Every Friday my client brings her dog (for therapy) and her pig (well, just because he’s a pig) to Aqua Paws. We train him to do silly tricks. Sometimes he cooperates, sometimes he doesn’t, sometimes he’s brilliant, other times he blows us off. But no matter what he does, we ALL laugh. The entire time. To this day we laugh when he responds to “shake the bacon” and “give me some pork”. Simple tricks. Just a wave really. But two years have passed by and we still laugh. Sometimes he offers behaviors and makes up his own tricks. Regardless, we always laugh. Hysterically. Why?? I’ve asked that out loud. Why are we so incredibly entertained by a pig learning simple behaviors? His mom, who has ridden horses competitively for many years had the answer. “Because there is no pressure involved. We don’t care about the outcome.”
When my dogs perform “tricks” everyone think it’s cute and they laugh.
But as soon as we start training for “obedience” it all becomes serious. Obedience is a serious sport. It’s cut throat competitive. We can be embarrassed. We can fail. We can lose. We can disappoint others. Our dogs can “disappoint” us. We may not meet our goals. Every half point counts. So much can go wrong. This is IMPORTANT. Along the way we lose our ability to laugh. To relax. To enjoy the journey. To embrace the challenge. To appreciate what we have accomplished, to appreciate these amazing animals.
My dogs can do behavior chains that are incredibly complex. Long behavior chains. Doing behaviors that are not inherently self-rewarding (unless I make them so). Behaviors that require them to make decisions. A chain so long, that my dogs do not get a reward for 9 minutes. And they can do that 6 times over the course of three days. Sometimes more with run-offs. They can do it with accuracy. All while ignoring everything that is innate for a dog….sight, sound and smell. Ignore it all to do what I ask. So why don’t we think that’s amazing? I mean, it’s crazy really what we are asking these animals to do. And yet, they do it. Often in spite of us and our attempts to bridge the language barrier. So why don’t we laugh? Wow. To this day I’m amazed. I think about it all the time. When I’m training, when I’m trialing, when I’m thinking about training, and when I teach lessons. We need to remember that ALL the time. We need to put ourselves in our dogs’ paws. And we need to maintain perspective.
I love training. It’s fun! I laugh when I train. A lot. My training partner and I laugh all the time. We laugh when our dogs make mistakes. Yes, I swear, we do. Our dogs aren’t doing it on purpose. They are not being obstinate. They just made a mistake. We laugh and cheer and jump up and down when they do something good. Yes, we really do. Our dogs are our partners. Our buddies, our teammates. And we treat them as such. I truly believe that this is an important ingredient to creating a special relationship with each of our dogs.
Training should be fun. We need to maintain perspective.
If you’re not having fun training your dog, then get a pig. Because if training isn’t fun for you….It sure won’t be fun for your dog.