To some dog owners who participate in performance sports around the world, I am considered a dog training “mentor.”
Definition: men·tor ˈmenˌtôr,-tər/
noun: mentor; plural noun: mentors
1. an experienced and trusted adviser.
Being a mentor is an honour I take very seriously.
Why would Susan Garrett be considered a mentor?
Possibly because of the national or world championships I have won in dog agility. Maybe because of my successes with both “high drive” dogs and “motivationally challenged dogs” or because of the success, I have had focusing on the manipulation of positive reinforcement in dog training rather than the consequences of various forms of punishment. Or maybe there is some other reason I haven’t even considered…
The truth is, if I had my way, what people would take notice of is not just my training, handling or performing but also of the way I share my life with my dogs, the fact that my life at home with my dogs, reflects the love and respect I have for each dog equally.
I would have people take notice of how my dogs are much-loved family pets which means I go to great lengths for the physical and mental well being. To see how my dogs sleep at my feet when I work at my desk, or see the dozens of dog beds, dog toys and dog bones scattered around our home for our dogs’ comfort, how I engage with my dogs mentally not for a prize in the performance ring but for their cognitive stimulation and to return the joy they bring to my life.
Lately, I have seen too many dog owners missing out on the nuances of the “pet ownership” part of performance sports. Yes, I wrote “Ruff Love” but I never intended any dog to have to regularly spend 10-12 hours a day without any meaningful human contact. If you work long hours or you can’t make it home during the day, invest in a dog walking service rather than pee-pee pads on the floor or dog door exiting to a humanless backyard. Sure dogs can “tolerate” just about any lifestyle . . . but they deserve better than just “any lifestyle.” It isn’t finances that makes the biggest difference in the life of a dog it is your investment of your time, your attention.
Crates are great tools for raising puppies, rehabbing injured dogs or working through behavioural issues, however, I have never recommended a crate ever be used extensively beyond these short-termed, problem solving times in a dog’s life.
My dogs have access to open crates in my home (those “crates” have been stylishly built in to look like a piece of furniture (however that is not the focus of this blog post:)). At different times during the day, one or more of my dogs may choose to curl up in one of those crates but it is their choice. Once I have developed a strong relationship with my dog (via Recaller Games and other foundation training . . . usually by 10-11 months of age) my dogs are rarely crated around our home. Sure we use crates in the car and possibly at a trial (I prefer ex-pens) but I can’t remember the last time I actually locked a dog in a crate at home.
Being a performance dog trainer who loves my dogs means my dogs go swimming once or twice a week and we aim to do a “shaping” session weekly (obviously more often with the younger dogs). My dogs get at least one long walk a day and get taken out for shorter sessions 5-6 other times during the day (we have no “set” schedule but it goes something like; early am, after breakfast, noon, 4 pm, after supper, 8 pm and bedtime). It used to be that if on occasion I had to be away from home for a longer period of time alone . . . say 7 -8 hours, I wouldn’t worry about it, my dogs will likely just sleep in my absence. However, if I was going to be away longer than that, I would arrange for someone to stop by to exercise, talk to and engage my dog’s in something that activates their brain (even if it is as simple as a “sit for a cookie”). However today with so many geriatrics at home (3 dogs between the ages of 10 and 17 1/2 years old) I wouldn’t let them go longer than 4 hours without having a pet sitter or neighbour stop by to let them out. I think it was Oprah Winfrey who said:
Being grateful for what you have- will bring you more to be grateful for …
If it wasn’t Oprah, it should have been :).
As a performance dog sport participant, I often hear of these “AMAZING breedings” between two talented dogs that I know has the possibility to produce really cool puppies with tons of potential to win in the agility ring. But as a dog lover, I realize how difficult it would be to equally love and care for a large “pack” of dogs. . . let alone the financial responsibility of paying for quality veterinarian care when things don’t go as planned. So I resist the temptation to buy every amazing prospect that happens by, knowing that when the time is right, a special puppy will find his way into my life.
There are too many people that start off as dog lovers in dog sports and somehow turn into “dog collectors” because they just can’t bare to “miss out” on the next “superstar.” My experience has been that as much as genetics may play a role in the next world champion it is focused, quality time invested in a dog you love that plays an even bigger role.
No matter how many dogs you buy, each of us will get the dog we need at the time we need it in our lives … so why not space your dogs out so you can invest your time and love into all of the dogs in your home equally. Expect your dogs to live to be 16-18 years old and get a next puppy when your youngest dog is 3-5 years old. This means you will never have more than 5 or 6 dogs in your home to care for at any one time.
Being a dog lover means I care for my dogs because I love dogs … not just because I want to play a dog sport. I feed good quality dog food not just to my young dogs who are still performing, but also to my older dogs who have given me their all and now deserve respect and comfort in their senior years.
In 2012 I wrote a series of articles on keeping your older dogs healthy and happy. Today all of those tips have been put into a Kindle ebook you can pick up through Amazon entitled “Anti-Aging Tips for Dogs” by Susan Garrett. If you are lucky you will find it for the price of less than a dollar if you are really lucky it will be free! When you go through it I would really appreciate it if you would leave an Amazon review. Here is a link for the ebook.
I am proud that there may be people around the world who consider me their “dog training mentor,” but it is my wish that more people would consider me their “dog-loving mentor.”
I write this post not to point fingers or judge anyone but to provoke thought in everyone. None of us lives the perfect life nor is it healthy to seek or expect perfection. However, if we take can aim for tomorrow to be better than today then our progress forward should lead to an amazing outcome for both our lives and those of our dogs . . . it is, after all a journey.
Today I am grateful to all of the amazing mentors that have influenced my life . . . some I have met personally, many others I haven’t.
To quote the late Issac Newton;
“If I have seen further . . . it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
If I am considered a mentor to you . . . it is because I have been blessed with great mentors myself.
Feeling grateful in 2014!