A Lesson in Adaptability

October 18, 2013 at 2:08 am 6 comments

Hello there agility fans! I’ve just arrived in Vancouver to teach a 3 day seminar and as always am very excited to work with different people and their dogs.

I’ve already had some great agility conversations within hours of arriving,and one comment has really stuck in my mind. As usual, I was talking about the differences between my dogs, and I was complimented on my tendency to work with them instead of trying to make them adapt to my particular training style.

This made me think for a moment.

How many of us are trying to push the proverbial boulder uphill when we could go downhill instead?

Now I’m not talking about giving up all sense of teamwork and letting your dog do whatever they want, but through my recent dogs I’ve found adaptability is a powerful tool.

When I got my sheltie Dice, I knew that I had to be creative when dealing with her fears. I didn’t want to see her stressed or “make” her deal with things. The most reinforcing thing for me was my dog to be excited and happy to play with me. I could have tried to fit her into the mould of training that had worked for me in the past, but it left both of us frustrated. Instead I decided to experiment and find the ways that she and I could both have fun. As many of you know, despite being labelled by some as a “shut down” dog she is a highly successful agility competitor.

So with my next dog (my border collie Heist) I figured I was unstoppable. I mean if I could bring out the best in Dice then surely this drivey little border collie puppy would be a breeze. Hmm…well I may have gotten a bit of a reality check on that one! As it turns out, he had his own ideas of just how things should be done. It took me quite some time to recognize that I was fighting to make him conform to my ideas and it simply wasn’t working. I then started to experiment with different handling and training. I accepted that it worked best for us both if I didn’t try to obsess on small details but instead focused on our connection. With this mindset change, we connected as a team and I love running him!

So my question is, are you trying to force your dog to fit into a mould that your perception has created? Are you trying to cram them into that ideal regardless of their true personality?

I truly believe there is no “right” way to do things…there’s simply effective and ineffective. And what might be effective for one dog/handler team may not be for another.

It’s up to you to accept your dog for who they are and find how your training or handling can work for you both. Don’t fall into the same trap that I did in feeling like your way is the ONLY way to do things. Often what works for one style of dog or handler will not work for another.

If the connection is there, then great! You have an amazing agility partnership. But if it’s not, and part of this blog has resonated with you in some way, then embrace the lesson of adaptability. Accept the lessons that your dog can teach you and begin your path to a compromise in which you both can be happy.

In the end I feel that I may not have gotten the dogs I initially WANTED to have…but I’ve definitely gotten the dogs I’ve NEEDED to have.

For those of you who have submitted questions, I will still be answering them…just got a little sidetracked for the moment so thought I’d share what’s on my mind!

Until next time,

Happy Training!

Jess Martin

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Debbie Dust  |  October 18, 2013 at 10:49 am

    It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve been confident enough in my training to know that some things won’t work for my more sensitive dog. I’m still experimenting to find out what WILL work to get him excited but we’ll get there.

  • 2. Lynn Cuthbert  |  October 18, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Very well said……….there has been nothing but adaptability with Kane. Because of his physical limitations with IBD I have had to rely on just our relationship for a year. I think it was really good for both of us. I have never learned so much about so many things!!!

  • 3. Candace  |  October 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    very well said Jessica! You make is sound so simple and it is, with a mind shift! now to strive to become more adaptable! Thanks for sharing!!

  • 4. agiledogtraining  |  October 21, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Dogs are great teachers, we just need to open our eyes to the lessons 🙂

  • 5. A Host Of Dog Training lessons | Jack The Dog Trainer  |  November 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    […] A Lesson in Adaptability | Agile Dog Training […]

  • 6. Melissa  |  January 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Yep. I definitely spent way too much time trying to get my “sensitive” dog to be a ferocious tugger… I desperately wanted her to play rough with me, like my other Toller because he’s SO easy to motivate. But she just wants to chase her tennis ball. I even took her ball away for MONTHS. What a waste! as a first agility dog, she has and will teach me a LOT. she’s gone from a dog who wouldn’t come out of her crate at class, to turning a corner and actually starting to “like” agility.


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