Hi! My name is Polona, and when it comes to the dogs – I am a workaholic. It started a long time ago, even before I got my first dog, when I was just a little girl with big eyes who spent her afternoons hanging on the fence of the closest dog club, watching other people train their dogs. So it is not really a big surprise that now that I can have as many dogs as I want, I spend most of my time working with them. I cannot really explain my fascination, but I am mostly impressed by dogs’ ability to cooperate with us in so many different ways. So to be perfectly honest I must say that I started to train my dogs in several different sports mostly for selfish reasons. I simply wanted to try everything. But as my dogs became more and more “multifunctional” I started to see huge benefits in that, so now I firmly believe that training dogs for different sports makes them better in every one of them.
The first and probably most logical reason for that is that the more the dogs learn, the easier it gets for them, and the more you train them, the better you get at it.
Having various kinds of training really helps you get the idea of how your dog learns and what kind of method suits his or her taste most. Šja for example is a very sensitive dog with a huge feeling of responsibility. Even though I was always very permissive with her training, she often froze in the belief that she is not doing something well enough for my taste. It was kind of frustrating for me, because I really tried my best not to show any disappointment to her at all, and more often than not I really wasn’t unhappy with her work at all, but she somehow felt stressed because of strange conclusions she had made in her head. Because of that, our agility training got to the point where I didn’t train with her at all any more. But what I noticed through our “trick sessions” was that she became a totally different dog when I was doing a really clean shaping. She forgot about me, and put all her energy into solving the problem. Her attitude was completely different, she was confident, active and relaxed, and exactly the way I wanted her to be. So I started to bring a “shaping” approach into agility training sessions, and suddenly we both started to enjoy agility again.
And then came Šaj. I was full of ideas for all kind of shaping tricks, and in front of me was a puppy that couldn’t care less about my plans. Her attitude was something like this – “Oh, let’s work, let’s work…” “Ok, do something already”…, “Come on, come on…”, “Hurry”, “Why don’t you do something”… “Ok, you are soooo boring” “I will go away now and destroy something”. And because I really wanted to teach her something other than barking, I gave up with shaping. I started to teach her heelwork, and discovered her new talent. While she was bored to death by learning, she was crazily enthusiastic by repetitions. Seriously, Šaj is a dog that can heel for ages, just for fun. In fact she can do everything for ages, as long as she doesn’t have to think at all. Yep, sometimes is cool to be stupid. So she has learned most of her stuff simply with luring through many, many, many repetitions. And surprisingly enough, she is happier each time she does the same thing.
Šaj was also my first dog with whom I tried some Schutzhund training. And it was actually the “send away” exercise that gave me an idea of how to re-train her contacts. As some of you may remember, I had huge problems with her contacts at competitions, because she simply didn’t pull ahead on the dog walk, which led to a different stride and missed contacts. I trained the “send away” with a stick into the ground, and I was sending her to go around it. So I noticed that the closer she gets to a stick, the shorter her strides are. Not a really cool technique for send away but I thought – that is exactly what I need on the contacts. And it worked.
And as I mentioned earlier – it is not only you that benefits from diversity. Dogs learn so much faster and more easily each time you try to teach them something new. Kiša for example started with agility. After she had learned cik and cap (wrapping around a jump to the left and to the right, respectively), training blinds in protection was a piece of cake, not to mention the jump and wall in the obedience part.
Training for different sports gives you a wider perspective on dog training in general. You meet people from a different backgrounds with very different dogs and goals that can always provide you with some new ideas.
Therefore I always like to visit as many different seminars as I can. Even though I am mostly familiar with methods people are using, there are always some details or small tricks that make sense and I try to use them in my training or they are useful in training with my students.
I also think it is really healthy for a dog if he does what he was bred for. There is nothing more beautiful to see than a dog that is doing his original job. No matter what the job is.
(Ok, fighting breeds excluded. I don’t know how healthy that is for their mind, but it is definitely not pretty to watch.) So I really try my best to provide my dogs with some herding training. Sadly there are very limited options for that here in Slovenia, but I try my best to provide them with some training at least from time to time.
And last but by all means not least – I believe dogs are far less bored when they have different training options. What I started to notice even with the most motivated dogs is that they develop some kind of “working speed or attitude”. I have seen that in agility as well as in Schutzhund. Dogs that are somewhat happy, motivated, but still not giving 100%. It is quite logical if you think it through. If you train the same thing all the time (and you are not Šaj, you start to do it routinely and you kind of lose the excitement that gives you that extra few %. Also human athletes use diversity in their training, to improve their skills, stamina and speed.
When I started to train with my dogs intensively, many people told me that they will get fed up, or that they will prefer one sport and refuse to do the other. Especially in Schutzhund many people still believe that dogs will work best if they don’t know anything else but what they were supposed to do. But think about that for a second. How many of you would stay highly motivated for a job that is always the same even if the reward is good? I know I wouldn’t and my dogs agree. Ever since they train in several different sports, they show much more enthusiasm for the job, whatever it is, and they really don’t make any distinction among them.
After reading all this, you might got the idea that we never do anything else but work, but that is where you are wrong.
As much as I believe in the importance of different training, I also believe in the importance of free time. So once a day, we are out on a long walk, swim or anything else we feel like doing, and the clicker stays at home.
And when we are at home, we turn into big couch potatoes. And when we lie on the sofa long enough it gets really boring, and some work sounds like a great idea…