Saturday, August 6, 2011

Funny what a challenging dog can teach you . . .

Jazz with her Nylabone
All my training clients are going to love me after this event.  Not because I think I'm going to win and take home the title of winner.  I'm fairly certain that isn't going to happen for me and Jazz after our experience today.  However, Jazzie-girl is teaching me a lot about myself and the challenges dogs endure.  Which in turn are challenges my clients endure when they have a challenging dog themselves.  Not that I never knew that many of my clients have some challenges, but this particular dog is showing me just what a challenge can do to you, the caretaker of the dog.

My own dogs are pretty great dogs.  I don't have any horrible challenges that I face.  I've also never owned a dog that came with baggage.  And I recall my beloved, late mentor, Lee Mannix saying to me--"Stacy get a dog that's hard, that's a challenge.  Don't go get a puppy that's a clean slate.  Once you successfully train a challenging dog you'll be the best dog trainer in world . . . "   And although I always knew he was right, I couldn't ever bring myself to go get a challenging dog and do that.  Too comfortable with my lovely pooches at home. . . .  

And so this is the story of Jazz, my new guiding star . . .

I took Jazz out today for the first time outside of our house.  Things went horrible.  She's terrified of the outside, even  more terrified of the car and forget Petsmart.  She completely shut down.  For a trainer, you know what this means.  For anyone else wondering it's basically where the dog is so over-stressed that it does nothing for anything.  As a trainer well-versed in doggie behavior I also know this means a long road ahead.  Fear is very difficult to overcome, and usually time is your only friend.  It's just a real tricky thing to deal with in training and it has many factors that come into play . . . .

Jazz playing tug
I had chopped up ham in my pouch and although, because I could read her like a book, I knew she wasn't going to take any food I did offer her some to "see if".  Upon offering the yummy ham she did this: sniff, head turn, heavy panting--that's a dog saying, help, I'm freaked out.  I knew this was going to happen after watching her body language.  Sigh.  We bought the dog food I came in for and left.

Poor girl was basically in the shelter her whole life, all (about) 10 months of it.  Damaged dogs can teach you a lot.  A lot about people.  A lot about how to be patient.  A lot about what to do when time isn't on your side. . . .

However, today I really was able to stop and go through a lot of things in my head.  I have 6 weeks now to get this dog to where she'll go into a huge arena (at this point that is out of the question!) and perform.  I was going through all these thoughts in my head and then I realized I wasn't too incredibly worried.  Not this time . . .

When I joined the Extreme Mutt Makeover in 2009 my thoughts were to get my dog trained to be the best dog out there. Win!  Of course we did nothing of the sort. "Harry" was entertaining as he darted away to a member of the crowd and completely ignored me during our huge performance.  The crowed laughed and roared.  While I laughed and smiled, inside I was horrified.  What a terrible trainer I am, how embarrassing . . . and on and on my head went spinning. 
"Harry" the mutt

However, I learned that I wasn't having fun and I didn't allow Harry to just have fun.  If I hadn't had so much competition fever in me then my training would have showed it.  Harry was rather intelligent and he was very easy to teach new things to.  He also really wasn't fearful of anything, at least not enough to make any difference.  So I could have very easily won that competition last year.  

This year I questioned doing this event because I didn't have time or I recall all the stress I put myself through with Harry.  My husband even said, "No, you're not doing it again.  Do you not remember all the stress you endured and the many days of tears?"  But this time I thought more about it.  

Jazz in the shelter
I don't care if I win.  Heck, I don't even care if we can't get out there to perform!  I just want this remarkable dog to be given a chance, show the world that any dog can be trained and brought a long way from where they started.  I just want to show myself that a challenge doesn't have to endure so much stress that you lose sight of what you're doing.  Take a challenge and go with it.  Just break it down.  Take it one step at a time.  Let Jazz tell you when she's ready and move forward.  Rushing things never works.  Nothing ever good comes of it and it only leads to thoughts in your head, "I should'a. . . If only . . . . . ."

I'm learning and hoping that Lee Mannix can see me.  I hope he is able to be proud as I've finally been able to take his advice and see what a joy it is to have this giant learning journey ahead of me . . . because I can see that at the end I'm going to be better for it.


  1. tears in my eyes........the journey is the destination....i bet you two will make it! Jazz caught my eye fromthe first post.
    Don't know if you ever got to see me getting Jasper to walk on the slick flooring in the Cowboy Lodge....;-/
    We do learn the most from those ones that really need a voice and to be 'heard'.

  2. As a training just starting out, this post was great. Thank you. Good luck with Jazz. I love reading all of the progress reports.