I’ve come to the conclusion that I have very similar feelings about competitive obedience as I do about beauty pageants. It’s not that the women in the competition are not beautiful or clever or don’t look stunning in a bathing suit wearing heels. That they can walk so elegantly in those heels has always been a source of envy to me. That they have the nerve to parade in front of cameras and crowds in a bathing suit is another. But who decided that the beauty exemplified by these women was the standard I should be striving for?

I am not finding fault with people who choose to do competitive obedience with their dogs, so don’t get your knickers in a twist. It’s fantastic to set your sights on training your dog with specific criteria in mind, and then taking it on the road and see how you’ve done. However it often seems that this is the only meaningful standard that some will acknowledge as proof positive of a trainer’s and dog’s skill. When I watch competitions I see joyous dogs, their tails wagging, big smiles, waiting for the next cue, and I see dogs that I want to snatch and trade their stilettos for sneakers and the ball gown for jeans.

Here’s my fearful dog Sunny. He’ll never have any titles but he’s got the crown bestowed by the judges of my heart.

25 comments so far

  1. Penny Ronning on

    Amen, Sister!

  2. Ann M. McHugh on

    Very cute and I, who does competitive obedience, rally, and conformation totally agree with you! There are some dogs handled so roughly that the handlers have been reported to AKC. Perfect score just aren’t that important to me -asking a dog that I house, and feed, and love, and treat, and play with and love etc to do a few things because I’ve trained them to do them doesn’t seem to me to be asking too much. Especially if the training is done with love, treats, and fun. Tinkerbelle that I’ve written about will never “do obedience”, but I don’t love her any less. I have taught her basic house manners and I believe she really enjoyed the time spent one on one with me and loves to show off what she knows.
    I guess it is just my nature to need a goal like an obedience trial to be consistent in time spent training, esp with so many demands on free time. Also I have found that a “trained dog” can be alot more fun to live with – they have a “job” that can keep them out of mischief. I’ll never have a perfectly trained dog, but when I take the trained, non-fearful ones, to the vet he tells me they are a joy to examin and have in the office. Also to participate in Therapy work a certain degree of obedience is required.

    I think I’ll teach Tinkerbelle the paw crossing trick too -she loves to showoff – more since she has become more comfortable here which has only taken not-quite 6 yrs!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Perfectly trained. Interesting concept actually. My mother never quite succeeded with me either ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • KellyK on

        I think the only perfectly trained dogs come from the toy department. Not only can they hold a sit-stay forever, but their exercise and grooming needs are also minimal. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. donnaandthedogs on

    What an adorable trick. Very cute!

    I’m another one who competes, in Rally, and hopefully one day in Nosework as well. But I do it to go out and have a fun day with my dogs. When it stops being fun, I’m out!

    I totally agree with you on how some people believe that ribbons are a measure of a trainers worth. I used to belong to a dog forum, and when I commented about how some of these forceful methods used on dogs were unfair to the dogs – particularly when done only to earn a ribbon – I was constantly shot down because I didn’t have any OB titles on my own dogs.

    When I said I wasn’t interested in that particular sport, (too militaristic for my taste), they out and out told me that if I wanted people to listen to my advice, I HAD to compete. Really? Instead of competing in the sports that I actually find fun, I should enter myself and my dog in a competition that you feel is the end all of dog sports, just to prove something to you? No thank you.

    • fearfuldogs on

      My dogs would probably enjoy the practice necessary for competing. Maybe some day if I have only one dog who’s into it we’ll do something. I like the idea of freestyle.

      • donnaandthedogs on

        Yeah, dogs and owners always look they are having fun in freestyle. I’d love to try dock diving too, if I ever have a swimmer of course. My current three would not be too keen on the idea, even my Lab isn’t a water boy. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • KellyK on

      I think it’s silly to measure a trainer by ribbons, because I think a good trainer will work with the dog they have to do things that are fun for them and the dog both. Our first obedience trainer stopped doing Search & Rescue with her dog Sadie because, as she put it, Sadie decided she was done. That actually makes me *more* willing to have her teach me how to train my dog, not less, because I know she can respect a dog’s limits. (And boy does Diamond have limits, some of which we’re still figuring out.)

      I also don’t think you need to excel at a sport to be qualified to make ethical judgments about that sport (like your comment about the methods being too harsh). Like, if I see a football player kick another in the groin, I’m pretty sure I’m qualified to say that that was uncalled for, without having played football. If you know anything about dogs, you can tell whether a dog seems to be having fun or seems to be miserable.

  4. Sweetpea on

    From me too, AMEN to that!

    Cross ’em…what a great “task.” I have a new dog (from rescue) and she does not (and I repeat, NOT) like her feet touched. But she is very intelligent & does seem to love to learn, so I am wondering if clicker training her to do this behavior might help take the edge off her extreme paw sensitivity? Worth a try, I think! Would you mind sharing with me how you got Sunny to first cross a paw to begin with? Quinn certainly wouldn’t let me lift her paw at this juncture…

    Thank you in advance,

    • fearfuldogs on

      I used a clicker to shape the paw cross. Sunny is a paw crosser when relaxed so it was pretty easy to start getting the crossing behavior. I think that Emily of Kikopup on youtube has a paw crossing video.She uses a target for the dog’s paw, moving the target to get the cross.

      Shaping is a fun way to do stuff with a dog who likes to train. I watch my dogs and see what they tend to do and then work to put it on cue or turn it into another behavior. For example getting a dog to target something with their front paws can lead up to getting them to stand with their front paws on a chair or ball.

      Laura of Canines in Action has one of my favorite videos of getting dogs comfortable with having their toe nails clipped, i.e., paw handling. It’s called Tucker’s Nail Trim and you can find it on youtube.

      Clickers can be used to teach any behavior and behaviors are just behaviors, as they say. So whether a dog is crossing their paw or putting it in your hand to be touched, they’re both just behaviors. The trick is to break it down into slices the dog can master, each building on the next.

  5. Kerry on

    You know what I don’t like about competitive obedience? It looks to me to be mostly about restraint. Not physical (hopefully) but just doggy restraint. I looked into the beginning course of apdt thinking it might be fun but it looked like lots of work (which I don’t mind) with minimal joy (which I do).

    I find agility fun but I know Huck could never compete and that’s a-ok with me. Some dogs speed up when they are nervous and some dogs slow down. He absolutely slows down and if he was in an arena and knew other dogs were nearby, he would be slowly walking the course as if on egg shells.

    Right now I’m working on trick training because for me it is the purest form. Delights me when he gets it; no frustration when he doesn’t. It’s the way I wish I could train everything and I try to remember how I laugh when he jumps through a hoop and inject at least some of that joy and reward when I ask him to lay down.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Nosework is another good sport for reactive dogs.

      • Kerry on

        I’m so intrigued by nosework. It looks fun and I like that you’re working with the natural instincts of the dog. It’s probably the closest thing I can train/play with Huck that he would want to do on his own.

        We have played around with it a little on our own – not discrimination just finding a food toy I’ve hidden. No one teaches a course in my area but I have a new training facility that just opened that says they will teach it in a few months. I’m definitely excited to try it. Judging strictly from his ability to find dropped treats, I think Huck probably has the worst natural instinct with his nose of any dog I’ve had… but maybe with training?

        He has just begun to try to scent out the toy he has to find and doesn’t rely exclusively on scent, so there is hope there.

  6. Ann M. McHugh on

    I lost my “heart dog” just a month ago and it still brings me to tears just thinking about her. However, she was a shy dog by hature -never abused, just genetically shy and noise sensitive. Of course I got her because I love the breed (Keeshonden), but because I wanted to do obedience trialing. She was doing well upto the first time she went into the conformation ring (part of the contract as she was the pick of the litter -a beautiful girl) and was attacked by a Shiba Inu just standing outside the ring minding our own business. Anyway, we eventually started food-reward obedience training and the difference in Andie was pretty amazing. She learned what I wanted very quickly, although it took her some time to feel comfortable doing the same rountine in public.Obedience training seemed to work wonders with her self-confidence. With her training she was able to become a first rate therapy dog and there must be something about the beautiful coats on Kees that make them irresistable to those with memory loss. Again, because she was trained to do certain activites she was comfortable. Obedience training was a very positive influence on her life and I miss her beyond words.She did love Rally more, I believe, because I could talk to her thru the whole thing.
    As for my comment “perfectly-trained” – I guess I was referring to a “200 dog” who NEVER makes a mistake in the show ring. I know of some and one who is punished for every error made. I have posted some of my obed trials on youtube and I can guarantee mine are NOT perfect, but you will see dogs loved and encouraged throughout the exercises(as permitted by the rules) and they are the first ones out the door when they see the training bag come out.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I actually feel guilty sometimes that I am not more into trialing with at least one of my dogs. I think my border collie Finn would love the effort (and amounts of cheese) needed to perfect behaviors for the ring.

      I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your dog. Our hearts are destined to be broken.

  7. Holly on

    I love working with my dogs. I love going out with my dogs. I don’t love the pressure of competing and when I discovered clicker training, I lost the *need* to prove myself to anyone. I have no idea why, but the pressure to perform faded in association with using a clicker. As I’ve gotten older, my desire that my dogs prove what a good trainer I am has slowly been disappearing as well. When I retire in a few years, I may take some agility classes just for the social outlet, but I will likely not ever step foot into a ring, even if I have a top notch dog. I’d be DQ’d in the OB ring as when my partner did something well, I’d have to stop and tell them so. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m the same way with my mares. I probably won’t ever show and have zero desire to make it to Worlds or Congress. In fact, it’s a bit baffling to me why so many people want what seems so artificial to me. If I did show, it would be locally and only because my friends were there and I’d want to hang with them. However, give me a trail, a horizon, and some good friends and I’ll be there!

    • fearfuldogs on

      As they say it takes all kinds to fill the freeways! Hopefully we’re all enjoying the ride.

  8. Ann M. McHugh on

    Keeshonden are VERY food motivated which could be why my “girls” love to practice(smile) As for obedience being restrictive -hmmm is self-control restrictive? We only go to local shows/trials or ones in conjunction with conformation shows which I really don’t like due to the politics. In obed if you train you get the green ribbon, if you don’t you don’t and sometimes the dogs get creative and you don’t get a ribbon. I guess you’d say I need the pressure of a trial to get off my butt and train so in that sense it works for me and my girls. It also serves to make sure all of them get some one/one time which is easy to miss with several dogs. I still get way too nervous going into the ring, but we have alot of fun training and learning and they all seem to learn a little differently which is fascinating. I just have to remember which one is in the ring with me-the quick one, the unsure one, the bullet-proof one or the “lazy” one -but I love’em all.

    • Kerry on

      I think self control and owner control are definitely restrictive, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I spend a lot of time proofing stay because I think it’s so useful. It’s just a question of where I want to spend my time training beyond the useful.

      I don’t know if you’ve ever tried trick training or something frivolous but what I love about is that it doesn’t matter. It’s truly about the journey not the end result and that just makes training more carefree. Try as I might, I just can’t get as delighted by a sit as I am by a dog jumping through a hoop. I strive to get my demeanor the same when I’m “obedience” training vs trick training and I’m closer but there is still a difference.

      From what I’ve seen, if you love it and teach it right AND your dog is at least neutral on the task, your dog can begin to love it. Whether that’s riding a skateboard or heeling at a trial, that really just depends on the owner.

  9. diana on

    debbie wrote: “When I watch competitions I see joyous dogs, their tails wagging, big smiles, waiting for the next cue, and I see dogs that I want to snatch and trade their stilettos for sneakers and the ball gown for jeans.”

    i went to my first (and very likely last) dog show in february this year. it was a large event with many venues. i saw very few joyous dogs. what i mostly saw were very stressed out dogs (both in and out of the rings) and oblivious humans accompanying them.
    i was too sad to even contemplate witnessing this again.
    thanks for sharing your thoughts about this.
    sunny is a winner for sure ๐Ÿ™‚

    • fearfuldogs on

      I know just what you mean! I go to one of those big events and end up preferring to spend more time with the vendors shopping for treats!

  10. Mel Freer on

    If I ever did compete Jasper in herding it would be for fun and not for some title. I love seeing him do what he was meant to do and enjoying himself.
    As far as Sunny goes, kudos! I am so impressed! Daisy will never compete in any contests, but she does know sit and down and stand and come.

    After watching Sunny I’m kind of feeling like maybe I didn’t do enough to make it more fun and help her learn more things. He looks so happy and smart Debbie. So awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • fearfuldogs on

      OMG Mel, I always feel guilty that I don’t do ‘enough’ with my dogs. I have a border collie who would have left for me for sheep in a heartbeat. I have no doubt that Daisy has not suffered in her life with you.

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