I often lament about my inability to create solid foundation behaviors for my dogs when it comes to dog sports. I’m constantly regretting the time I didn’t put into focus or engagement. How I jumped from step 1 to step 6 without spending any time in between. How I notice where the holes are in our competitions due to my lack of proper training.
Thing is, though, I do put in some pretty solid foundations. Just not the ones we typically think of. Yes, training heel position is important if you actually want to use it. If you don’t put in the work, it’s going to fall apart in the ring. You can’t just rely on “my dog likes to be near me and follow me around” to get heeling in the ring. So training proper foundations for the required behaviors IS important. But there is a building block that is even more critical: Relationship.
Regardless of whether you’ve actively trained one, you do have a relationship with your dog. It might be good, bad, or neutral but it’s there. Risa and I had a pretty good relationship. It wasn’t perfect and we definitely had some bumps in the road on our journey together. Certainly didn’t help that, in my ignorance, I destroyed her trust in me right off the bat. I spent a long time rebuilding it after that unfortunate error. Competing with her was a challenge but our strong relationship made it possible. Even if she wasn’t quite as well-prepared, I had that trust and connection to fall back on. Even when I messed things up and put her in over her head, she was still able to work because of the bond between us. (I still tried my best to not put her in those types of situations, though!)
My relationship with Kyu is very different than my one with Risa yet no less strong. I’m a very different person (and dog trainer) now than I was when I adopted Risa. And Kyu came with very little baggage since he was only 10 weeks old when he joined my family and had a far better upbringing than Miss Ri did. I knew from the start I wanted to develop a strong, play-based relationship with him. It’s so easy to play with puppies; it was not hard to create. I’ve also been able to maintain it. He absolutely loves to play with me. The strong relationship I have with him has come in handy when, again, I have put my dog in a situation he’s not quite able to handle. (I’m still learning what he needs though, thankfully, my “can’t do this” moments with him have not been as catastrophic as the ones with Risa. It helps to have a stable, confident dog!) Our trialing successes this year were built on the relationship we have together getting us through it. Not proper training!
While I think about what we need to work on once our training hiatus ends, I still have to remember that I’m not starting from scratch. That I have a solid foundation to build those skills upon. I guess I haven’t completely messed up our foundation training after all. 🙂