sobota, 2 maja 2020

Caught between the extremes

In those uncertain times, one thing is still certain: whatever you're doing, someone knows you're doing it wrong and will comment on it in non-specific way on their social media, which is like the famous soapbox in Hyde Park nowadays.

We have those training fads as well. Like all those years ago we discovered clicker training in Poland and everybody was shaping and just being positive and clicker training zyliards of tricks and people were sharing new batch of tricks each month with their puppies and everybody went oooh, aaaah and there was this sort of competition who would teach the most tricks and the most creative ones. Then suddenly we discovered calming signals and that whole methodology and everybody was spying on "oh, but he licked his lips, he's clearly not comfortable in this situation" and taking part in communication classes and what not. Now it's fitness training and conditioning and half of the world is obsessed with dogs maintaining proper stance on two objects and there is this whole progression from stable objects to unstable ones etc. Me, I actually love all of it and learnt from each - I have this kind of mind that likes synthesis, so picks up bits and pieces and somehow joins them together (which is also what I'm doing here, it's not a detailed historical survey of training methods, just several examples that caught my attention at some point or other). On the other hand, my mind hates extremes and likes to look for the "middle ground" or "golden mean". 

What is kinda new is people actually bragging what their dogs cannot do yet ;). "My dog is fifteen months old and can only do a straight tunnel". "My dog is one year old and he cannot do ANYTHING, I just let him be a puppy". This is usually in response to someone posting a video of young dogs doing relatively advanced things... or sometimes not really, sometimes it's young dogs doing anything. Well, I find this peculiar.

It's a bit like saying "I want my children to have childhood, I don't teach them anything". Well, I don't think we should enroll babies in all possible classes, so they could play the piano, sew, cook and talk in three five different languages by the age of four, but if you're saying that, probably you're lying through your teeth, as most likely you taught them to use the toilet, dress themselves, say "thank you" and "please", eat soup with a spoon, look both ways before crossing the street and so on (or at least I really really hope so). Same goes for dogs, if you're against training on agility equipment before certain age, fine, but I certainly hope you're teaching your dog to come when called, play with you in different locations, walk on leash nicely, ignore distractions, maintain sit-stays, having their nails cut and so on and so on so why don't you brag about that? What I mean here is that I find it much more constructive to list what you can do with a puppy (and there is lots) rather than pointing fingers at someone doing it differently. I really like the idea of "follow my puppy's progress" kind of courses, where famous trainers show what they are doing and how and why, thus giving good example and ideas. 

Also, in the end, even if there is right and wrong way of doing things (which is generally a very complex subject), what someone else is doing is their responsibility and their decision. People are entitled to make mistakes and they can even, wait for it, make mistakes and NOT learn from them (that's idiotic, but it's their problem). And you might feel it's super unfair, but sometimes people make mistakes and get away with it ;). 

I always give example that Brava could weave as one year old - it's true. She was also running sequences at that time. When questioned about it, I also said that she was super easy to train and she learnt much faster than I expected (huh, I might be the first one to come up with "I just have a genius dog" explanation, do I get the credit for that?). That was also true, I didn't even have everyday access to equipment at that time (it was 40-60 minutes drive away and I had a toddler to take care of, so two or three times a week I actually got up at 5:40, left home at 6 am, got to the training place at 7 am, trained four dogs, including warm-up / cool-off and left at 8:15 at the latest to get back home by 9, when my husband had to leave for his work... so much for drilling and overtraining... and yes, I admire my own dedication from that period).

I didn't start teaching weaves that early with any of my "later" dogs - not because it hurt Brava - it didn't, she is still in great shape and was actively and successfully competing until almost 11 years old and now enjoys healthy and active retirement, but because since then, I've found things that I'd rather do at that time, and weaves are pretty easy to train anyway ;). There are also things that, unlike one year old Brava weaving, really make my skin crawl when I look at my old videos (like for goodness sake, I was running agility ON SNOW!) and that I wouldn't do today, because I know better. But I'm glad I was allowed to make my own mistakes. And I'm glad it was not discussed on FB at that time ;). 

What I'm saying is that: 
- you should do things your way, the one you feel comfortable with,
- you shouldn't do things you don't feel comfortable with (it's that simple: if you're against training equipment before one year old / before growth plates close / before you teach particular flatwork skill / etc., just don't do it),
- you should have some argumentation behind it (like why you're doing things in specific time, in specific order and in specific way), especially if you want people to follow your way,
- and that's it. What other people are doing with their own dogs (or children) is really their business, as long as it doesn't endanger you or your loved ones (hence my hope everybody teaches recall...). 


wtorek, 25 lutego 2020

Being an owner of a difficult dog sucks

Being an owner of a difficult dog is very taxing thing. Or to be more precise, being a RESPONSIBLE owner of a difficult dog (otherwise, you just don't care and let the world deal with your problematic dog). By difficult I mean dogs with behavioural issues such as fearfulness, aggression, anxiety, reactivity etc., not dogs that for one reason or another fail to fulfill their owners expectations of perfect show / sport dog. That's another story and I don't really want to discuss it now.

Being an owner of a difficult dog engages so much of your mental and psychological resources. 
You try to control the dog, so you need to be always vigilant and ever watchful. If your dog doesn't really like other dogs, you need to watch for all those fucking friendly golden retrievers, who are always off-leash with the owner hundreds of meters away yelling joyfully "he only wants to say 'hi'!", in order to distance yourself before your dog lunges, before you get into yet another verbal fight with the said owner after his stupidity caused you a major setback in your work with your reactive dog. You tend to walk in those abandoned places or in unearthly hours to avoid meeting anyone. The walks are hardly the fun they were supposed to be when you decided to get the dog in the first place. 

You try to control the environment, keeping your dog under threshold, which quite often is impossible, because well, the world is unpredictable and full of children on bikes, birds, dogs wanting to say 'hi', plastic bags flying over from nowhere and also, unfortunately, people deprived of even tiny shred of imagination and consideration. Seriously, you never notice that, until you have a difficult dog and then of course the weirdest things happen exactly when you are working with that one dog that might have problem with them. Like you know, of all of our dogs, Flaszek used to be the fearful one, and of course it was him I was running when some lady decided to shake off her blanket in the very precise moment when he was weaving two meters away from her etc. I mean Brego wouldn't even notice, so it didn't happen to him. 

You try not to lose hope, while at the same time progress might be unbelievably slow and more often than not it feels like you're taking one step forward and two steps back. 

You try not to blame yourself, but you do. After all, there must be a reason why other people have normal dogs, dogs that behave, dogs that don't bark their heads off when the agility judge pulls a hood over his head in the rain, dogs that don't vocalise when left alone in the appartment, dogs that never attack other dogs or people, dogs that are ok with being touched by strangers, dogs that are not resource guiding like maniacs and so on and so on.

You try to find help, while at the same time ignoring all the unsolicited advice of self-proclaimed experts, people telling you that you're doing it wrong, people telling you that you're not trying hard enough, that you are trying too hard, that it will never work, that it's not for you. People who offer you platitudes that everything will be fine, you're doing just great are also dangerous, as they either lie and badmouth you behind your back or don't really know what they are talking about. 


First of all, not all dogs are created equal. 

So no, it's not your fault. You were dealt a shitty hand. You were faced with a situation that you didn't sign up for. Did you make mistakes? For sure you did, but don't beat yourself about it. You were doing your best at that time, with the knowledge you had, with the abilities you had, you progressed by trial and error. Some mistakes can be repaired. Some can't. Could someone else do a better job with that dog? Perhaps. Would someone else give up long time ago or mess things up even further? For sure. 

Secondly, at the end of the day, there are only some things you MUST do. You must ensure safety and relative comfort of your dog, other dogs and people. This is your responsibility and your duty, especially if your dog is aggressive. 
But don't forget about yourself. As I said, taking care of a difficult dog is exhausting and stressful and prolonged stress is one of the leading causes of depression. Seek help for yourself if you begin to feel this is just too much. 

Otherwise, you don't have to do anything. You don't have to fix your dog. Sometimes it's not even possible. You don't have to explain yourself to anyone. You don't have to make a success story out of your difficult dog - you might manage to do so and it's great as it gives hope, but every great trainer has a story of failure as well.

I do feel that in the end you get rewarded for all that trouble one way or another. Maybe all your hard work pays off eventually. Maybe one day you realise how much you've learnt and that you have knowledge and experience you would have never gained otherwise. Maybe your difficult dog gets old, a little deaf, a little blind, a little less active, a lot less reactive and suddenly you enjoy peace and understanding in your relationship as you never knew before. Maybe one day you get another dog that is that easy-going soulmate you've been dreaming about all that time. But that doesn't change the fact that while it lasts, being an owner of a difficult dog sucks. Cut yourself some slack. Take care of yourself.

poniedziałek, 6 stycznia 2020

Back from B.A.C.K 2020

Today is the day almost everybody I know on FB writes "back from B.A.C.K." posts so I'm gonna join the crowd for once ;).

There is lots of things I loved about this competition, which I will list below, but I'm pretty sure from now on if I ever have agility nightmares it will be about 5 minutes long coursewalkings with yellow numbers on white background, standing on a yellowish sand in dimly lit hall at 8 o'clock in the morning.

I mean, seriously. 5 out of my 6 runs with Brego were on the ring with those numbers, 3 were early in the morning, I was in the first coursewalking group with no chance to watch the judge measuring the course or others coursewalk first and I lost like 2 minutes each time just trying to locate the numbers. I'm normally quite good at coursewalking, but this time it really felt as I had no time to think and test different solutions and then I was running as no. 9 which also gave me no time to watch the others and well, I made some stupid handling choices as a result, so I had just one clean run with Brego out of six, which is kinda disappointing, since he was awesome as usual. 

The things I loved though:

- the venue, as always, particularly because I could spend hours walking my dogs (yes, still obsessed with #longwalkshappydogs idea). I walked like 50 km in three days and even took some photos,

- some of the courses, which gave me lots of training ideas and made me super happy about our choice of judges for Silesian Open ;),

- salmiac vodka from Finland,

- watching some great runs from others,

- meeting friends with special mention to watching the finals with Carmen and Laura (you were great company :D),

- most of my runs, hahaha. Results wise it's not so impressive, since I didn't even qualify to the finals (combination of bad luck when Mojo knocked the wall in otherwise awesome agility run and stupid handler in jumping where I got totally lost on the course), but in general I'm super happy with my dogs and their skills (might consider introducing another verbal for the wall though, since knocking it seems to happen to Mojo now and then and we don't really train it often enough),

- Mojo won jumping 3 on Friday, getting us pretty cool prize, that is an sport dog evaluation with Dogs4Motion. I decided to take Pucek instead, since a/ Mojo tends to get really stressed by things like that, b/ I was worrying about Pucek's coordination and structure a bit (it got much better since he is with us, but I still wanted some tips). It was really good and thorough and actually seems like everything is fine and we're on right track with the things I've been doing with him, but still got some more exercises to work on.

- the "sometimes you win, sometimes you learn" aspect of the competition. This time it was more about learning than winning, but that usually pushes me to do better, so let it be :D. 

Another thing that I didn't like so much and you might hate me for that, was the fact that children automatically qualify to the final... First of all, with some notable exceptions, I'm not particularly fond of  very small children (I don't mean teenagers) competing in agility in the first place (long story, but MOST of them really can't handle properly and then get frustrated about losing pretty easily and then get angry at the dog etc.). Secondly, I really think - again with some notable exceptions, as Sun Zenner's run in the final was amazing and really gave me goosebumps - that MOST children are not ready to handle the attention and the pressure connected with running the finals and generally are not even ready to run at this level (I mean, if they were, they could just qualify according to the same rules as everybody else). So in the end we watched some performances... well, that I'd rather not watch, particularly in the finals. I don't think it's fair for both the dogs and the children and maybe it would be better idea to just give them special prize for their other runs to encourage them if you want to do so.

Anyway, mostly I'm full of plans and ideas and that's a good thing in the beginning of the year I guess.