I recently finished up a United Kennel Club Snow Pull, alongside wonderful club members and friends. I love Maine, I love winter and yes, that means I love snow. (I always dreamed of having a small sled dog team to enjoy and run with daily, but I digress!) It has been a frustrating two years, however, to say the least. See, a snow pull, requires snow! Lots of layers of packed, solid/icy snow. Our lovely state has been losing its reliable winters and becoming more unpredictable. One big reason I suppose, we host the ONLY UKC snow pull, in the last 12 calendar months in the U.S. Weeks leading up to the event, I stressed, I worried, I had nightmares about snow melting, having warm temperatures and abusing my poor club members with manual labor all for nothing. Once the pull had arrived, and my unwavering friends helped through all the tough conditions (again!) I had begun to relax again and enjoy what we have really developed.
Hosting an event, UKC especially, is no small feat. Dog sports clubs rise and die faster than I can keep track. Some exhibitors and folks take it for granted. There will always be people who arrive with unrealistic expectations, ones who are so competitive they lose sight of why we do what we do (the bad apples.) I try to now take it with a grain of salt. So long as I am not burnt out and my friends and club supporters can have fun, I will continue to bring events to Maine. I may not be able to make everyone happy, but I’ve tried to ingrain into my students and clients that every new venue, surface, event will pull differently. It is YOUR job as a trainer and advocate for your dog to prepare them for less than desirable conditions and equipment. It is YOUR job as a handler to make the best of what you are given. Camping in the rain, dog shows hours away, training sessions certain days of the week, picking and choosing which seminar will be more beneficial, and then when the family birthday party trumps a weekend show. We all make choices to make room for our personal priorities. We can’t all have perfect weather and conditions, and equipment changes, sometimes fails and we still have to move forward. We can't all make time to train every single day. We can’t all play on home court, which means training for the unexpected is important. This is the biggest reason I want to keep hosting at least one snow pull! Snow is hard! I not only want my students and dogs to feel accomplishment and progress, but I also want them to learn resiliency, and versatility. Both as a dog handler and to help generalize their dog’s tasks. If we trained harder, changed things up, didn’t pattern train and helped dogs generalize the behavior we are seeking, dogs will suffer less stress in trials, less challenge in competitions and in turn (I hope) be more successful. Both emotionally and physically.
Snow qualifications, across the board, are lower than any other surface. This isn’t a mistake. Pulling on snow is hard and I’m always amazed at how easy the northern breeds make it look! Training harder doesn’t mean your dog will always get a qualifying leg or will pull a new personal best. It means, hopefully, you’ve learned to find success in something that day. That success and goals vary from team to team. Training harder doesn’t mean meaner or less fun. It simply means, if your dog has experienced stressors in day to day sessions, they will have the capacity to cope more successfully in a trial setting and maybe even real-life settings. It may mean breaking up the tasks into smaller pieces until they are understood more fully. It may mean building mental and physical endurance so that back to back trials are more attainable. It may mean training up hill so when pulling level, it will be almost easy! It may mean hunting down fun runs for months before entering your first obedience trial. It may mean training with other handlers so that when pulling with you its almost automatic. It may mean practicing starts in crappy, slushy snow, so dogs are less discouraged when a sled doesn’t move immediately. I recently stepped out of my comfort (protective-mother control-freak) zone and had a junior handler work with Pistol in class. To my surprise she was so automatic she didn’t even search for me! She let Anna hook her up (I’ll have her lifting weights in preparation for handling Pistol on the ring😉 ) and let her handle her and gave Anna practice handling a different style dog. Even if she didn’t pull heavy that day, I like to think I challenged her brain a bit by changing up our routine. I also hope, it will help her fondness for me grow, and allow her to play at events I'm otherwise indisposed. The old coined term, distance grows the heart fonder, came from somewhere right?
I can’t say go out and pull at a snow pull, because your dogs may not be ready for it. If you ask me however, is it worth it? Giving it a try? Trying out a new sport? Visiting a new venue or club event? I will always be able to see the silk lining. If you prepare appropriately, you won’t ruin a dog, and you won’t undo all your hard work, but you may learn something. I would encourage you to support the event in any way possible. If you think your dog isn’t ready, then believe me, we can use help in other ways! Moving blocks, loading equipment, sharing and spreading the word are all useful and deeply appreciated tasks. Your support of these events is the only reason we are hosting them. We aren’t making money, and we don’t always get to pull/handle our own dogs when we host an event. If the local appreciation is lost, another event or club will resign from this hard work. This recent trial, I saw dogs pull the sled for the first time! Wagging tails and happy faces! I saw dogs who had never really be challenged in snow, hit a wall of insecurity and then witness a supportive handler help the dog succeed. I saw dogs who have pulled mountains on wheels, pull their hearts out, with lower numbers and still happy handlers. I saw handlers, who had to learn how to coach their dogs, without leashes and lures. I saw junior handlers make their debut into the dog sport world! And go home with ribbons loving it! (Tough kids at that! It was cold, wet and mostly boring for kiddos!) It may have been a trial, but it was still a learning event. Always take the moment to train through it. I will never discredit someone else’s lesser goals than mine and I will never encourage you to set your dog up to fail. I will only encourage you to support the events you find fun and beneficial. They may not always be available to you. Do not take them/us for granted.
If you are frustrated by lack of events in your area, huddle with like minds to build your own! Clubs all started somewhere. Ours was two people and an empty fun pull, 10 years ago. We are now two clubs containing weight pull, rally enthusiasts, flyball teammates and lure coursing fanatics and I made the leap to breed conformation. If you are frustrated by attitudes and certain stereotypes I encourage you to break the mold and be the exception to the rule. Join the club and get active! Get involved! Be the only weight pull club in the area! Be the pit bull in flyball. Be the bulldog in IPO. Be the aussie or sheltie or shih tzu/poodle/maltese in weight pull. Be the misfits. Our UKC club has more mixed breed owning officers and members than purebred. Does that mean mutts rule? Well, maybe! 😉 Kidding, kidding. It means, all dog owners alike, can find fun and benefit from sport clubs, training clubs and dog events. Dogs don’t have to be fine lineages and proper appearances to be the best they can be. Club members don’t have to be breeders or show fanciers. We only need to support one another and come together so we can provide a safe place to enjoy our dogs, together! We did it! So can you!
Thank you all for reading! Maybe we’ll see you at one of our future events in New England!
~Are you interested in joining a sport club, training club or local classes? I’ll be happy to refer you to some wonderful and supportive organizations in your area! No, go out and play with/train your dogs!~