(This is a guest blog by Julie Bacon)
There’s a popular quote: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” That was us, me and my Bernese Mountain Dog, Karma, when it came to having a solid stay in obedience. We practiced, yet still couldn’t manage to successfully hold our stays in the ring. Clearly, something had to change.
A companion becomes a partner
Karma is my first “competition” dog, and when he came into my life as a puppy 5 years ago I couldn’t have foreseen that we would be trialing successfully in obedience, rally, drafting, agility and (a little) herding. Yet my “pet” evolved quickly into a “performance” dog and with that came expectations and goals.
Some of those goals included getting advanced obedience titles and we hit a wall when working towards our CDX title, specifically the portion having to do with out-of-sight stays. We practiced, we tried different methods and took in all the advice but Karma would not just move out of position, he would leave the ring to find me. Once he jumped out of the ring to meet me at the door. Once he nearly ran down a steward who later told me she thought better of blocking his path. Usually he just met me at the gate.
To say I was frustrated is an understatement.
At the time, just before Kathy and I began working on this issue, I would have said I could define those 5 “C” words and that Karma and I were connected. Looking back, I was wrong, of course.
Yes, Karma and I had a fabulous connection in terms of unconditional love and a desire to work with one another. But to put the 5 Cs to work meant looking hard into the mirror and asking myself: Did I really have clarity, communication, competence, commitment and coaching? Actually, I had pieces – so that was a start. But each competency had to be developed and practiced. And here’s where I would add a sixth C: Consistency! Being committed to creating a connected relationship is one thing, being consistent about it takes real self-awareness of each moment.
Yup, it’s work. I mean, the most rewarding kind, but work nonetheless.
Training is NOT compartmentalized
While I applied this methodology to all of my training situations, the way it manifested in working on our stays was a long process. One of the best things someone told me was, “Whatever problem you’re having in the ring, is happening somewhere else, you’re just not seeing it.”
That was a big ah-ha moment for me as I had always compartmentalized the different aspects of our life together: daily walks were separate from working a front cross in agility; hikes in the woods were not the same as pulling a cart; swimming in the lake couldn’t have anything to do with getting a reliable stay.
I feel like we are truly partners and I now know that if he’s not “getting it” then I need to go check my C’s.
Sure, you can “sneak in” training moments when having fun, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about building that connection. We worked – and still work – the 5 Cs to develop a partnership, and for us, this huge aspect of mutual respect that now is a cornerstone of our relationship be it in the ring or in the woods. As a result, I feel like we are truly partners and I know if he’s not “getting it” then I need to go check my Cs – including my sixth one, consistency.
Julie Bacon lives in northern Virginia with her two Bernese Mountain Dogs, Karma and Indie, who compete in obedience, rally, agility, draft and herding.
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