I had a GREAT day yesterday at Posidog in Columbus Ohio.  They hosted a Cynosport Rally trial, actually 3 trials in one day.  I was in the ring with Zen and Star 16 times.  Yes 16!  Would have been 18 if I hadn’t gotten a speeding ticket on the way there.  Total speed trap.  Anyway, it was a nice, relaxed, enjoyable trial atmosphere.  Chad and Sarah are always great hosts.  And they each have a lovely young dog that we got to meet.  Kristen did a great job keeping things organized.  And Morgan kept us fed with vegan food, including vegan cinnamon rolls!  That was the first cinnamon roll I’ve had since becoming vegetarian.  It was so awesome!  So with all that, even if my dogs did horribly, it would have been an excellent day.  The speeding ticket was a small price to pay for such a great day.  The other price was being stiff and sore and very very tired.  But again, a small price.

But of course, this blog is really about dogs.  Zen and Star both did a very nice job.  Showing eight times in one day would be hard on most any dog.  But they were both rockstars!  

Zen is always ready.  No matter what, no matter when.  When we were in Virginia at Laurie Williams’ place we ended up in the ring doing rally at midnight.  And Zen was just as up and happy as when the day started.  He really is the energizer bunny of dogs.  Zen can barely contain his enthusiasm and excitement for working.  His attitude is always fantastic, but his accuracy can suffer for it.  It’s a struggle to keep him “contained” enough so that he is thinking clearly and not just reacting and overreacting.  

You can see in this video how hard he works to do exactly what I’m asking.  It’s a struggle for him.  More traditional trainers feel that Zen needs to be taught a lesson about control.  They would “crack down” on him to get more precision and less attitude.  I want both precision and great attitude, but if I have to sacrifice something, I want to preserve attitude at all costs.  That’s what makes Zen who he is and I have to work within that framework.  I have worked on impulse control with Zen his entire life, and I will continue to do so for the rest I’m sure.  He doesn’t need the enthusiasm taken out of him.  He needs continued lessons that show him that controlling himself leads to getting what he wants.  

Star, on the other hand, has totally different issues.  She is much more serious about her work, but she can also be more environmentally sensitive and reactive.  She gets worried and nervous rather easily.  So with Star, my job is to help her feel confident and happy.  That’s when she can do her best.  

Star needs to feel safe and secure, then she can let loose and focus on working.  My job is to keep her attitude up by being there for her.  She needs to know that I am confident and relaxed because she is very, very sensitive to my moods.  She takes a bad mood very personally.  Everything about the show environment needs to be good for her.  So, indirectly, the cinnamon rolls helped Star.  Because I was in such a good mood yesterday, she was as well.  She’s my little mirror.  

The day ended well.  Zen and Star each got 2 perfect scores of 210.  They each got four first places, two seconds, and two thirds.  All that was evenly matched so we calculated their average points for the day as a tiebreaker.  They were exactly the same (206.5)!  What are the odds of that?  Two dogs with totally different personalities.  Zen has more training and ring experience, but Star tends to be a bit more careful and precise.  They each blew a bonus exercise as well.  So they are equal in the outcome, but they are not even close to being the same.

In the online puppy class I’m teaching now (www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com) one of the main ideas I’m trying to convey to students is that you need to know your dog and tailor your training accordingly.  It’s important to be clear and honest in your assessment.  Yes, all puppies are wonderful, but they are not perfect.  They will have weaknesses.  Some will find impulse control exercises more difficult (Zen); while others will need to become more confident and outgoing (Star).  Neither one is better than the other; but they definitely need a different focus in training.  It’s fun to practice the stuff that your dog is already good at, or has a tendency to like.  But that typically doesn’t help them overcome their major challenges.  It’s hard to keep at exercises where you struggle, but that’s what it takes to improve.  

Zen and Star were trained using the same basic methodology (positive clicker) but their specific exercises and lessons needed to be tailored to what they needed.  The goal was not to change their basic personalities, that is not possible.  The goal was to help each one reach his and her potential as a companion and performance dog.  Treating them exactly the same way would not have been good for either one.  They need to be respected as the individuals they are.  

And that’s my goal in puppy class as well.  Sometimes people don’t want to see, or can’t see, their pup’s weaknesses as clearly as someone with an outside view.  That is probably something that takes lots of experience with lots of pups.   But telling someone their pup has a weak area isn’t a criticism, it’s an observation designed to help inform future training.  

I am preparing to teach Rally as an online class as well.  This is an exciting time to be a teacher.  I am LOVING the experience of online teaching!  As one of the other instructors said to me in discussing this “it’s what we do anyway”.  Meaning we enjoy spending time watching videos of dog training and talking about them.  We do that for fun, for free, all the time.  (Don’t tell Denise I said the “free” part!)  

It is amazing to me how effective online coaching can be.  It is also surprising to me how well I feel like I know all the teams in my class.  I get to see them change from one video to the next.  It’s a very gratifying feeling for an instructor to get such immediate feedback on how well you’re doing your job.  

So this has been a somewhat meandering blog, tied together only by the thoughts running through my head.  Today I’m feeling grateful for rally, cinnamon rolls, puppies, and online classes!