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The sport of dog training

People who do not know better talk about agility as a sport only for dogs, like the dogs run and work alone, like they magically do all these advanced behaviors without any input. Even friends and family seem amused (at best) at our continual pursuit of canine learning. At our peak, we took three classes a week (one obedience, one rally, one agility). I call them all “puppy class” as a recognizable phrase for Lilly, and maybe that’s where I go wrong.

I’d venture to guess that 99% of dogs that do attend some sort of class at some point stop going after puppyhood. I’m pretty sure most dog owners consider basic obedience the end all and be all of training.

The flip side of that are pals whose dogs have played on agility equipment once or twice, then they talk about how good their dogs are at “agility.” Uhm, yeah. Sorry. Not the same thing.

Pardon the rant.

Before Lilly, I too thought just a little training early on would suffice, but now I know better. Thanks to her, I see it as a nearly lifelong pursuit of mental stimulation, exercise and socialization. Without it, I’m sure she’d be completely mental.

As Helen Phillips, an experienced handler here in CO, puts it in her email signature, “No dog comes out of the package bored; he only gets that way when his handler takes some of the fun out of life!”

Currently, Lilly and I train at least a little each day at home. We make at least one or two public outings per week so that she can practice being brave in new situations. And, we take one drop-in advanced class on either Wednesday or Sunday. (I hope to add agility classes back in soon.)

Public pressure made me feel a little odd, a little obsessed until I read the following in Patricia McConnell’s “For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend”:

“… if your dog’s emotions are causing behavioral problems, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. Even the best tennis player in the world has a coach, and dog training is a sport as much as anything else.” (page xv)

And

“The biggest difference between dog lovers and professional dog trainers is that the pros know exactly what their bodies are doing when they’re working with a dog, so they don’t confuse their dogs with random and inconsistent movements. That’s why I think of dog training as a science, a sport, and an art – and it’s the sport part that everyone can learn if they are willing to practice a little bit.” (page 97)

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.