Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nancy Walkers Editorial - The Finger of Blame

I absolutely LOVED the editorial in Clean Run Magazine this month-September 2009. The editorial was written by Nancy Walker who is now a new hero of mine. I have not felt the way I felt when I read that article since Lizzie was a baby and I picked up a copy of Shaping for Success by Susan Garrett. WARNING: of course we all know this is going to lead to my favorite rant in dog training.....LOL,.....so proceed at your own risk!

Lizzie is a dog that is a very high drive border collie. I also firmly believe she just processes information a little wacky at times. She has terrific self control and I have worked on that and her recalls non stop since day 1. I have raised dogs that turn out to be wonderful dogs, so I can do it,....REALLY I CAN! I have been way more consistent with Liz, taken a lot more time and thought with my training plans with Liz, and got the help of a lot more people, and I have stuck to it way longer then I have with any other dog, and yet....she is still a dog that is not able to trial in an unfenced field because she might get the zoomies and take off. Now do not get me wrong, she is also the best trained dog I have ever had, and given how high energy she is I have taught her amazing things and the self control she can show is amazing, and really I truly believe I had accomplished a lot and I am proud of myself for sticking with it and I do think I have reaped the rewards of that, although I do not think people looking in always see the progress I see ;-).

So what does that have to do with Susan G's book or the article? Well, Susan G became my new hero when I opened her book and read how she had to take her high drive red bc puppy (hummm, another over the top red/white bc, wonder if that is a coincidence?) and work with him for several class sessions before she could get him in the building because he was screaming and crying. She had me hooked with the book because here was someone else who understood what it feels like to feel people judge you as a bad trainer because your dog is acting like an idiot even though I was doing all the right things and using way more skills and working way harder then I worked with my "good" dogs, LOL. One of my worst days came when I took a private with an agility instructor that watched my dog go on a zoomie run the first time she was in her yard, and she pronounced that the dog had no bond with me and there was nothing that could be done for this dog and I had better go home and try to find a way to connect with this dog. I LOVED THIS DOG, and had already been working so hard with her. From the article "It is very difficult to go in the ring over and over again hoping that this time it will be different, and it will be the one time everything does work out. But then to have someone tell you you are to blame-that if you were a better trainer your dog could do better as well-can be crushing" It adds nothing to this conversation but I recently saw this instructor at a seminar with a new dog that zoomed around the field and she could not get ahold of her, I felt a kinship with her at that moment but I also hoped she now understood that not all dogs respond in the same way to the same training.

So the article says "I realized that while agility is a wonderful sport, it can also be a culture of blame. People are so quick to say a dog does what he does because the handler does or does not take a specific action. If there is a problem the handler is to blame." Not to discount being consistent, or good training or anything like that but from the outside not many of us know the trials or tribulations this particular handler/dog team have dealt with or where they started out.

So at the end of the article Nancy goes on to say "Dogs are very complex and if you are fortunate to have a dog that progresses happily through the agility levels, you are very lucky indeed. But try not to put too much blame on those of us who have dogs with various degrees of trouble. These dogs may not yet have reached their athletic potential but they are no less loved and well-trained." Wow, well said i think.

Another quote from the article sums it up "I understand the frustration and utter dedication needed to make the situation work. We love our dogs and train every bit as hard if not harder to overcome out dog's problems. Believe it or not, these dogs make up better trainers in the end." YEA!!! (of course there were days in our harder times when Liz was younger and people would say this will make me a better trainer that people were playing with their lives by uttering those words to me!)

It is funny because I think this little editorial must have brought out the frustrations of a lot of people because any agility venues I have went to in the last week or two I have heard people talking about this editorial. I think there are a lot of us hiding out there with all sorts of issues we might be doing a bang up job of working through but sometimes no matter how hard we work, how smart we work and how good a trainers we are....it does take time to really change some things, so I for one am going to try to be way less judgemental when I see other dog handler teams, and hope you all feel the same way when you see Liz and I out there having a party because we get over 4 jumps in a trial, LOL!!!!!


Diana said...

Well even though my dog was crazy zooming around the ring this weekend, it never occured to me that people were thinking I was a bad dog trainer. LoL But Im sure some of them thought that. But I really didnt feel bad about it. I saw lots of dogs doing crazy things in the Open rings. So I felt I was in good company. Sure I would have rather have a perfect dog, but thats not going to happen. And sometimes you just have to laugh. Diana

Kathy said...

good point, some days you have to wonder how much of the judgement comes from within and how much comes from others, but always good to remember that not all of us deal with all the same challenges ;-) , and I do think everyone has challenges in their own ways

I think that is why dog training is so interesting and challenging because it is not a cookie cutter thing, there is a lot of art in it and sometimes the clay you get to work with! But all the more exciting when that all comes together, when ever it does

Sara said...

I loved that article too.

I've learned from trialing, that just about everyone has some sort of "quirk" they are working on with their dog. I tend to watch and say to myself, "Wow, I'm glad I'm stuck with my "scared of everything dog", not the "I want to go jump on the judge's lap dog".

I respect everyone for getting in the ring, and trying again and again! That's love and dedication. Isn't that what its all about?

Sam said...

Interesting stuff. I haven't been following your blog too long, but it's clearly evident that you spend A LOT of time training your dogs. I'm sure you didn't do anything wrong!

I have said it many times that I don't think there are any truly perfect dogs out there. Like the last commenter said, everybody's always working on something. So you're certainly not alone!

mvanwye said...

I suppose whenever "competition" enters the equation, it can bring out the best or the worst in people -- that behavior we've all seen at Little League games, school plays, even the occasional Spelling Bee!

We just hope that lovers of dog agility can remember the important stuff -- that agility -- whether practiced recreationally or as a sport -- should celebrate and deepen the bonds of communication between you and your dog.

As long as you and your pup are having a blast, it shouldn't matter what the other dogs are doing. Tongues and tails will always wag. Just have a great time with your dog!

Tammy Moody said...

Nova, my dog who has made me a better trainer;) She is a HARD dog to train and run, yet I still do it with her because she loves it.

When it's good, it's REALLY good, but when it's bad, it is REALLY bad. Nova is very driven and fast, but doesn't process things confidently. She can be very insecure, so instead of shutting down, sniffing, leaving the ring, she turns up the volume and works herself up into a frenzy.

Here is a link with Nova looking secure and good. The refusal is all me. But check out those contacts, table, the connection, she looks trained and like a good girl

Now look at this video,
same trial, same dog, same handler. She is so anxious that she is all over the place. Doesn't stick one contact, runs around obstacles and me, pops out of weaves, the table was okay, the judge was being bitchy about it though. She said Nova sat straighter at the start line so she had to sit straighter on the table, weird because Nova vultures at the startline, but anyways, Nova is all over the place. Iam glad I can look at that video of us and laugh;)

If someone saw just that run and nothing else, they would be very quick to judge, they do anyways. I have been told that Nova isn't trained and that I should just train her to understand my cues;) Hahahaha, this came from someone who has only ever trained BC's.

This is a subject near and dear to me. You can look at Freddie and know that I do train my dogs, just some are easier than others, some have way more to overcome than others, and some, like Nova, will always be unpredictable.

The judgemental people are people who have no idea what it is like to have a stressy or anxious dog. I always try to remember that I do not know the whole story.