I was recently asked an interesting question. “If you could give a beginner to dog sports one piece of advice, what would that be?”
I had to think about this for a bit, because interesting questions deserve well thought out answers.
So…here’s my one piece of advice:
Keep your dog in the game.
That must be your number one priority, regardless of your dog sport or what you might be working on.
As you start each training session you may want to ask yourself, “Am I having fun? Is my dog having fun?” “Are we enjoying this sport that we are doing together?” Continue to ask yourself these questions throughout your training session, until it becomes second nature to check in on your mutual enthusiasm for the training process.
All experienced trainers will tell you that working with an excited and engaged partner makes training incredibly easy, whereas working with an unwilling, distracted or sullen partner is bound for failure. Creating a wonderful training atmosphere is the handler’s responsibility; find that joy and take on that responsibility! Make it a personal goal never to work with your dog when you’re not BOTH equally excited about the tasks in front of you. As you try out each new training technique, check in with your dog. If his eyes are bright and his tail is wagging then you’re on the right track; keep going!
If you ever have a doubt about your dog’s desire to work with you, stop what you are doing and re-group. Some days that might mean ending training before you’ve barely begun, which can be quite frustrating for the handler. Take that lost time to try and understand what might have happened to cause your dog to opt out of the training game. Once you have some possible causes, it’s time to explore solutions.
Other days your dog will be dragging you out of the car and onto the field; wonderful! What caused that reaction? How can you take advantage of that in the future?
At the end of the day, there are no “right” training techniques or “right” ways to do things. There is only what works for you and your dog to create mutual happiness and whatever team you can create with each other. Find what works for both of you by asking those same questions over and over, because one thing that should be non-negotiable in your training with your dog is mutual joy.
Am I having fun? Is my dog having fun? Are we enjoying this sport that we are doing together?
Each time you answer “yes”, you will leave that session with a better friend than before you started, and you will begin to truly understand what dog trainers mean when they say they have a relationship with their dog.
The scores and ribbons will follow. Just remember that they are icing on the cake, not the cake itself. If you follow my advice, you already had your cake even if you never step foot inside a competition ring.