“However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more’s the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.”
Herman Melville. Moby Dick:
That I should call myself a trainer is a claim worthy of an outright belly laugh, or should, at the very least, be capable of producing that all-knowing smile from the closest of friends. And, I pray, will be met with the same measure of grace that Ishmael suggests in “Moby Dick”.
It is a simple truth that children, and puppies, can grow and learn at an exponential rate when challenged, with guidance and fairness; and that, when we take advantage of this period in their young lives, bad habits can be avoided, a passion for lifelong learning can be instilled and relationships are defined. Sadly, these past several weeks I’ve put training on cruise control. Plenty of long walks and lots of fresh air; but I haven’t attempted to advance them in any way, providing very few challenges for them to work out and succeed at. The end result has been an alien sort of boredom. Not the ho-hum type, but they appear to have become content with the status quo. The same rips and runs in the same pastures. The same sights and scents in familiar woods and the same schedule which is keeping a tenuous hold on their obedience. Their passion for the woods grows and their dependence on me diminishes and, while this is not a bad thing necessarily, I run the risk of creating issues and stifling growth. I can hear the protests to what I’ve written already from a few mentors from my distant past, “if thar any good……..this won’t hurt’em”. “If it takes that much to motivate ‘em now, then chances r they won’t have it to bring to the table later”….etc…etc. But motivation isn’t what they lack and there is no limit on intellect ….so far. The problem is that relationship that I covet. If I’m not consistent here, I risk having to bring the hammer down at a later date to correct shortcoming that I have created. And this, when an encouraging voice and firm hand at this young age will provide a deeper foundation and fewer opportunities for “nagging’ in the future. Whether on the competition field, in the woods or just around the house, nothing pleases me more than when I see an owner and his or her dog engage at a level of intimacy and understanding that few realize. While there is real mystery here, what I suggest is not advanced calculus. Just blue collar day to day stuff.
I have been ignoring the simple lessons, the lessons that should be the three R’s of all training. Basics such as teaching and encouraging eye contact; obedience as yard work; getting them comfortable and calm on the table (grooming or force fetch bench) to do nails, give shots, teach stay, pull sand spurs and beggar lice (my Texas/Florida favorites); encouraging them to be calm and patient in the dog box (right now they get pretty impatient when I stop and they think they should be allowed out “Right Now”); and taking them out to the woods individually; and simply spending time with no expectations. (Not being the most patient individual here, a beer (or two) always accompanies us on the “no expectations” trips). Delmar Smith, in his book, referred to this as “Happy Timing”. All of the above to be combined with some early graduate work with a caged coon or two.
Mundane stuff? Maybe; but it can be the fundamentals and foundation for what the draft horse driver might call “being steady in all gears”.
I’ve challenged myself this year (a little head start on the resolutions) to read some of the selected works and biographies of a few Puritan writers; divines from the 16th and 17th centuries on both sides of the pond. Two items of note are the ages at which these men became fluid in subjects such as New Testament Greek, Latin as well as the sciences and, the ages at which they achieved advanced degrees from their university. Jonathan Edwards graduated from, what would become Yale University with his masters at the age of 18 and Isaac Watts penned a book on logic that was originally intended for elementary school studies but, would over the years become the standard University text on the topic.
This is my rather weird and right brain way of researching the dumbing down of our education system and then, making its application in my attempt to improve as a trainer. Yes, we ALWAYS apply it to dog training.
My only intention here is to make some private failures public, raise the expectations on my own level of commitment and, like the Puritan writers, understand that our young charges often have far greater potential then we give them credit for.
“So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.”