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!!!!!