Someone had to say it…. (take it with a grain of salt, just my opinion!)

April 6, 2011

I hate volunteering at trials, don’t get me wrong, I like to be helpful to the host club and I don’t mind keeping busy but if I have to sit through another class full of trotting, sniffing, stressed, confused dogs who clearly don’t want to be there in the first place I may just give PETA a call.   A little harsh, I know, but I can’t help but wonder why these dogs are not liking the game as much as their handlers who clearly enjoy the sport enough to pay the entry fee, or worse, get up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning.  When you think about it, it really does not make a whole lot of sense, dogs are meant to enjoy running fast, chasing prey, going over and through obstacles, natural or not.  Sure, certain breeds these genetic traits have been diluted more than others, but I don’t know of many dogs who don’t love ripping through the dog park or chasing rabbits through the forest, just ask half the agility dogs I watched this weekend…I’m sure that’s where they would rather be.  So my theory is that all dogs naturally love everything that is entailed in this game we play, but leave it up to the trainer, handler, owner to make too many of them flinch at the uttering of that god awful precursor to the beginning of their next work shift “break!”.

Now I know there are a few dogs out there that have a good excuse, maybe had a bad experience, maybe are physically in pain, maybe have “rescue issues” or maybe they are so overweight and out of shape that the task placed ahead of them just seems far too exhausting…I’m not talking about these dogs.   Before I blame the owner, trainer, handler, I blame the organization.  Who cares if the dog wants to be there or not if you achieve such almighty greatness as an ATCH or even more your gold or lifetime title.   Ever think about how much those titles are costing you?  I would think on average a lifetime title would cost nearly $7000.00 in entry fees, now that could buy your dog a pretty good time in treats, toys, even taking time off work to run at the park…and we wont even mention the money spent on classes, training time and seminars 🙂  So what’s the deal people?  Why does success need to be measured in this way?  I honestly believe our agility organizations are ruining would could have been great agility dogs and cause people to create dogs who are too careful to make error, afraid to run fast and have fun like they do at the park in fear of being punished or even just the sense of disappointing their team mate.  That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

So next comes the blame of the handler, trainer, owner.  I very strongly believe punishment is the root of all evil in all aspects of life…yes it works, I know, that’s why it’s so freakin evil.  Whether its yelling at the dog for a knocked bar, leaving the ring for missing a contact, putting your hands on your hips and heaving a sigh of disappointment when the dog goes to the wrong tunnel mouth when clearly your lack of communication or training was to blame.  “wong!”, “no!”, “I don’t think so!”, “knock it off!”, “I said target!”, “not again…” I can go on and on but really it just makes me want to run out there and give those handlers a taste of their own medicine, or should I say poison?  Suck it up people, take responsibility for your lack of communication in the relationship you share with this four legged animal, they don’t know any better, they are dogs.  Not sure what dogs ever did to deserve the treatment they endure, if I were a dog there would be no way in hell I would stay within that ring and put up with such nonsense, but alas they are dogs and they are under our control whether they like it or not.  Ok, I know I’m not making many friends here, that’s why I have dogs , they understand 🙂

So we have covered the system, we have blamed the punitive trainers, next on the list is definitely the “good dog trainers” aka the fun suckers.  Its all about timing, criteria, reinforcement, doing it the “right” way, control, control, control and worst of all…perfection :s  I’m not sure why it is that people with sniffy, distracted, reactive, hyper, out of control dogs need to learn to sit ringside and offer long drawn out minutes of eye contact and “handler focus”.  Click, treat, click, treat, click, treat….man its no wonder those dogs are looking for something more exciting to look at, I think I might rather eat horse shit or sniff butts.  It’s all about building a “working relationship” right?  Teach the dog to pay attention and show control, be responsible, never leave work, offer the rewards you give them, do what you say…sounds a lot like a day job to me.  Would you rather spend your free weekends with your boss or with your best friend?…I know you all answered the latter.  Agility should not be “work”, it should be exciting, it should be fun, it should be exhilarating.  So does your dog wanna be there or do they have to be there?  Rather than obsessing on focus and control why not give the dog a good reason to give you their undivided attention and actually enjoy playing, not working with you.  So lure, shape, capture, feed, tug, or praise, who really cares, from experience, motivation has  a lot less to do with “training behavior” and a lot more to do with “playing with your dog”.  Give those crazy, sniffy, reactive, fearful dogs something to do!  Play, tug, do tricks, chase, be chased, rather than fighting the distraction of the fast moving dogs or interesting smells, become the distraction that your dog cannot take their eyes off of.  Respect your dog, treat them fairly, learn to have fun and sincerely enjoy the time you spend together, this will be the start of a true relationship.  So find the joy in playing with your dog, making an idiot of yourself, being goofy, don’t worry so much about “doing it right” and let go of the reins a little bit.  Everyone will eventually know the feeling of losing your team mate, your friend, your partner, and what would you rather remember, the ribbons on the wall or the endless amounts of joy and good times you shared together?  And I am by no means saying you can’t have both, just talking priorities people!  So go play with your dogs and if you can’t learn to truly enjoy them then maybe you should just leave the job to the other dogs at the park.



12 Responses to “Someone had to say it…. (take it with a grain of salt, just my opinion!)”

  1. amanda said

    awesome post Justine, I do think people take agility too seriously. It is just a game we play with our dogs afterall!

  2. Susan W said

    I could not agreee more. That being said do you not think that people with all of the boarder collies out there, get the dog with the intent of agility ( for the ones in the sport). Perhaps too competitive or looking for the sucess from the puppy right from the start, rather than figuring out that the dog loves what he is doing and carrying on. Sadly when you look at the breeds of dogs involved – how many are border collies, how many are shelties? I believe it is the intent with the purchase of a puppy. That is not always bad, but are the people considering that perhaps the dog might not be suited to agility any may be happier doing something else? Lets face it not all dogs make great agility dogs, but if it is fun- most dogs can enjoy agility.

    I believe it totally lies with the trainer, the fun, the accepting of a dog being a dog, the love of your animal, the accepting that any of the problems you encounter usually come from you, being corrective in a positive way, learning how to motivate your dog, and all too often seeing people far too competitive take away the fun from the dog. Not only that, but how can that be fun for the handler.
    I think it needs to be fun,for the dog and the handler. If not why do it?

    We all want sucess for ourselves and our dogs, but really it is how we measure that sucess.Perhaps that is what gets in the way.

  3. Roxanne said

    Well said! I knew you were my instuctor for a reason!!!!

  4. Hildi Steuart said

    Justine, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for putting your thoughts out there in the world. It needed to be said.

  5. Donna said

    I totally agree with this blog! I happed to read this as it was posted on the Actionrats group board. I run one of the “non traditional” dogs in agility, a rat terrier. He is what I call an ultra “soft” dog. If I were to use the tactics I’ve seen some “professional” handlers use, he would always be looking for the first way out of the ring. The absolute worst advice I ever got was from a “world team” member whom I was taking lessons from. My dog had begun a behavior where he would run up to the table, stop and look at me just long enough to gain the refusal from the judge, THEN he would jump on the table. This trainer insisted that I pick him up and carry him out of the ring the next time he did that! Being new to the sport, I blindly did what she recommended, and it totally DEVASTATED my poor guy! It took me almost a year of retraining and fun runs to help him regain his confidence on the table. He has since earned two Machs, a NATCH, Vers-Natch, and a UACHX. Had I continued to listen to this “world team” trainer, he would have become a total paranoid basket case using her “methods”. Listen to your dogs…they will tell you quickly what works and what doesn’t.

  6. […] Someone had to say it…. (take it with a grain of salt, just my … Give those crazy sniffy, reactive, fearful dogs something to do! Play, tug do tricks, chase, be chased, rather than fighting the distraction of the fast moving dogs or interesting smells, become the distraction that your dog cannot . […]

  7. […] andra länken som Åsa lade ut är till Justine Davenport, som även hon hade en hel del tänkvärda ord. GillaBli först att gilla denna […]

  8. angela said

    HI Justine, how does one subscribe to your blog? I have my own blog and I don’t know how lol!

  9. fdnj said

    Thanks, it’s usefully

  10. Kiersten Lloyd said

    Hey Justine, While I totally agree with your post we must be careful not to encourage people to judge other peoples experience. Not all handlers have the years of training, understanding and competence that you and I have had. We are all moving through a learning process. Yep, I see stuff where I would love to smack the owner, especially as a judge there are times when a handler carries a dog off I want to yell “Hey that was your fault”. But I have also been in the situation where I have had a crazy run around dog and I have had sniffy dogs. All of these dogs have been in a learning process too and they have all come through and moved on to understand the game and run agility with the joy and abandon that you refer to.

    As you know my Labradors are the loves of my life and my bestest!! friends ever. I have learned over the years to approach it all as a game and fun. But I have learned that over time. Lets try and understand that while there are those out there who choose to train with punitive mothods that we really do not agree with there are also those out there ( both dogs and handlers) that really are trying to do it right and that are on the path of learning the joy of the game. It takes time to learn to deal with the stress of the competition ring again for both dog and handler.
    So lets give the teams who are honestly trying to do it right a break and attempt to help them see the joy of the game rather than just judge them. My opinion as a friend who has been around too long.

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