Our Real Teachers Have Tails

Tricia Breen

I have been doing a little reflection lately. I have a client who keeps calling and asking me to meet with her. She has a great pup — smart, very interested student, wants to play the game, learns quickly. I fear it is again one of the mismatches that makes me so sad. The client seems to want to chat, walk, tell stories. This is an older person with a large breed, young pup, always cause for concern. I am continually trying to refocus her attention on the youngster wanting to learn more things. She has a gem in this dog, but I worry that the gem may find other avenues in which to challenge herself.

As I think about this, I think about my own focus on dogs. I have been thinking about the dog world and the enthusiasm that we all have for seminars, for more learning opportunities. We attend the weekend seminars, come away with all sorts of new enthusiasm that frequently lasts for about a week or so. We heard something that made us change our view because it came from an author with a reputation as guru. We haven't changed our view because we experienced it ourselves with a dog. Of course, the experience and teaching of others is always very valuable, and a great way to expand our knowledge, our thinking, our resources. But I wonder about the balance between this avenue and actually playing with dogs.

I think of my childhood with lots of kids, dogs, horses. I remember all of the amazing things we taught our dogs, I realize that it was us with our dogs. We weren't at computers, reading books, sitting in lecture halls for 8 hours. We observed our dogs, tried things, abandoned those that didn't achieve results, kept up with those that did. We actually learned from the dogs, the truest source of learning.

When we experience seminar-itis I think we can tend to confuse our dogs: They probably wish they could ask "Why are we doing this now when we were doing something else last week? Can we have some consistency please?" I remember when people were coming up with different ways to teach weave poles. Lots of switching around to the next new method. As it happens, most dogs can learn weave poles regardless of method. And this is true of most things, depending more on persistence, flexibility, willingness to ask the dog, work ethic, self confidence, native ability with regard to coordination and timing.

I think that our eyes and ears are sometimes removed from the 4 legged students we are working with, removed from asking them how they are doing, how they are learning. Instead we look to the newest guru on the block and ask them. I think it can come from a lack of confidence in oneself, in one's ability to choose a path, look for progress and trust that our dogs can learn from us, and us from them.

There are also those that are more creative than us, that come up with a solution that we hadn't thought of, so it is always a great idea to look to others when we get stuck on something. We all have the risk of being too close to a situation, getting caught in a rut. Fresh eyes and ideas can work wonders. I think the sharing of knowledge in the dog world is wonderful and amazing these days. I think it provides people with an opportunity to socialize and network with people with like interests. I think it is always great for us all to continue learning until we are on our death beds. I also think we have to find balance in who we are getting our experiences and lessons from. More often than not, the dogs are the real teachers, and we have to trust that they know what they are teaching. They might even tell us something that is counter to the latest 'thing' in the dog training world.

I always tell the human students I am teaching that they have to work out decisions between themselves and the dog at some point. I am not going to live with them. They need to think, need to make choices about what is best for their dog in a situation. Observe, observe, and observe some more. Then do.  They are to be commended for asking for help. That is why we are here. We can help them with so much. But they also have to learn how to see, how to make choices for their dog, how to think through problems.

I need to do the same! I think relying on lectures can slow us up. I think relying on the ones with tails and expressive ears can provide us with real progress. And we can always believe them.

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