After almost 20 years of working with dogs, and now 10 years of regularly teaching clients how to listen to their dogs, I’ve finally come to that moment of pride. Maybe it was the support after recent BIG changes, the founding of an awesome (I’m biased) UKC club and working club, or the silent reward in watching clients learn to appreciate their dogs; the good the bad and the ugly. Maybe its that I'm finally confident in my knowledge and ability to help and teach. I am not into tooting horns, or bragging, or slandering in the name of business, but a good and long friend of mine reminded me, this is mine! I brought regular weight pull training to Maine. I brought local and regular trials to Maine! I’ve created this huge conglomerate of WE! It may have started as me and a great supporter or two, but it is now its own entity. And that, I am super proud of!
Weight pull is just the beginning too! Clients come to a class to try something new. Dogs may have reactivity or trust issues which limits many group class options. Others may have extreme timidity issues or weak confidence. Some are down right under exercised and need a safe space to work! I’ve had dogs who had recovery or injury concerns and we developed light weight exercise routines to build muscle post injury and preventatively. Others discover their pups really enjoy it, have a natural talent, and decide to get their feet wet in organized canine sporting events. They develop at home work out plans, become aware of physical fitness for their canine companions, and begin to appreciate regular one-on-one enrichment opportunities! Clients are happy because their dogs begin to be excited to get to class, to go in the car to class, and upset when class is cancelled (sorry Ollie!) Another talent many clients discover is how to roll with the punches. If a dog has a hiccup in training, we learn how to problem solve. We learn how to appreciate and respect stress signals during training. How to identify pain or discomfort and basic preventative health become client's first nature. What starts out as a little unknown begins this huge snowball effect! My number one rule: don’t forget to have fun! My second rule: don’t let human ego betray your dog’s trust in you! If things didn’t turn out how you planned, you can only blame yourself, shrug and move on. Hopefully, you’ll learn from it and your dog won’t be the wiser.
When you add a touch of competition (ribbons are positive reinforcement!) you add a kind of motivation that wasn’t there before. Competition rattles the nerves of the human, challenging them to step out of their comfort zone. When they give it a shot (canine sports,) they open a huge door to the world of canine enrichment and work ethic. A world, many folks were judgmental of. Dogs experience stress too. Stress is all around us. Stress can be in many levels and its our goal to limit extreme stressors while tactfully exposing just enough for ourselves and dogs to learn very important coping skills. Coping and recovery skills, over time, minimize moments of extreme duress. This also breeds confidence. It takes practice, and while some dogs (and humans) are better than others, recovering from less than ideal experiences make us stronger, emotionally and physically. I know. I know. I’m not trying to get into a pep talk. I’m saying that stress is both bad and good! Heck, I have more uncontrolled stressors now as an adult than I ever did before. It’s a good thing I learned how to get fired, how to get a ‘D’ on a paper, how to fail, and turn it around and do better next time. I’d do better, work harder, do something differently. With practice, a handler can begin to learn the difference between stress clouding a performance versus being ill prepared. This makes us better handlers, better owners and I think better people! The caution is to not let the competition cloud the ability to identify if either of you are still enjoying it. In many sports you can’t let losing ruin your experience. You certainly can’t let it ruin your relationship with your dog. It’s the whole reason you started right? We should be so smart to practice this with our youth!
When folks try out our local classes it opens the door to all kinds of new knowledge. What other things are out there? What is my dog working for? What other things can my dog learn how to do? For fun, or for competition. The secondary lesson is how to be a responsible dog owner. We mingle, meet other clients who are learning too, but for different reasons. Clients learn their dogs do want more; silly little fun jobs or real working jobs. If you’re really good, you can learn something from your dog. Clients who may not have been very interested in obedience discover their dog thinks Rally Obedience is pretty awesome! Dogs who are recovering from health conditions, are older or have less than ideal weather conditions can learn about canine fitness and treadmill activities. Dogs can take a Flyball class, tricks class, Treibball, lure coursing, Noseworks, Barnhunt, dock diving, agility and ring sport! It’s because, well, our New England dog scene is pretty darn supportive. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have continued with a new club, moved to a new location, or have clients from hours away. I am one of the crazy ones in it for the fun! I find joy watching clients discover their companion’s strengths and overcome their weaknesses.
This is the relationship we are building in classes. This is the relationship we strive for at Dirigo Working Dogs. Believe me when I say, it’s way better than just existing with a dog in your home. I don’t think in absolutes. I welcome the supportive as well as the judgmental to step into a class, watch and learn. I won’t say it’s my way or the highway. I have rules but I am open to still learning and changing how I teach. I am still learning what makes my dogs tick. Each one is their own unique personality with different motivators and drives and fears. One thing a trainer said that really clicked with me is along the lines of “a great trainer knows, he doesn’t know it all.”
Thank you for reading my first blog post! Until next time, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new! When you’ve wiped yourself off, gotten back up and made it back at home, do you feel that runner’s high? Do you see your dog differently? If you are interested in weight pull or any of the classes listed above, reach out and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction!
I leave you with a great read!
What is an Obedience Title Anyway?
by Sandy Mowery
Not just a brag, not just a stepping stone to higher titles, a title is a tribute to the dog that bears it, a way of honoring the dog, an ultimate memory. It will remain in record and in memory for as long as anything in this world can remain. Few humans will do as well or better in that regard.
And though the dog itself doesn't know or care that its achievement have been noted, a title says many things in the world of humans, where such things count.
A title says your dog was intelligent and adaptable, and good natured. It says that your dog LOVED YOU enough to do the things that pleased you, however crazy they may have sometimes seemed.
And a title says that you LOVED YOUR DOG, that you love to spend time with it because it was a good dog, that you believed in it enough to give it yet another chance when it failed, and that in the end, your faith was justified.
A title proves that your dog inspired you to that special relationship enjoyed by so few, that in a world of disposable creatures, this dog with this title was greatly love, and loved greatly in return.
And when that dear short life is over, the title remains as a memory of the finest kind, the best you can give to a deserving friend, volumes of praise in one small set of initials after a name.
An obedience title (or any working title) is nothing, less love and respect given and received and permanently recorded.