Great Expectations

I love goals! They are road maps, helping us arrive at a planned destination. I seriously have a list of Dog Goals on my refrigerator.

Goal not met? So what?! Nobody takes away your birthday if a goal needs to be changed or adjusted.

Goal not met? So what?! Nobody takes away your birthday if a goal needs to be changed or adjusted.

But goals can be a double-edged sword.

Goals generate certain expectations of ourselves and others. For example, to meet my goal Sparkle is required to master the exercises in the utility class. It is not Sparkle’s idea to learn which glove to grab or which jump to take — that is my agenda, my expectation, my goal.

Humans have an unfortunate tendency to react with anger, disappointment, and/or frustration when we do not get what we want or think we deserve from others. Even if we mute our response, those reactions are emotional triggers to dogs.

It is the nature of dogs to be keenly aware and responsive to their humans, and a message that there is something not quite right won’t be missed.

But it is the nature of a human to experience a full range emotions — in fact, it is a Bad Sign if we cannot.

So how are we to manage this seeming conundrum in Life with Dogs — the human need to emote but in ways that do not negatively impact a dog’s performance?

Easy peasy — we change our thinking.

Thought Feeling.jpg

Thoughts are what trigger emotions, and unless you are being remote controlled by one of your electronic devices, you are in charge of what you think — and therefore, what you feel.

An emotional response to, '“Damn dog is blowing me off again” or “This is humiliating” will be very different from thinking, “How can I better support her understanding of my expectation?” or “I love this dog so much!”

This where the assumption of good intentions leap into the conversation.

Unless you are Miss Polly Perfect, it is much more likely that your dog’s so-called failure to meet your expectations is due to YOU. She wasn’t trained well enough for the conditions, you are being a Hot Freaky Mess, your cues got all stiff and weird in the ring, and so on.

If we assume good intentions of the dog — that she is doing her very best with the information and training we have provided — it is hard to be frustrated and disappointed with said dog.

However, we must be careful not to transfer the negativity to ourselves. Holding the dog blameless while mentally beating ourselves up for being an imperfect human being keeps the bad vibes in the training relationship.

FYI: An imperfect human being is the only kind there is. Are you a robot?!

You, the imperfect human being, are doing your best. Assume good intentions of yourself — your dog already does.

When we remove all that negativity in our thinking — about the dog and/or ourselves — we transform our training.

I have the ability to manage my thinking — and therefore feelings — around goals and expectations but even more, I have Perspective — and that is the real secret to keeping Life with Dogs infused with joy even when we miss our mark.

Oh Zoey — how I wish I could have one more hour with you.

Zoey Dec 16.jpg

And because she knew that she was nothing but pure joy to me, she would choose to spend that hour training — and it would look like this:

Grand Champion. Utility Dog. Multiple High in Trial Dog. Tracking Dog Excellent. Draft Dog. Brace Draft Dog. Excellent Agility titles. Versatility Dog Excellent. Working Dog Excellent. Versatile Companion Dog 3. Top Producer. Heart Dog. #noregrets

Grand Champion. Utility Dog. Multiple High in Trial Dog. Tracking Dog Excellent. Draft Dog. Brace Draft Dog. Excellent Agility titles. Versatility Dog Excellent. Working Dog Excellent. Versatile Companion Dog 3. Top Producer. Heart Dog. #noregrets

Dream your big dreams, and have those great expectations. But just know that a dog’s life is short — do you really want to waste one second of it on frustration, anger, and/or disappointment?

I don’t.

Observations About Handling

It is true that even unfortunate events can be transformed into learning experiences — such was the case with the recent Missoula show.

Since I missed the closing date none of my dogs were entered.

Sigh.

Therefore, I spent four days as a Ring Steward for different judges.

I decided to spend the time — in addition to the usual stewarding duties — focused on the handling of dogs. Specifically, I studied good and bad handlers, and tried to discern whether I thought there was evidence of bias against owner-handlers.

I concluded there was no evidence to suspect bias against owner-handlers. However, bad handling was most definitely associated with “losing” and yes, most of the bad handlers were NOT the professionals.

I have thought about how to say this kindly and what I have decided is to use the Juniors Handlers as a way to explain.

Almost every Junior Handler was poised, well-dressed, and quiet in their ring demeanor. They typically moved dogs with grace, followed instructions, and reflected a respectful countenance in the ring.

I watched the Juniors and my response was WOW.

I watched a lot of Owner-Handlers and my response was more along the lines of …

Oh dear.jpg

I have heard many of my owner-handler community suggest that judges should be able to find the good dog in spite of less-than-optimal handling.

Nope.

Bad handling is like putting flashing neon arrows over all the dog’s faults, while also making it hard to see the positive traits.

I tried to mentally send messages to my fellow owner-handlers but to no avail — rear toes stayed pointing like east-west directionals on a compass, dogs did the entire down and back while pacing, toplines looked like ski slopes, and most everyone needs to review how to show the bite.

I could seriously go on and on. It was quite educational.

I think many of us in the owner-handler community lack critical self-awareness — about our limitations as handlers, and about the limitations of our dogs. Hubris is the real enemy of success.

One is certainly free to rail against my conclusions and rant that it is all political and yada yada yada — personally, I will just keep trying to be better.

…and the training means human and dog…

…and the training means human and dog…

Listening to the Nature of a Dog

Something I think is important to say about performance events with dogs is that it is okay to have individualized goals. In fact, we should have individualized goals because we are different people with different dogs and different circumstances.

Harper is a perfectly acceptable obedience dog but she is not a high scoring, precise obedience dog — it is not in her nature.

Harper on a wait.jpg

And I am a fan of listening to the nature of a dog, appreciating and honoring what she brings to the table.

LOVE this photo.

LOVE this photo.

Therefore, Harper will finish up a git ‘er done CD (the novice level obedience title) and be done with obedience. Her Super Power is tracking.

On the other hand, the Specialty revealed that Claire’s Super Power actually is obedience.

No hair, No problem.

No hair, No problem.

Assessment skills are a pretty important part of Life with Dogs. But an unprepared dog who did not actually know to sit on the finish (minus 2.5 points) and still scored a 196 (out of 200), placing second in a class of 50+ dogs is not exactly a subtle indication of potential.

Note extra cute collar, which is easier to see given that Claire had no coat to cover it up.

Note extra cute collar, which is easier to see given that Claire had no coat to cover it up.

In order to maximize that potential, Claire will not show in obedience again until Spring 2020. Different dog, different goals.

Claire with attention.jpg

Instead, we will train and train and in the process, have an awful lot of fun together.

Claire jumping obedience.jpg

Because if it isn’t fun — for both of us — why do it?