This is my passion

Me and Sally competing in a Novice obedience class
My passion is not cool and sexy.  My passion is not death-defying adrenaline-rushing action.  My passion is not world-changing activism or international superstardom.  To most people, my passion would be hopelessly dull.  But it is MY passion and I adore it.  My passion is training dogs.

I got hooked when I was 15 doing my Duke of Edinburgh's Award.  For the "Skills" section of the award I borrowed a rather unwanted leggy teenager of an unruly mongrel dog from the local pub and took her to a dog training club.  My intention was just to teach her sit and stay - help her owners out and get the silly box ticked for my D of E Award.  Little did I know how things would turn out!

The woman who ran the dog training club was a skinny chain-smoking slightly neurotic fiery ball of passion for dog training.  She did competitive obedience with her beautiful German Shepherds.  I saw the drive and the energy and the love the dogs and her had for their sport, and I wanted to get involved.  I trained Sally for months, then bravely entered my first Obedience show.  Unfortunately, Jen hadnt told me that you couldnt take treats into the show ring...and as she was used to doing things for food...she lolloped off out of the ring to try and find something more interesting to do.  I was devastated.  I cried tears of rage and embarassment.  But I learnt.  I learnt how much I wanted to be good at this.  And I learnt that to really train a dog, the dog needs to be motivated to play along for playing's sake, not for the reward of food or a toy.  Treats are great, but only to create love for the activity, never as a bribe.

So I learnt, and I trained, and I learnt some more.  Sometimes I had to break things back down to basics just to make the smallest of tweaks to her heelwork position.  But it started to click into place, I understood how she learnt, how she thought and how she moved, and bent my training style and my movements to fit.  And it worked, she started to win.  And we went on to compete in Agility and Flyball as well.  I even competed in the Junior ring at Crufts - the largest dog show in the world.  I also trained our rescue collie to work sheep, and provided a temporary foster home for several dogs, in order to rehabilitate them so they could find a forever home.

I am incredibly grateful to my wonderful Mum for all the evenings she drove me to training and all the shows she took me to, never once complaining about the hours surrounded by barking dogs in some rain-soaked field in the middle of nowhere.  

Sally will never be the best dog at anything...she isnt a border collie...the basic qualification for being the best at any canine event.  But she loves to work, she loves to get things right - and she works for workings sake.  To me that is the greatest achievement for me with a greedy labrador cross - she works because she LOVES it.  

Nothing builds the relationship between a dog and its owner like training.  I know her expressions, I can predict her responses and her emotions...and she can do the same with me.  For me to train her effectively, and for her to learn effectively, we automatically tuned into each other on a far deeper level than you normally connect with a pet on.

That sense of connection is what makes it my passion.  I love building that rapport, that unbreakable bond.  Im not one of those overly anthropomorphic people who attributes every human emotion under the sun to animals.  I know she doesnt love me like I love her, I respect her all the more for the tame wolf that she is.  I guess the whole training process entertains my inner psychologist, its like its a challenge to break a task down into components that she can learn.  There is more to it than that though, Sally is 9 years old now so we just go to training classes for fun really.  She doesnt compete any more so there is no need to teach her new things.  We both still love to go along to training and have fun though.  The sense of calm satisfaction I get from strengthening our connection is like a drug.  The more she learns and the more she loves it, the more I want to train her.  And the more I train her...the cycle continues.

I love dogs.  Their behaviour with each other is fascinating, their relationship with humanity even more so. There is so much they can do for us, and so much we can learn from them.

I have considered becoming a professional dog trainer several times before, either for the Forces, or for disability support charities, or to help people with problem pets.  People say that you should devote your life to your passion.  Maybe there is a lesson I need to learn here.


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