Raika has come out of retirement to train for the new TEAM titles.
She’s extremely happy about this new development, because few things make her happier than work. She loves her long “old lady” walks as well, but it’s still not training. Training is her passion.
Raika is twelve years old and she needed some changes to her training to accommodate her age. I rarely throw her ball; instead we play tug and I’m careful about it. I’ve noticed that after about five to ten minutes of work and play, she’s really quite tired, so I try hard to monitor her behavior more closely than I might with a younger dog.
Recently I taped Raika’s TEAM2 submission. She passed but….she felt ‘off’ to me. I put it down to the heat and we carried on. But as I reviewed the tape, I took another look at her. This wasn’t right. She’s panting too much and her rear appears weak.
The next day she didn’t eat her breakfast and she had a temperature. She’s fine now but….there’s still a critical lesson in there.
It’s my job to monitor my dog’s well being, and because we cannot ask the dog what is causing their behavior, it’s imperative that we give our dogs the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume that your dog knows what you want and is simply being obstinate; dogs don’t think that way. Don’t assume that your dog is taking advantage of you – they don’t think that way either.
Dogs are just dogs; doing what makes sense for them, based on their physical and emotional needs or desires.
If your dog is hot, tired, bored, sick, unclear on what you want, etc. – treat them all the same. Just stop training. If it continues over time, then you have a pattern and you’ll want to identify the root issue, is possible. Accept that you’re working with another being – one who has very limited skills of communication – and it’s just wrong to push through when you may be missing something overwhelming and significant to the dog.
Raika is harder than most dogs to read, because she’s extremely unlikely to opt out, even if she’s not feeling well. As a result, “willingness to work” is just not enough. I have to go further – is she slower than usual? Is her head carriage not quite right? Is she less energetic with her toy?
It’s a painful thing to realize you’ve worked your dog when they’re sick. It’s worse if you mistreated your dog in any way.
It’s also worth pointing out that a good deal of pain or sickness is not going to be identified by a routine trip to your veterinarian either, because much of pain and sickness is invisible. Can you or a doctor look at me and know that I have a migraine headache? No – not unless I tell you, or you watch me for very subtle signs, like a lack of “normal” enthusiasm for things that I normally like to do.
Err on the side of caution and give your dog the benefit of the doubt. If anything seems wrong then just stop. You can try again tomorrow.