Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thoughts on Dog Training

One of my friends wrote this on FB the other day:  "I never thought I'd have trouble being more interesting than dirt until I started training dogs."  (KP)  Haha!  Was her dog was digging, instead of coming when she called?  Sometimes Riff will wander off in the middle of a training session, and I think of that post and giggle. 

I don't think of myself as a dog trainer.  When I was younger, dogs ran around the neighborhood or ranch, just being dogs...and that was fine with me.   My dogs were generally well-behaved.  They knew how to sit, stay, come when called, drop stuff, leave certain things alone, and walk on a leash.  Lovely!  Done!

But now I have a couple of border collies that are competitive at the Masters level in AKC and USDAA agility shows.'s no small feat!  Does that make me a dog trainer?  In my mind, the closest I've come to being a real dog trainer was teaching Riff how to stack rings on a Fischer Price toy.  And that only took a couple of days.  (Riff is smart!  He usually trains me...)

Agility often feels like a game.  A tough occasionally ruthless game....but a game nonetheless.  A glorious game. 

Some folks think of dog agility as a hobby.  I used to.  I still try to, sometimes.  There are plenty of people who play tennis as a hobby, so I'm sure dog agility is often approached in a similar way.  You buy some lessons, then dabble in it part-time, without sleepless nights or strenuous effort.  Your big goal is to have some fun running around the field with your fur-buddy.  It's a terrific goal. 

Then you decide you'd really love to win a few classes at the local trial, and show the world just how special your dog is.  At that point, agility begins to slip out of the "hobby" range.  It becomes a sport.  You start jogging to control your weight.  You buy good running shoes.  A pair for winter, another pair for summer.  Maybe a pair for dirt, and a pair for grass.  You start checking out running clothes at the local sports shops.  You wear baseball caps four days a week.  You tell your GP that you absolutely must have a referral to a good sports-minded physical therapist, to help you get over your knee problems.  To heck with the mental health counselor.  ;-) You  spend money on entry fees, gas, dog-friendly motels, and look longingly at RV sales.  You sign up months early for weekend seminars, determined to be a "working team" instead of an "auditor."  You buy at least two dozen training DVDs and four dozen books.  You keep notes on training.  Notebooks pile your office, on the bookshelf, by the computer, in the glove compartment of your car. You sign up for the livestream of the World Championships, and get up at 0:dark:thirty, three days in a row, to sit in front of your computer and watch them.  You devote an entire kitchen cupboard to your dog gear - each dog has several collars, many leashes, a harness or three, a basket full of toys, water bottles, medications, grooming tools, and all kinds of special feed and treats.  Your camping/canopy/set-up gear bulges in a corner of the garage.  You buy a dog car/van/SUV.  You have years-worth of magazines and articles stacked in the closet.  When your first agility dog starts showing her age and weakness-due-to-structure, you move her to the occasional Veterans class and - filled with hope - buy a [willing and high-drive] purebred puppy....the first papered purebred you've ever owned.  You might even start a little blog.

Some people will decide you've gone a bit dotty in your dotage.  Other people totally understand.  You start spending more time with the Others. 

Does this make you a dog trainer?   Shoot, I don't know.  Not me, I guess.  I so often - still! - feel like a beginner.  My dogs keep me humble.  The sport keeps me humble.  I know I'm something more than a hobbyist, but I don't know exactly how you would describe me. 

It seems, to me, that "real" dog trainers are the people who make a living at it. The folks who have lots of dogs, give lessons, charge money, make videos, and maybe even write a book or two...those are the dog trainers.  World class competitors are dog trainers, too.  Anybody else?

When push comes to shove, it's all a matter of perspective.  Most of us do train our own dogs.  Agility requires us to train ourselves and our dogs together, because it's definitely a team sport.  Many of us devote a lot of time to it. 

So, who are we?  We don't make a living wage at this.  Many of us have separate careers, or we're already retired and trying not to blow through our life savings too quickly.  So....what do we call ourselves?  "Hobbyists"  "Competitors"  "Amateur dog trainers"? 

Well...whatever we are, for sure we're having some fun.....learning a lot about our dogs....and ourselves......


corgi2bc said...

I don't think of myself as a dog trainer either. I used to think of agility as my sport, kind of like when I used to play softball. Now I have come to understand that it is just my version of a gambling habit. ;-)

Celeste said...

Ah...yes...."addict"! That's a good one.

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