Friday, April 27, 2012

Traditional Obedience, A New Venture

(Puppy Kash playing with his tug)

I'll be honest. Traditional Obedience, as it is called in relation to its newer cousin, Rally Obedience, has never been my cup of tea. It's not the level of training required, I love training and I love training precision skills. I love spending time working together towards a common goal with my dogs. The thing that has always made me look the other way is that when watching it, it has always looked so....dry.  Cold.  And in some ways, militaristic. And that's not me. I like upbeat, excitement, mutual interaction (versus "do it because I say so").

And, if I can be entirely honest, growing up, I've watched quite a few obedience trials while hanging out around the conformation rings, and the training methods often....left something to be desired. Choke chains, physical corrections, ear pinches to get a dog to retrieve. Just not my thing. Thankfully, training methods are changing to a more humane, dog-friendly way of getting desired behaviour from your dog. Although to be honest there is still quite a lot of correction-based training in my local obedience ring - I think that is what continues to drive me away, as I hate watching dogs being jerked around by their necks, or have to wear a special training collar to perform, and some downright unhappy dogs. But times are changing, albeit slowly.

The reason I HAVE decided to venture into this sport is three-fold:
1) As much as I'm sure I question it at times, I feel the need as a trainer to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk! I've said time and again, and I know it is true, that you do not have to hurt or intimidate your dogs to be a successful competitor. I know it's true because I see my colleagues doing it, and read about it often. But at the same time, I feel a niggling urge to actually get out there with my own dog and demonstrate that fact.  Also, there's that little part of me that loves to say "Hmmm....another challenge for my terriers and I?"  I'm a sucker for seeing non-traditional breeds excel in more traditional sports.  But the fact remains - it's easy to complain about the less-than-stellar training methods that still occupy that sport, but in order to see change - sometimes you have to contribute to make change, instead of sitting back and waiting.
2) We have limited options here for competition.  Now I know, I have my hands full enough by doing Rally and Agility, but sometimes I get a craving for something different. This definitely fulfills "different". Disc dog is becoming more popular, and I'm thinking of getting Kash's RPT (Retrieval Proficiency Test), and eventually branching into that, but he has to become able to catch the frisbee mid-air to make progress beyond the RPT. He's not there yet. Agility, and everything else besides the Obedience sports, takes you out of province, and let's face it - running a business takes time. Competing out of province takes time (and money). There's only so much time, and I don't have a lot of extra to spread around! So keeping things local allows me to do a little more.

3) Finally, and perhaps one of the most important - Kash LOVES to work! Sure, he's young, and gets distracted from time to time, but he's so comical, and engaging, and he learns. so. fast. I just love working with him, as it's not even work, it's more like learning through play.  He can turn anything into play. Chasing me. Playing pushing games. Making a toy out of anything - seriously.  You can go somewhere without toys, and quickly find something that will qualify! He just has such a joie de vivre, I so want to show him off!  He's really the first dog I've considered entering into traditional obedience. So that's the angle I'm approaching this with - making what feels like "dry" exercises into extensions of play. Mixing the two so it's hard to tell the difference between them! Obviously at some point we'll have to formalize it, such that it's clear for the dog just what each exercise entails, but it doesn't mean that we have to do boring drilling to get there!

(Kash found a child's rake laying in the grass. Makes a good toy!)

So, there you have it, we're going to try it out!  Maybe I'll love it, maybe I won't. But I won't know until I try.

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