Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Herding and Letting Go...

Got the dogs (Klink, Lynn, Even and Spot :) on sheep...I needed it...
They needed it...
I love working sheep with the dogs. It's a place of teamwork I don't get in agility...
With all this talk about different training, etc etc etc....it's nice to just have a situation where I work WITH the dogs...their natural talents, what THEY want.
I don't care how you train your dogs...to be honest, I don't think twice about different methods or systems or whatever...whatever works for the dog is what I think should be used. Some dogs require more rules, some require less...
I, from a personal standpoint, like rules to be more like "guidelines"...I don't like a ton of structure, or "IT MUST BE DONE THIS WAY!!!"...I like a more "go with the flow" approach, constant change, adjustments, and rethinking.
It works well for me, I am very in the moment, very spontaneous, I like observing my dogs and asking WHY they are doing things...herding has taught me this. In herding....the dogs always have a REASON they are doing something...your job as a trainer is to get into that dogs head and figure out WHY.
It's not about making them right, but rather showing them what you want, and letting them FIGURE IT OUT...I love it. I forget sometimes how much I really love it...until I need that grounding it gives me...
And, unlike agility...it is bred into them...they teach ME so very much...
I like training like that...and for ME, that kind of flexibility really works for me. Structure makes me feel claustrophobic...I need the space to be able to do my own thing.
However, for others, structure is what they want, they want that predictability A + B = C
And that's just fine...for me, as long as it is clear to the dog, and the dog isn't being hurt, who really cares?
What I don't care for, in ANY instance...is a time line. Dogs should not be judged based on time to master things...time to teach things, time to get to becoming a trial dog. Times equal judging...
When trainers introduce time lines (2 months to a nursery dog--3 weeks to a running contact). It puts so much pressure on a trainer and dog. Trainers want to be able to meet those expectations, dogs that fall short of meeting these standards might be considered "faulty" or "not capable". To ME, time lines don't help dog training. They actually hinder it. I think each of us needs to put up ideas on time lines...just let our dogs progress into what they can be at THEIR rates. Not our predetermined time lines for what WE want. What WE need.
Dogs don't understand time lines. They don't get that they are 18 months but not ready to trial, they don't get that they are older than nursery age and are not fine tuned enough to trial.
Time lines lead to handlers competing with each other on ages of dogs and trialing. I really dislike seeing people put dogs in over their heads...dogs that according to skills and training shouldn't be trialing...the stress it creates, the frustration for the handlers, not to mention all the worry for the dogs. Makes me cringe honestly...I am probably accused of not trialing my dogs soon enough, or waiting too long to put them in harder classes, or on DAM teams etc etc. But I am very VERY VERY observant of my dogs, and what they are doing, how they are feeling and if they are overwhelmed.
I don't want my dogs overwhelmed. I want my dogs happy and enjoying the trial. I want my dogs to have the skills they need to handle things I put them in. And I want to know that I am 100% committed to helping them if they get in a situation where they are in over their heads.
Sometimes things don't go as planned...I understand that. But trialing dogs too early, well personally, I think it's a bad idea...
And NO...I am not saying if you are trialing a dog at the minimum age, you are evil, you are a bad trainer or anything like that...so chill out. There are many dogs that are trialing young that are JUST FINE. Case in point. Gator had his ADCH at 2.5 years old. He was a good boy, handled everything well. So no, I'm not grouping people together.... trust me ;-)
But rather just saying, time lines tend to make people into pressure cookers.
I think we need to enjoy the journey of training our dogs. I can say that the journey I took with Lynn on her running contacts was a journey I will NEVER EVER regret. She is really getting all the training, and I know watching her think, react, figure things out, has been a huge education in itself.
Dogs are never fully trained. I do believe this. Even Klink and Gator still work on things we need to get better at. Training is part of teamwork with our dogs. If we stop training, our dogs will not move forward, and neither will we.
I think patience is one of the BIGGEST virtue's a dog trainer can have. The patience to realize that things WILL happen, even if they are not happening at the time you wish. And that sometimes, letting things go, and not making a big deal out of things, is the best answer to a dogs problem.
We can't control EVERYTHING. It just isn't possible...focusing on what we can change is great, and letting the rest sort itself out.
I wish every person who trains dogs would have the chance to train a dog on stock (EDITED: Or whatever instincts their dogs have been bred to do!!)...The dogs, the sheep, it all shows you where your weaknesses are in the communication process with your dog. You learn to bend, you learn to adapt on the fly, you learn that REALLY...the dogs ARE ACTUALLY SMARTER about things, more so than we give them credit for.
We focus so much in the "sports" of training dogs about what WE teach THEM. And we really need to refocus on what THEY are teaching US.
Compromise...
Patience...
Unconditional Forgiveness...
Letting go of the bad...
Living in the moment...
How to communicate with a species that doesn't speak the same language...
Enjoying the journey of observation and education...
Every trainer I have admired and wanted to be like..they get this...
I really do think dogs are very intelligent, emotional creatures...and to understand each dog we train is VERY important.
They humble me...make me realize every, single day, that I have so much to learn...and my skills as a dog trainer are not what they need to be. I am always working on getting to that place where, I feel the dog and I can really communicate.
I do fall short...but I keep trying...because I love the journey.
I love my dogs...
And I owe them the 500% they always give me...
Forget the time lines...
Remember why you are training dogs in the first place...
Let go of the ego and pride...
And start communicating...

7 comments:

Monique said...

I love this.
Letting go is key.
Enjoy your journey.

Kathi said...

Excellent post and a great reminder for all handlers. Well done, and good luck in your continued journey!

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Aww, a sappy post! Great message :)

shawn said...

Great post. I've just started herding with Spree (we've only been about 6-7 times), but I'm really loving it. Partly because I grew up on a farm with livestock and it brings back good memories and partly because it's so fun to see Spree's instinct kick in and how she just 'knows' this is for her. Our trainer is trialing, so we won't get to herd again until March (and all his sheep have lambing like crazy). Sheepie withdrawal...
It's a different kind of connection that agility, isn't it? Both are partnerships, but different types of partnerships.

Catalina said...

Awww can you teach Tibby to herd? :) I love, love, love your pictures.

livin life said...

As always, you rock sista! However, I think Even still needs an airplane ride to auntie Lora's. If not Even, then Lynn. Three Jake daughters could be just right around here.....just sayin. BTW your girls are looking good! As Monique said...enjoy your journey!!!!

Barbara said...

Love this! Well said and I agree!

Barbara
(who can't get Open Id to work ;-)