Recently I was doing some math. I was looking at all of the dogs I have trialled in agility since I decided to train without physical or verbal corrections (that was in 1994). There is;

Buzz (born in 1996), DeCaff (born in 2000), Encore (born in 2004) and Feature (born in 2007).

Swagger hasn’t trialled yet so he wasn’t included in my data, but as you can see from the picture here, his start line training is well under way! This pic was taken this past weekend, I was walking a course and just left him outside the ring in a chair for 15 minutes. When I first put him there there was no one else around. Dogs and people started showing up after. I actually forgot about him after the first cookie reward. Although he did jump down to say hello to his friend Vince, other than that he was a model 6 month old puppy. Crate Games training has given him a great understanding of “do-not-move-until-you-are-given-a-release-word.”

So back to my math. If you consider how many times I have lead out from the start line in agility with all of these dogs. Knowing I never do a running start (I am just not fast enough) for every class I ran with these dogs, each of them was left at the start line while I lead out.

Now Buzz and DeCaff both had seven year careers, Encore so far has had six years and Feature three years. That is 23 years of leading out at the start line. With approximately 45 days of trailing a year and an average of 4 classes per day. That is 4,140 start lines I have lead out in agility without a dog breaking a start line. This doesn’t include the thousands of start lines I have done with these dogs while practicing sequences or doing jump grids at home or participating in workshops over the years.

Now I am not saying my dogs will “never” break a start line, after all they are dogs, but the stats so far are pretty compelling aren’t they? 4140 successes zero errors. I think the evidence shows that I have a good handle on how to train sit stays (or stand stays) without force right?

That being so, I hope you will agree with me that if a dog ever breaks a “stay” position, it is not he that should be given a verbal or physical correction because the dog is only a product of his trainer’s understanding.

So in the past at one of my workshops, when someone verbally or physically corrected their dogs I would go a bit nutso on them. I mean correcting any dog for breaking a start line is really blaming the dog because he wasn’t trained by someone that had a great understanding of how to properly use reinforcement in training right? It was unfair and I would always would jump to the defense of the dog who was taking the blame.

You can’t blame me . . . it sounds appropriate right? Well it does unless you are the student on the receiving end of my “verbal correction.”  Chances are you were unlikely to ever return to another Susan Garrett seminar.

As an instructor, this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Over the years I am certain I lost the respect of more than one student when I over reacted to their actions. Even though the trigger for me was anything the student did to disrespect their dog and my intentions may have been noble, the action I took did more harm than good in helping the dog know a better way of life.

I have several Anthony Robbins quotes I refer to on a regular basis. One  of my favorites is this one;

“You can not influence someone while you are judging them”

I may not have it exactly right, but the meaning is clear; if someone feels you don’t respect them they are going to shut off from taking in your opinion. Now it doesn’t matter how talented you are, or how much good you have to share, it will all be lost the moment you disrespect the person you are trying to “help.”

Did I intentionally “disrespect” any student? No, I love to teach and I would never intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings. The same is true of the student. They didn’t intentionally disrespected their dog. They are only a product of what they were taught. They likely came to my seminar wanting to learn more and I might have been able to have helped them  but the moment I “corrected” them I likely lost their trust and faith in my ability to do so.

Amazing how life imitates dog training isn’t it?  It always fascinates me when I see how life’s lessons transfer so nicely to dog training.

Perhaps Tony should have said

“You can not influence the behaviour of any animal while you are judging them”

Embroider that on your tug leash to read every day and see how it changes both your dog training and your everyday relationships with people.

Anytime you find yourself calling your dog a “bar knocker” or “shut down-sucky dog” or “out-of-control manic” you are judging their potential based on your limitations as their dog trainer.  I know this to be true because I did it myself.

This also is true when debating dog training methodologies. All too often the differences between how you train and how you would like others to train is expressed as a judgement. There is no way we can open the eyes of those we would like to influence if we are throwing stones at them for the choices they are making. Difficult when we so want to help “their dogs” but critically important if we sincerely do want to help “all dogs.”

Today I am grateful for Speki and Buzz. Of all the dogs I have owned, these were the two dogs I “labeled”  the most for their shortcomings. I now realize that these short comings were just a reflection of my limitations as their dog trainer and these dogs were only trying to help me overcome these weaknesses.

One of the really great things about dogs is that they do not want our regrets it doesn’t service any purpose to them, but our gratitude sure does.