I have to write this blog post now while it is fresh in my mind, not after my relaxing two week vacation where the feeling I have now will have settled down.  This is a hard blog post to write, but I am going to do it anyway because it’s important to talk about.  I try hard to train without an ego, to always put my animals first.  I encourage people to listen to their dogs and consider their well being and to not push dogs into stressful situations before they are ready.  Today, I feel like I violated my own rule and I am hating myself for it.

My Chinese Crested Zen Django is a great dog.  He came to me very fearful and extremely noise phobic.  He has come so far.  So far that he is my canine freestyle partner.  He loves freestyle whether it is in our group class or just moving around our house to music.  He is good at it and enjoys it and we are a good team, at least we are when I am holding up my end of the deal.  I didn’t do that today and I let him down and let myself down.

We have been working on a freestyle routine for a while now.  Last year we submitted an “audition” which means that we aren’t ready to go for a score and title, just ready to get some feedback.  He has come very far though and shines in class so I decided it was time to submit an actual performance to the challenge.  We met my friend Christine at her training facility, which is where he takes classes, to record his routine.  I thought to myself, he is ready, he can do this, he knows the routine, loves the music, knows the facility, we are good.  Well, it didn’t go quite that way.

He did great a lot of the time and was his usual happy self, but not completely.  There were several things that “weirded” him out like just us being there, my friend recording, doing the routine in another part of the room, some noises outside, etc, etc.  We would get part of the way through and then he would start to slow down, disengage or just look like he wasn’t having fun.  We did it over and over, sometimes using treats and randomly stopping to play, etc.  It just wasn’t happening and I did what I hate other people for doing, I did what I hate witnessing and what I pride myself in being good at not doing generally…I got frustrated.  I didn’t yell at my dog or correct him or “do” anything to him, still, I let him down.  He is a very sensitive dog and for a dog like Django a simple eye roll, sigh or any sign of frustration from me is devastating for him.  I did all those things.  You might be thinking, for God’s sake, get over it, you didn’t do anything to him, but I did, I put MY needing to get this routine taped, MY need to enter the challenge, MY need to stroke my own ego ahead of my relationship with him and that is heartbreaking to me.  I love him so much and I got irritated with him for not being perfect, for needing more time, for needing me to understand.  Now, I sit here teary eyed when I think about it and the fact that I was not able to get myself and my emotions in check and that, for a moment, I behaved as if I care more about this stupid recording than I do him.  In short, I was an asshole to my dog.  To my sweet, perfect, loving little guy who would do anything in his power he could for me.  That’s just it, being perfect today was beyond his power and ability.  His emotions took over him just as mine took over me.

Worst case scenario in something like this is that we behave so horribly that we poison the activity with the dog because he learns that this thing we do together sometimes makes you mean to me.  Best case scenario is that he simply forgives me and moves on continuing to give me his best and accept my shortcomings.  I feel confident that we will be okay, but I will continue to feel bad about this for a while and I should.  I deserve it.  I wasn’t awful, but I was selfish and selfishness is not something that belongs in a team activity.  My goal moving forward is to continue to keep my focus on being a great partner to my dog, to accept our setbacks, to look at “issues” as a team issue and to remember that while our best isn’t always perfect, it is our best and that is more than good enough for me.


Vicki Ronchette is the founder of Show Dog Prep School and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Vicki has been working with dogs professionally for over 30 years as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, groomer and veterinary assistant. She is the author of Positive Training for Show Dogs, From Shy to Showy and Ready? Set. SHOW! Vicki presents workshops and seminars all over the country on how training show dogs.