Dog Sports Should Be About The Dogs
Rio is my awesome boy. He does everything that I ask him to do and he really tries to do it with a smile, whether or not he really likes it. He has competed in rally-o and is actually pretty good at it. He earned his RL1 title in three “trials” (over a day and a half) and earned it with an award of excellence. Before our first rally trial he had done absolutely zero rally (Shayne had at least walked through a course before)–not even a walk through. Even with no experience he scored pretty well, 197, 203, and 207 if I remember correctly (with each run he got better and better).
Even though he showed he could do it and he could do it well, I didn’t have him signed up for the rally trial this past weekend. It’s not because he couldn’t do it but because he really didn’t love it. He was doing it because I asked him to do it, not because he was really enjoying the game OR really enjoying working with me. I’m not sure Shayne loves doing rally but I know she loves working with me and she’d do darned well anything if it meant working with me. Rio can’t yet overlook the task itself for the joy of working (he’s not as drivey as Shayne in that respect).
I watched video from his first rally trial and decided that I wasn’t going to make him do something that he did not find lots of joy in doing. It’s no fun making him do something that he doesn’t want to do even if he is good at it and could easily title in and get lots of pretty ribbons in.
The dog sport experiences should be more about the dog having a good time bonding with the handler, practicing an enjoyable skill set, and having a shared positive experience with the handler than about ribbons, titles, and placements. None of those things are bad and they are representations of the shared journey but they should not be put before the desires of the dog or the relationship with the dog.
If the dog looks like he would rather have his left front paw gnawed off by an angry caterpillar, I’d really like the handler to recognize that maybe that dog sport is not right for them. If you are having to drag your dog around the rally course (or walk SUPER SLOW to prevent tight leashes), if you have to bribe your dog to run the agility course by having super special treats, have to ‘fight’ to keep your dog on the frisbee fields, or what not, maybe you should re-think the activity.
It really does hurt my heart watching a dog sluggishly walk through an agility course, scratching, yawning and lip licking as the handler desperately tries to get them to hurry up. Dog sports should be fun for the person and they should be fun for the dogs. If I’m not doing it for me then why the heck am I doing it (I know I certainly don’t walk around a rally course for my own benefit, proving to the spectators that I can read and follow directions–well, mostly follow directions)? If I’m doing it for the dog, shouldn’t the dog be enjoying the experience?
Some dogs like the training, enjoy the classes, and have fun practicing but do not like trials. Perhaps they do not feel comfortable in the busy environment and it’s causing them an increase of stress (which we all know can result in a decrease in reliability). Maybe the dog doesn’t handle the stress the handler is feeling very well–or maybe they do not respond well to the pressure the handler is putting on them. There are many reason a dog may like an activity but NOT like trialing in that activity. For me, I would really have to question my own motives if I were competing with a dog who was clearly not enjoying the experience.
I really am a firm believer that if your dog doesn’t look forward to working in the dog sport (going to class or going in the ring for competition) that maybe the handler should find another activity for the pup. Maybe she loves Rally class but doesn’t love competing–that’s okay, go to rally class, maybe even fun matches but don’t worry about competing.
It’s not worth damaging your relationship with your dog by forcing them to train/compete in an activity they don’t like just to win a few ribbons or earn some letters after your dog’s name.