For Team Phoenix, the 2013 obedience trial year is over. We’ve shown the last two weekends in a row, with mixed but optimistic results and are ending the year on a high note of achievement and discovery.
2013 was not a year of dazzling glory for us. It was more like a roller coaster ride of random delight and head-banging frustration. If I had to pick a single word to describe this year, it would be renaissance. The classic definition of renaissance is a revival or rebirth, characterized by learning.
This year I learned that a lot of popular training methods, although sparkly and inviting on the surface, just didn’t work for me. I learned that some methods worked wonderfully even though they were deceptively plain, without much whiz-bang surface appeal. I learned to sift through the mind-numbing amount of information
available to trainers and to find peace in knowing I’ve chosen methods
that are right for me and my dog. I learned about fixing problems with our foundation work and continue to be amazed both at what my previous dogs learned in spite of me and at Phoenix’s ability to learn foundation elements I had overlooked and to incorporate them into current behaviors.
This was the year I stopped running agility for several reasons, the main one being to concentrate on our obedience training. When we quit running agility in the spring, I was under no illusions that we would magically start earning 200s. Our obedience issues were grounded in a lot of mis-communication and unrealistic expectations on both my part and Phoenix’s. Our road to confident, happy, trusting teamwork has taken us over some rocky ground. We still stumble and take unplanned detours but I’m feeling better about the journey than ever before.
In obedience training as in life, very few problems have a quick fix. Truly fixing something takes time. I learned that many of our problems were based in a lack of some basic fundamentals - things I thought I’d taught but which Phoenix apparently had not learned. I learned more about understanding drive and how it can be a double-edged sword. I learned the dog determines the motivator.
I learned about the importance of making our training look like showing, of finding a balance between working on individual skills and building mental stamina to perform formal exercises in the ring. I learned (again!) the value of my wonderful friends and mentors in this sport who continue to give endlessly of their time to help me brainstorm and problem solve and keep saying, “He can do it, I know he can, he’s going to be awesome.”
This year we earned 2 U-UD legs. We added an AKC Utility win to our hard-fought collection, bringing us about half way to completing his OTCh. UDX legs remain a hit and miss proposition because I pulled Phoenix out of Open B for about six months to work on out-of-sight stay issues. Happy to report we were 2-for-2 on his debut return in the Open ring last weekend. Is the problem fixed forever? Probably not. Will it require constant maintenance for as long as I continue to show him? Probably so. But dang, it was a rush to come back with the other handlers and see my dog sitting confidently in the line up, not being held by the steward.
Phoenix is not an easy dog to train. If I ask him for 110%, he demands I give it in return. He is brilliant, independent, pushy, headstrong, sweet and funny all at once. He gives nothing for free. He is renaissance all wrapped up in fur.