I’ve been away for awhile, and I apologize for that. Life got in the way – we had a foster dog come live with us at about the same time that I started working a second job and I’ve been pretty much dead to the world ever since.
Part of the problem is that the second job was supposed to be a very part-time side-gig to to get me out of the house and off my computer (my main job) for a few hours a day. But then they offered me a full time position on nights and my brain (traitor) went “Money?”
So. Here we are.
Training these last couple of weeks has been…stressful, to say the least. And it has definitely been reinforced for me how important it is, as a newbie to the sport, to have the right person in your corner to help guide you.
Everything seemed as if it was moving right along.
Brody’s IPO1 Obedience routine is rock solid (in training, anyway).
His tracking is coming right along, though he can start to stress a bit when it gets hard, so I’ll be working to build his confidence in the coming weeks.
In protection, his secondary obedience has been coming right along as well, and I honestly thought we were nearing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Until we went to work on the side-transport.
Brody is very stressed by the side-transport. Proximity to the sleeve/helper just overloads his brain and he’s been losing his limited self-control when we attempt to work on it.
My TD/Helper and I had been working through it slowly and having some success, though it was obvious that this was going to be a bit of a process.
And then, dear readers, I did something that I’ve warned you time and again to never ever do: I allowed someone to take control of a training session with my dog and essentially bully me into putting my dog into an unfair (in my opinion) position.
Without excusing my responsibility, I do want to reiterate why this is such a difficult position for a newbie to the sport of IPO to be in. As someone who has never trained a dog to do much of anything before, and as someone that is still essentially brand new to the sport, my words and opinions only carry so much weight. Reasonably so.
The person that I allowed to put me into this position is someone that I have a lot of respect for. Someone that my TD/Helper has a lot of respect for. Someone that has a lot of experience in both sport and real-world training applications.
Stand us side-by-side and it’s a not brainer when it comes to who should be calling the shots.
Except that it really shouldn’t have been a “no-brainer”.
This person doesn’t really know my dog. He sees Brody work only occasionally.
This person is also rather “old school” in their way of thinking when it comes to dog training.
Goodness…this is a lot of set-up.
This person was invited into my training session with my TD/Helper because he had an idea for an exercise to work on the side transport.
A really good idea, actually.
The exercise itself worked wonderfully.
The issue arose when I had to correct Brody pretty harshly a couple of times to remind him about self control, and then when I asked for a grip on the sleeve to reward him for his hard work, I was told that he shouldn’t receive a reward because the side-transport is a “control exercise” and “he should do it because I said so.”
This isn’t how I train. This isn’t how I want to train. My dog was trying his heart out for me and now he wouldn’t get a reward?
I tried to argue. Politely. I appealed to my TD/Helper who waffled – he tends to the old school as well and I was asking him to go against his long-time training partner, whom he didn’t really disagree with.
The minutes passed. My dog stared up at me obediently, clearly trying his heart out to be the bestest boy while I again asked to PLEASE reward him for his efforts.
After several more minutes we walked off the field. No reward for you, Brody.
I was LIVID. There are no words to describe my anger and sadness in that moment.
I had to take a break in my car after putting my dog up to regain my composure.
I was angry at myself. I was angry at both of them. I felt like I had betrayed my dog’s trust.
If you think this sounds dramatic, then I am not doing a good job if expressing just how hard my dog worked for me. Just how hard he tried with every fiber of his being to do this very difficult (for him) thing. Only to be taken back to his crate with no reward. No thanks for the effort.
It was epically, brutally unfair.
I went back to sit on the sidelines – still pretty enraged.
My training director gave me some space for a bit and then asked me if I was as frustrated as my dog.
I told him I was. That I was beyond angry at the situation. That I didn’t feel like it was fair. That this wasn’t how I wanted to train.
This is why it’s so important to find the right person to train with.
He apologized. He told me that I was right – that control of the session never should have been taken from me. He was open to the fact that I have my own ideas about how I want to do things. He was sorry.
We pulled Brody out for another session and gave him some fun bites, but I knew the damage was already done.
And I was right.
This past week, when I once again asked him to try for me like he did in that training session, he stressed. He frustrated. He was angry.
And I can’t blame him at all.
Why should he try so hard when he has no reason to think he’ll get anything in return.
I’m not sure that everyone really believes me when I say that dogs (and animals in general) have an inherent sense of fairness, but it’s true, they do.
I had violated Brody’s sense of fairness by asking him to work for me, correcting him when he got it wrong, but not rewarding him when he got it right.
Our relationship has been damaged because of it. And I will have to work to earn back his trust in me.
My Training Director could tell, yesterday, how distressing this was for me. I was honestly questioning whether it’s even right that I continue to ask Brody to do this sport, as it is clearly becoming a source of stress for him.
He texted me late last night to reassure me that Brody was going to be okay. That we will work through these latest challenges just as we’ve worked through every other one in the past. That Brody was still enjoying himself 99% of the time and that this stressful period for him will pass and he won’t be so frustrated by it forever.
I really needed to hear all of this. Because y’all, I’m struggling.
Above all things, I value my relationship with my dog.
So. This coming week will be spent taking Brody hiking and swimming. It will be spent rebuilding the trust between us.
And we will continue to work through the damage that I’ve done.
We were aiming for an end-of-September trial, but that may be off the table for the moment. I don’t mind.
I have some thinking to do, about whether or not I’m really cut out for this sport. Whether or not Brody is.
Because while I appreciate my Training Director’s apology and reassurances (and I really am lucky to have someone so patient and supportive and open-minded in my corner), I’m still left wondering if I’m doing the right thing for my dog.