Let your weakness be your strength Busting the myths 1
Publishing a series of 6 articles on Busting the myths, written for Clean Run, also here now:
I was actually asked to write a training article on running contacts or turns or something else my dogs are most famous for. But training articles are really not my thing, I have a personal problem with step by step instructions... I'm a very patient dog trainer, but I look like the most impatient person in the world if I need to read instructions. Yes, it makes me nervous and annoyed to read too detailed instructions even when it's about technical stuff - and even more when it comes to dogs. So I promise not to waste your time and not to give you any steps in this series of articles - just some food for thought.
What I love the most about dog training is that dogs don't come with instructions. They work, learn and function differently and require us to understand, see and feel them as individuals. There isn't one way that would work for all - I wouldn't be in dog training if there was... What I love the most about training dogs is that they all come with different challenges, strengths and weaknesses and that the most important part of dog training is to adjust to the dog you have and find what works best for your dog. You need to adjust the steps and even turn them completely around sometimes. Don't buy the "musts" and instead listen to your dog and do what you think it's best for that particular dog.
That was the first lesson I learned on dog training. I have no formal education on dog training, I actually studied philosophy and never read a book or watched a DVD on dog training, so steps and systems never set me limits. All I had was a dream, as a little child already. When I finally got my first dog, a wild Samoyed puppy, I was 11 years old and took him to a dog school... It was schutzhund class with 30 students, all men over 40 with their GSDs and Rottweilers - and me and my Samoyed. - A pretty easy situation to learn that their way won't get me anywhere and I need to think how to make my dog work with me on my own, without their choking and alpha wolf advices. - A bit harder when you are 11, it's a pre-internet era and everybody tells you you know nothing - and you know yourself you know nothing too. But knowing nothing makes learning something new extra easy. Knowing nothing gave me a much easier start as believing in myths would have. So I found a way to make that crazy Samoyed think obedience is fun, passed the exam with flying colors and learned a very important lesson: that there is something stronger as a choke collar and an alpha wolf - and it's called a team.
Finding a way to make obedience or agility the ultimate fun and something you both love is definitely the key to success. Dogs - and people - will always work best when they work because they love to, not because they're asked to or because they have to or because they're paid to do so. So don't ask your dog to work for you. Let them ask you to work with them. Help them see how much fun agility is and let them ask for more. My after-Samoyed dogs all love toys and food - but they love agility even more. I sure reward a lot, simply because I think they're pretty awesome and they deserve to know that, but they run for the love of running, not to get that toy or a treat. You can't take that toy or a treat to the ring - but you can always take the love for running: anytime, anywhere.
Love to run. Stronger as any toy or a treat.
My Samoyed was hard to motivate, would never tug and didn't fit into any other description of a good agility dog, but he taught me a ton on motivation and the importance of the bond. Then I got Lo, my first Pyrenean Shepherd - with tons of fears and phobias. - No motivation issues, but plenty of important lessons on trust and the importance to respect their fears and work around it, funding in trust rather as obsessing over their fears. My next dog was La - no motivational or fear issues and pretty much a perfect dog - if you don't count a complete lack of self-control as imperfection. - I don't, I think wild is pretty cool. But I knew we have no future with stopped contacts, so I adjusted to this small weakness of my perfect La and made it our biggest strength - running contacts. Yes, I thought of my famous running contacts just for La, my perfect little dog with no self-control. She of course also doesn't have start line stays - but I made something good out of that too, learned about the importance of verbal cues and clear handling and thanks to that, I can easily handle ANY beginning, starting together with the dog who set best time on World Championships 16 times - the record that will be hard to beat.
We might not have a start line stay... - But hey, we do have the attitude!
And when I really thought I learned enough lessons and can make it easy on myself this time and get a Border Collie - it turns out she is autistic and she won't play, follow or respond to a happy voice. She taught me everything about patience, adjusting and working around the weaknesses. Working through all the problems we have had made us a great team, excelling at World Championship level - not so long after being advised to get rid of her...
I guess that all the important lessons I learned, I learned thanks to problems, at points where following the instructions didn't take me anywhere.
I learned to see every problem as an opportunity to learn something new and I have to thank the weaknesses for all the strengths me and my dogs have as a team - speed and motivation, great bond, running contacts and great independence on cik&cap turns that are our strengths now all originate in that or another problem we encountered on the way. I'm not a perfect handler or a trainer, I know my weaknesses - and my dogs are not perfect either, I know their weaknesses really well. - And that's exactly what makes us a perfect team. So embrace your weaknesses - and make them your strength. Don't spend your time following steps on how to make a perfect dog out of your dog, spend your time getting to know your dog and thinking outside of the box to find the best way for your dog. - That is the best dog ever already, in that or another way - you just need to learn what makes him the greatest dog ever. The more challenges you will encounter, the more you will learn. I always say that in order to become a very good trainer, you need a very bad dog.
And lots of persistence of course. Don't believe in "can't" - because everything is possible - with enough enthusiasm, passion and a little bit of craziness. Trust me, I was told many times what can't be done - can't make a good agility dog out of that Samoyed, out of that scared Lo, out of that autistic Bu... - can't have consistent running contacts - can't succeed without a start line stay etc. - and it just gave me more motivation to do exactly that. 🙂 - To turn our weaknesses in our strengths.
Silvia! Wow… In a way I found your story very similar to mine!!
I started agility when I was 11.. with my first dog ever.. a Birttany Spaniel. I discovered agility when I accidentally found a tv program about agility competitions… and I fell in love with agility! So I decided to try with my Brittany! But my first agility experience wasn’t good at all. My Brittany (as any hunting dog), was much more interested in smelling the grass and chasing the birds around the agility field.. I was the only girl in the club.. they were all over 30… and I was the only one with a hunting dog! Everybody had border collies! So after one day of failure, trying to get my Brittany into a tunnel… they told me “dont waste your time on this dog… she is not good for agility… go and buy a Border Collie”.
Of course I never came back to that agility club, but I didn´t give up. I knew there must be a way to motivate my Brittany and make her fun to work with me!
With patiente, love, and persistence we become a strong team, and competed in highest agility level in my country, run many clean runs and also we competed in an international tournament. Of course we didn´t win, but, as you said… my goal was not winning an international championship. My goal was to keep her with me in the ring , both having FUN! so.. In that way.. I feelt like we WON.
She tought me SO MUCH … she is my biggest teacher!!! She is now 10 years old and still love to do agility as a hobby with lower jumps!
Very inspiring post Silvia! I just loved it!!! Congratulations for all your good work!!!!
Thanks- the rest of the article made sense and I loved it. I didn’t mean to say that winning was the important thing for me or even my goal. I was using that example to be as literal as possible as more than one dog setting a record is by definition a “can’t”.
I completely appreciate and enjoy my dog for who she is and what we can do right now, which means that everything isn’t possible… and that’s okay. I do believe in “can’t”. When she told me that she couldn’t do agility or freestyle anymore, I respected that.
My main point is that there’s a flipside to the “anything is possible” idea- if anything is possible and you haven’t achieved it, then it’s entirely your fault… for not trying hard enough, doing x, not doing y… not everything is possible for everyone and every dog, and that’s okay. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try things that people have told you aren’t possible, push limitations that you’ve given yourself or internalized… but maybe your dog is telling you that something isn’t possible, and that’s always something to listen to.
Right, but I never wanted to say every dog can win World Championships… But who cares about winning World Championships when everybody CAN learn, progress, push the limits and get the best out of every experience rather as focusing on irrelevant things like winning WC… If I had a student come to me with a goal to win World Championships, I would send him home.
But that means there IS a such thing as “can’t!”
I’m trying to say that not every dog can win World Championships, and that that’s completely fine. That sometimes can’t is real and there’s nothing wrong with it.
Just as a human being can’t grow wings and fly 🙂 BUT as I said, I was NOT talking about goals like winning WC and I don’t work with people who have goals like this. I only work with people who know what I’m talking about and who know there are more important things as that. And that once you CAN do what I’m talking about, winning WC or not is completely irrelevant and NOT the topic of my article at all 🙂 I only mentioned how many runs La won to make it clear she is not a slow dog 🙂 -- and I CAN still start with her 🙂
Hi Silvia, I love this article, I’m just reading again because Samba my border Collie is a great Dog but doesn’t have a start line, And I’m getting to nervous and doing the first part of the course too bad. So I decided always start with her. Do You think that is posible? I need a online class
To learn how to do it 🙂 Can You give us any advice? Thanks
Of course it’s possible 🙂 Just make sure you have all the other skills covered (independent turns, weaves and contacts, come to hand, understanding of handling of behind too etc.) as you won’t be able to help much on 1st few obstacles. Alternatively, you can teach her to back up before a release to break the anticipation -- it made wonders to Le’s stays!