The end justifies the means, or does it?

My dog Forbes and I are going to a tracking trial on Sunday. We had two attempts towards getting a Tracking Dog title last year, both failed. It would be nice to get that ribbon this time, no doubt about it. I have been trying to train systematically, in different places etc. but as it so often happens right before a trial, things start to go poorly: Forbes hasn’t been terribly motivated lately. This week I put him on a boot-camp program where he he has been fed only in the mornings when we track in an attempt to increase his drive towards working. Until last night, when I decided to screw it!

Last night Forbes kept staring at us when we were having our dinner because he is always hungriest at night. I was being really stern: no food for him. This is when my partner got very angry at me all of a sudden. “Are those stupid ribbons really so important to you that you let him go to bed hungry? Is that ribbon going to change the fact that you enjoy nice long walks with him and enjoy his company? Shouldn’t doing trials be a mutually fun thing, so what if he that day doesn’t want to do it? What are you afraid of, that people will laugh at you? Can’t you let him just grow and mature and then just try again? If it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, so what?! You tell me how much he loves tracking, isn’t that what matters, and not the result on one particular day?! Why are you doing this to him for your own selfish purposes?!” First I got all defensive, but then I almost started crying as I realized that he is absolutely right. I opened the fridge door and gave Forbes his beef bones that he deserves because he is my dog and I take very good care of him.

I have always been envious of people with dogs who are frantic about food 24/7 because I always keep thinking how motivated they are to work for trial performance. I think it is my destiny to never get that dog, which is why starving them has been my solution. And it still will be to some extent but I am not going get stressed about it anymore because I’m tired of doing this for my selfish purposes. If my dog doesn’t want to do obedience or tracking on a particular day because it happens to be “the magical trial day”, then screw it, we’ll try another day.

Why do we people get so obsessed about the ribbons? In my case realize I put extra pressure on myself because hey I’m a dog trainer my dog should be perfect, right? Is it also because I have an Aussie, and they are supposed to be successful working dogs? Can I not train my own dog? Is it because our breeder’s other dogs do so well? All of the above are dumb, selfish and unrealistic reasons. A couple of weeks ago when we went to a RallyO trial at The Poodle Farm, the organizer said in the beginning that absolutely no leash corrections, reprimands or other forms of punishment are allowed because after all it wasn’t your dog who mailed in the entry form. I absolutely loved that comment!

People who love dog sports get dogs from breeders and try and make sure that they have right breeding and temperament for their purposes. I am the same. But there are never guarantees, what if it doesn’t happen with my dog? It is good to put things into perspective what are the most valuable moments that I have with my dog? Walking on a trail in the woods enjoying the freshness of nature. Me sitting down on the ground and the way he comes and leans into me. Him putting his front paws on my shoulders for cuddles. Trying to get me to chase him when he has a toy. The extreme happiness he shows when I come home. They way grabs a piece of my clothing when I’m not at home and lays on it.  Laying on his back for belly rubs and giving his “naughty” face. Watching him roll in snow. Just observing how beautiful he is. These are the moments of happiness. We do ‘work’ together when we both feel like it and I’m going to be cool with that. I have a very good relationship with my dog, he is extremely attached to me and to me he is my everything. That’s what matters in life.

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Forbes photo by Sean Howard Photography.

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