Me and my crazy little Sam.
Back a couple of years when I first started training Samurai in agility, I had a chance to train with Daisy Peel. She was going to do a seminar at a dog training club in my area and I had been counting the days for weeks.
I had been lucky enough to be in the Finals ring with my 4" Papillon, Taylor, that spring, and I had been just a stone's throw away when she threw in that astounding front cross to win the 26" class with her amazing Solar.
And though I literally counted the days, when that actual day did come, I was suddenly struck down by a horrible flu, smack in the middle of the first seminar.
I was so sick, I was stuck in bed, near-delirious with a 102 degree fever for the second day of the seminar.
But by Monday, when Samurai was scheduled for an hour private lesson. I crawled out of the covers determined that I would make it. Bleary-minded and still weak, I showed up at the appointed time.
We started right in working on running dogwalk contacts and Daisy did not disappoint. She was thoughtful and precise, offering many helpful comments.
But before long, Samurai grew tired of running planks and started getting cranky and impatient. I was starting to lose him.
So Daisy suggested we do something else. And as I waited for that "something", Samurai wandered out of the ring. Then, he went into the kitchen, and after that, he explored the bathroom.
"Don't you know my dog is a lunatic?"
Too tired and sick to argue I watched this go on for quite awhile, then asked: "Don't you want me to call him?'
No, Daisy answered. "Let him do what he wants."
"What?" my fuzzy brain answered. "You can't be serious. Don't you know my dog is a lunatic? That I've spent months teaching him to focus for even an instant? And now I'm supposed to let him just run loose?"
As Samurai took a U-turn to check out the trash, I got up the energy to ask what I'd been thinking. But Daisy calmly said,"No, just wait for him. Sometimes when I do this, I just pull a chair to the middle of the ring."
And as she said it, she pulled two chairs into the ring. And sat.
After awhile, Samurai, apparently bored of his explorations, came flying back, taking a jump for kicks.
Patience pays off in fire and focus.
Daisy was away from her own dogs at that time, and probably ready for a little fun. She seemed a charmed by my red-haired little hellion.
Sam sensed it and began to offer more behaviors. Soon he was acting as if he must surely be the smartest and most charming Papillon in the world.
To be honest, it was the happiest I'd ever seen him while working. I think he would have actually jumped in Daisy's bag at that moment and flown with her back to Washington.
Something had definitely happened in that room and it took me a long time and a lot of working in empty rooms to figure out exactly what.
Samurai was a very reactive puppy: Fussy, hard to calm and easily set off by the mildest stimuli. I'd devoted a lot of time and energy on Control Unleashed type training. It was all positive, but it was all centered around"control". That's what I honestly thought Samurai needed.
He did need to learn self-control. But he also needed something else.
He needed me to be open to him. To be a leader, but to also be a listener. To be the guide, but also to give. The poet Khalil Gibran said:
"Stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”Much has been said about the need for connection in agility dog training. Much of time and talk has been devoted to the idea of working as a team, with dog and handler working almost as a single-minded entity.
But it's important to remember that as devoted as they may be, our dogs are separate beings from ourselves. No matter how well trained, they will have their own view, their own perspective, their own emotional response to any given situation.
In honor and respect
We cannot forget that. We must honor, respect and find joy in a dog's endless ability to be uniquely and utterly itself.
To realize, allow and accept this fact in total is to open a font of positive energy that can be channeled to many things. It surpasses control because it is a response that is freely given and grown in an attitude of openness.
Note: This post is part of the Dog Agility Blog Action Day on "Attitude" sponsored by AgilityNerd, Steve Schwarz.