Monday, January 4, 2010

What if the dog says no?

In the current issue of the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) Chronicle of the Dog magazine, renowned trainer and animal advocate Sue Sternberg contends that most dogs really don't like being in dog parks and would benefit greatly from becoming involved in organized dog sports such as agility, rally obedience, tracking, and dog-powered activities (e.g. weight-pulling). I almost completely agree with her.

Unfortunately, Allie doesn't -- at least the part about dog sports.

Allie's been exposed to doggie day cares, dog parks and dog sports. She appeared to enjoy the first two activities when she was younger, but as she's matured she repeatedly expresses a preference for the company of humans over the company of canines. And since she's no longer a rowdy puppy who keeps me from getting any work done, I don't need to take her to day care, and I'm glad not to have to run her over to the dog park. Plus, like Sternberg, I've got some substantial concerns about the way many people supervise their dogs (or, more accurately, fail to supervise their dogs) when they're at the dog park.

But Allie doesn't seem to like dog sports any more than she likes dog parks and day cares. We've tried several such activities: agility, rally obedience, competitive obedience. Although she proved physically adept at these activities, she didn't seem to really enjoy learning about them. After she'd take her turn performing in class, she'd bark at me and just generally act up. I'd be so busy trying to keep her attention and keep her from disturbing the other students that half the time I missed what the instructor was saying. Eventually, I concluded that this wasn't for her and I gave up. But every now and then I feel guilty: here is this gorgeous Golden with a pedigree full of dogs that have not only conformation but also performance titles and the best I could do with Allie was to help her earn a CGC.

The attitudes of some trainers don't help ease such guilt, either. Prime example: a few months ago, I heard a trainer say with more than a little derision that people who don't engage in organized activities with their dogs "aren't as committed to their dogs" as those who do. Because I was a guest at the event where this remark was made, I kept my mouth shut. But I've been more than a little annoyed about it ever since.

Fortunately, though, I've recently read a rash of articles and blog posts that help me feel better about my decision to respect Allie's role in deciding whether we would pursue organized dog activities. I offer these missives now for your reading pleasure:

-- "A Decision That Two Must Make" by JoAnn Turnbull;

-- "The Right Stuff: Every Dog Has Her Place" by Patricia McConnell

-- My friend and colleague Roxanne Hawn's blog, Champion of My Heart, which is all about the adventures of Roxanne and her Border Collie, Lilly: a dog with not only talent that could enable her to excel in performance but also issues that prevent her from realizing her talent, but who is clearly also taking both herself and Roxanne on a journey that may prove far more satisfying in the long run.

To those who do compete successfully with their dogs, you have my admiration. But to my own Golden girl, who's currently snoozing under my desk, I offer my gratitude for being the dog I've needed, even though I didn't know that was the case.


Nell said...

Please, What is 'rally obedience'?

I live in UK with human family plus two wonderful,gorgeous, brilliant beautiful ( not that I'm biased) working sheepdogs and we have tried obedience - fun stuff OK but competion level hated by dogs and didn't do much for me either, some sent trialling not very successfully but we all love agility to an obsession although my younger dog would really rather just be a professional footballer as will play football all day if let!

Nell Derbyshire, UK

Susan said...

Rally obedience is a sport that's a lot less active than agility but a little more active (and, for many people and dogs, a lot more interesting)than competitive obedience. Basically, you and your dog negotiate a course with stations at which the dog must perform an exercise such lying down from a standing position, completing a figure 8 around the station, etc. In the United States, two organizations offer rally obedience: the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). The UK APDT offers it, too; more's here on this link:

Nell said...

Thank you - looks like fun and will follow up

Ark Lady said...

It is not the type of activity but the quality of that activity that is important.

For most people, walks and interactions with their pets is what occupies the animal and the human.

My dog loved training and the adventurous hikes for the smells and variety that new environments provided.

He also made lots of dog friends--who we visited.

Before dog parks were the rage, I moderated all group interactions at my puppy club and dog clubs--to avoid the "dog park gone wild" scene.

However, not all dogs like or need organized "sports"--it is a human label and human concept that it is necessary that gets people confused.

Quality, concentrated activity is hugely beneficial.

Most people think being in proximity of their animals in the home is enough--it isn't IMHO, however being in a regimented group situation isn't always the solution either.

Susan said...

Well said, Diana!

Anonymous said...

In the US, the United Kennel Club has recently begun rally trials, and soon, the Australian Shepherd Club of America will start their program.
In different areas of the country (notably northeast and midwest), other groups also offer rally competitions. Most (and soon, the AKC will be among those) allow dogs of unknown heritage (i.e. mixed breeds) to compete alongside the registered dogs. Several allow dogs with disabilities to compete, i.e. amputees, blind and/or deaf dogs, and those animals are granted waivers from some of the exercise requirements.
I love rally because my bond is strengthened with my dogs. My older dogs have been able to remain physically strong longer, even as seniors. I also have Labs, and mine have needed jobs to keep them happy and healthy. Sometimes their job is to keep my feet warm, or to bring happiness to children who are victims of domestic violence, or to coax words to the lips of long-silent Alzheimer's patients. My job is to keep their minds and body active. Sometimes, we rally, and I have never cared about titles or ribbons or placements. I care about having fun with my dogs, and hanging with like-minded folks. Rally has been good for us.
It's not for everybody, or every dog, as Susan so wisely has written.
Linda Rehkopf