You can’t always get what you want
By Dave Pluth
The Rolling Stones probably said it best when it comes to dogs. You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you get what you need. Now I’ve never been much of a Stones fan but these words have rung true in training all of my dogs. Okay, I’m pretty sure the song wasn’t about dogs but it gets the point across.
Our first dog Maggie was a hard headed little girl. She was the dominant dog out of her litter. She was also the dominant dog in our household even when you added the humans into the equation.
Maggie taught us many things.
First, life is short. She died at just ten and half when she developed and incurable form of encephalitis. She also taught us that we had to be in charge of the house. When she died her housemates where thrown into a tizzy trying to figure out who was now in charge. This situation wouldn’t be rectified for almost four years when we started learning about the pack and how to be pack leaders.
Enter Charles. Charles was our second dog. He was a show dog, in fact he was a great show dog. He loved performing and particularly loved being with and around people. He was also a very gentle soul who could calm you down like no other dog after a bad day.
Charles taught us about energy. He had that “dog sense” about people and dogs that had issues. He taught us to recognize that bad energy and be very aware of it to avoid trouble. He was always willing to put himself into harm’s way to protect his pack. For a little guy he was a tough little fellow who enforced the rules in the house. Any dog that came in and went outside the rules had to deal with him.
Jessie was our “brown dog”. She taught us when to stop training and move on. We started working with Jessie in the field when she was eight. There were as many nights that she was out for ten minutes and back into the van because she was extremely naughty as there were nights where she found all of her birds and accomplished what we had set out to do. Jessie wouldn’t have made it had we continued training on those nights. She had a way to tweak you and really irritate you if you were doing something that she didn’t want you to do.
Jessie also taught us about heart. When she was fifteen and half she was still hunting productively with the young dogs. She had a dozen birds of her own that season. She didn’t run far or fast but she just kept moving no matter how bad it hurt or how wobbly she was. We had many discussions about leaving her home but once you saw her in the field you could only smile when you watched her quartering out in front of you. She didn’t have to retrieve anymore, she had minions for that, she just had to find them and move on to finding the next bird before she fell over.
Enter Sam. Sam came to us when Maggie was at the height of her sickness. Maggie was only with us for two months after Sam came but in that short amount of time she taught her a lot.
Sam had a very kind soul. She really didn’t want to hurt anyone or anything. She simply wanted to make people happy. Sam was first in a lot of things. She was our first shoot to retrieve dog, our first obedience dog and our first therapy dog. She was also our first show “washout”.
The biggest thing that Sam did was that she made me think. Weird statement, right? In the field Sam was not what you would call a “natural” in fact she wasn’t all that interested in birds when we started.
Our trainer told me on many occasions that I was wasting my time with her and that I should just move on. Sam pushed the trainer and I to figure out new ways of doing things to get her to do what we wanted. Sam could take any of the “old school” training methods (remember those brutal days?). She was a big sturdy dog that would just give you the “is that all you got” look and wander off to chase the next butterfly.
Sam became a great bird dog. She was never a great competitor nor was she a hunt all day kind of dog. In fact she struggled because she was a big framed girl whose body wouldn’t allow her to run correctly. This caused her to wear down very quickly which never really allowed her to compete at a high level.
So how could she be a great bird dog?
Sam had thousands of birds over her in training and in the field. She was comfortable in every situation because of the time and effort that we put in with her. Sam taught me how to train dogs and how much work training a dog was. She also helped teach our field trainer that there was a better way of training than the old school methods.
The results of all the work with Sam ended up with her being the trainer for future generations. She trained dozens of puppies and rescue dogs. She was a dog that was “cool with everyone”. I can count on one hand the dogs that she didn’t get along with. Watching her with other dogs was amazing.
Our next dog was Abby. Abby was a big running girl who wanted to do things her way. She taught me that she wasn’t Sam and that she wanted things her way. She also taught me about having a dog with tremendous natural ability and learning to hone the ability and not change it.
There were definitely some setbacks in Abby’s training while be butted heads but in the end we came to a compromise that helped both of us co-exist and again taught me a different training methodology.
Murphy taught us how important rules are. When we got Murphy we (Amy and I) had a disagreement over how he should be trained. After the struggles with Abby she wanted to cut Murphy some slack and let him kind of do his own thing to keep his run (field term for running way out and not worrying about anyone finding them) and independence. The first three years of his life in the field were basically just turning him loose in front of the four-wheeler and going like hell trying to keep up with him with the hopes that he would look back to see where we were. He never did. He just kept running.
After much discussion we came to an agreement that this wasn’t going to work out using Murphy’s rules and that we were going to have to start over again with him.
After a three week boot camp something amazing happened with him. He started looking over his shoulder for the first time in his life to see where his human’s where. It was the beginning of a great relationship.
We came to find out that Murphy (and most dogs) really liked having boundaries and rules (Cesar is right!). He was much more comfortable in his skin mainly because we were much happier being around him.
In the time since that boot camp Murphy has gone on to get several obedience titles and be ranked nationally in obedience. He is the “goto” hunting dog in the fall and he is now the demo dog at the obedience classes that I teach. People who see him “perform” want a dog just like him. His most impressive trick is actually that he will stay for 45 minutes during lecture night, for some reason that one is amazing to a class of beginner obedience students.
Finally we have Penny. Penny is the beneficiary of all the dogs that have come before. While her hunting drive isn’t high her desire to please is as high as Sam’s ever was. She will be a great obedience dog not because it’s in her blood but because of the dogs in the past that have taught her owners the right way of doing things.
Every dog you own has taught you something. Sometimes it’s good to take an inventory of those things. It makes you smile when you remember some things and makes you cringe when you think about others.
Every challenge that is presented to you in training (of any kind) is a challenge that will teach you something that will help you as a trainer in the future. What determines the outcome of these challenges is you not your dog. Jessie drove me nuts but she taught me that sometimes you can make things worse trying to push through rather than just stopping. I don’t think I realized it at the time but it is something that I use often particularly when working on utility exercises with Murphy.
I challenge everyone reading this to do that inventory of the dogs they have owned. Think about where you would be without them and what they gave you in return for what you gave them. The most difficult dogs have more to teach you than the easy ones!