger’s eyes. Pretend you’ve never watched a dog show before. What makes you smile? What makes you say “Wow, look at that!” Are there moments that make you think, “OMG, that is freaking amazing!”

Of course there are. Remember them when other things don’t go so well. You can’t improve the weak spots if you don’t truly appreciate the energy and effort and skill your dog is giving you in other areas. Don't sell your dog short. Being hyper critical of every foot-fall is not necessarily going to help you get better.

Everyone has different criteria for their performance as a team. Wanting to constantly improve is a worthwhile goal. But don’t neglect to appreciate your dog in the process.


  1. I'm doing that seminar aswell- week 1 and already lots of great food for thought!

  2. WOW I LOVE that!!! Genius and so very true. It makes me sad when people come out the ring and start ripping about their dog's performance. :( Of course there are always things that can be improved upon but we should appreciate the good stuff too!!

  3. I find my best cheering section is the friends I have that are not into dog sports...they always noticed amazing things. And they are right, there always is.

  4. I actually watch my own videos and think wow we looked way better than I thought we did :)) That is why I love to have someone video my runs both in obed and agility as it shows me all the good parts but also shows where we can improve or what went wrong. I have taken a few online courses since they came about (brilliant idea actually) and was a bit tenative to do so but have been pleasantly surprised how well they have gone and what a nice job presenters are doing. Great fun.