Reflecting on Our Bond
Why am I really doing this? And what’s in it for my dog?

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With this issue dedicated to active and fit dogs, I thought I’d talk about my recent experience trialing in competition obedience with Nejra. It’s hard for me to be in places like these and not look at (and dare I say, evaluate) the relationships between the competitors and their dogs. Sometimes, I see a strong human-dog team, both in it with equal enjoyment and partnership. But more often, I see a different picture and I can’t help but wonder, why are we all really doing this? And have we taken a moment to consider what’s in it for our dogs? 

Why are we really doing this?

Looking around, I noted handlers that were clearly bonded to their dogs, their dogs strong and steady enough to sustain an environment like this and perform. And I also saw dogs handled mechanically and going through the motions, without much human connection. Inside the arena, some dogs lagged and hesitated while others overshot and barked, both varieties met with frustration, irritation, and raised voices by their handlers.

Us sporty types need to take a moment and reflect on why we’re doing this. I feel many believe that sport is the only way to truly fulfill dogs, especially dogs of particular working breeds. But it also strikes me that we pursue sport because we are hungry for a connection that we’re not always sure how to achieve. Reflect on why a sporting life with your dog appeals to you, the need it fulfills, and the feelings it produces. But equally so, reflect on the next question, and that’s what’s in it for your dog?

And what’s in it for our dogs?

When I posted about our experience at the trial, one of my seminar students commented how much she’d love to have her dog in an obedience ring. Meanwhile, she’d been struggling with aggression issues and lagging in fully addressing them. It made me wonder about our sense of priorities and what really matters to us and to our dogs – that they do well in the obedience ring or that they be stable? It is entirely possible to have both but stability (stage 1 of the Way of Life Method) needs to precede performance (stage 2 of the Way of Life Method). 

Therefore, reflect on what your pursuit of achievement in sport really means to your dog. Sure, dogs relish opportunities to be challenged and tested, and to partner with us in the process. But let’s not be too obsessed with points, ribbons, and rosettes or even by the nitty-gritties of our particular disciplines because none of this really matters to our dogs. In my world and in our growing community, it is getting our dogs confident and happy that’s the true gold. If you’re familiar with the Way of Life Method, you know you need foundations of stability and strength to successfully take on the pressure of sport. In the process, you’ll discover that the satisfaction of achievement in sport is small potatoes next to the deep pride that comes with having raised a mentally healthy dog.

Where Nejra and I are concerned, we turned up at that trial with little time to practice so I went for the experience and with minimal expectations except that we have a good time. I was pleased with myself at how happy I was that we passed one out of three trials and only mildly disappointed that I’d flunked the other two. I was pleased to see Nejra take on this new environment and do well. I am pleased to see this same attitude growing in my sporty and competitive students – being clear each time about why they’re really doing their sport, what’s in it for them, and what’s really in it for their dogs. 

Nejra and I at the trial:

For a past blog where I touch on a similar issue:

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