Finding the Joy
At one point when I was very frustrated with Uppity’s slow progress, I was talking to Susan on the phone and whining to her about how discouraged I felt. Susan asked me if I loved Upp. I told her I did! I loved her very much! Susan asked me what I loved about her.
I thought for a second and answered with a long list of things. I love her loyalty to me (all of the rewarding and time we have spent together has created a dog that adores me and is glued to my side now), I love her joy and Poodleness and how she comes over to me and puts her head in my lap while I am sitting and so many more things.
Thinking about why I loved Upp, took my focus away from my feeling of despair at the time and back to why Upp was worth the effort I was putting into her. If she never did agility I would still love her. I had to find the joy in the process and not worry about the outcome!
Here are some of the things I have learned on my journey so far with Uppity. We have a LONG road ahead us and I expect the trip to be full of great learning opportunities for both of us.
KEEP MY SESSIONS SHORT! Sometimes 15 or 30 seconds was all we did! I needed to quit while she still wanted more. Now we can work longer but it has taken quite a while to get to this point in our training. There is no magic time, it depends on the dog and their level of enthusiasm.
NEVER listen to people who tell you to give up! If you keep training that dog, the worst that can happen is you have a better relationship with your dog. I LOVE agility but I love my dogs more and there was no way I was going to “place” Uppity so we were in it for the long haul together.
SHAPE! SHAPE! SHAPE! I had been told to shape Uppity to do silly behaviors over and over but, being lazy, I didn’t shape much until Upp was about 7 months old. That was a HUGE mistake! “Shape early – shape often” should be my rule!
DON’T GIVE UP! When Uppity didn’t want to tug, I shouldn’t give up! Be creative and be FUN!
BE STRATEGIC ABOUT YOUR TRAINING TIMES: Train before breakfast and before dinner! Many times I trained using Uppity’s meals (I feed raw so it was messy but worth it!). Upp is a chow hound and she loves her meals more than anything in the Universe!
Susan had me break up her meals into small portions, put them in her bowl and hide the bowl near where we were going to train. As soon as I got amazing tugging, we would run to the food bowl and she got to eat what I had put in it (but only when the tugging was AMAZING). We did this every day throughout the day for weeks until she developed more value for her tugger. I great tugging meant Uppity would be GROWLING and squealing with joy while tugging.
SMILE! I have found that if I smile and laugh while training, it is hard to get discouraged. The more fun I have, the more fun Upp has! When I watch Susan train her dogs, she has more fun than any hyper kid I have ever seen at a birthday party! Susan’s enthusiasm when she trains is infectious and so much fun to watch!
GENERALIZE THE GREATNESS: Take my dog to as many unfamiliar places as I can and work on behaviors she understands. Find new parks, schools, Home Depot, etc.
Take her to seminars and agility classes and crate her with a bowl of food on top and a sign reminding people to feed her as they walked by with a dog no matter what Upp was doing but say nothing to her. Upp was very fearful of people and other dogs and was showing some signs of fear aggression. This helped SO much!
STRETCH YOURSELF: For the first time in my life I taught a dog to walk on a loose leash! That was very rewarding! Uppity got lots of treats and I got a dog that doesn’t pull me along like a sled dog! Everything I have taught her to date has added big money to our relationship bank.
The best thing I have learned from this experience? FIND THE JOY IN THE PROCESS!
Wow, what a great read. Thank you so much to my student and friend Helen King for having the humility to allow us to share her journey. I can tell by the comments that many of you have enjoyed reading Helen’s story as much as I enjoyed witnessing the transformation.
Today I am grateful for students that don’t give up on their dogs; who allow their dogs to teach them how to laugh out loud while they train.