This is the very first BMDCA award I ever received.
I have trained — and attempted to train — animals for as long as I can remember. Parakeets, dogs, goats, horses — and no, we did not live on a farm.
But I was active in 4-H and had friends who did have little farms and so aside from a baby goat who lived in my bedroom closet for a month or two, the farm-loving animals lived with friends and/or were boarded.
I was so excited to finally be getting a dog as an adult — one I could train and show in obedience. As I waited for Emma to be old enough to bring home, I interviewed the local dog trainers, mooned over puppy toys at the pet supply stores, studied dog food — you get the idea.
I was smitten by everything DOG.
My dream was coming true.
And then Emma arrived — and it was even more wonderful than I imagined. I got a dog — and an entire Berner community.
One thing I did when Emma was still young was drive to a dog show to watch obedience. I had never actually seen an obedience show and it seemed like a good thing to do before Emma and I started showing.
It was transformative and impacts my training even today.
I watched a Berner shown in Novice. That dog heeled slowly and sadly, as if it expected to be beaten at any moment. There was no joy, no fun, no engagement. It was painful to even watch.
I made a commitment to never show a dog that looked like that — ever.
I did that whole attitude thing right with Emma and continue to do it right with the dogs who have followed.
Attitude is everything.
When you begin training animals — or attempting to train — at a very young age, you make a lot of mistakes — I have absolutely made my share. I try not to beat myself up for the mistakes of the ill-equipped Young Me.
But a “young” trainer is not always a child — sometimes an adult is a “young” trainer in terms of experience, number of dogs trained, etc. That young trainer will also make mistakes.
There is no shame in being a “young” trainer or making mistakes — not at all. The shame is Hubris — in failing to acknowledge our relative training “youth” and the need to mature, develop, and grow in knowledge and skills.
At least children tend to know that they have more to learn before they are “expert” — well, until they are teenagers.
I wish more adults who fancy themselves as trainers of dogs and humans had the humility and openness of a child. But to do that — to have the openness of a child — takes a certain strength of character because humility can be so threatening to our sense of self.
But isn’t the reality for all of us that we are human, make mistakes, and need to learn stuff? Always and about everything?
I think so.
I am a better dog trainer than I was at ten or in 1996 when Emma got that first BMDCA award. And by staying open, humble and flexible I hope to be even better when I am 92 and receive my last BMDCA award.