My training coordinator got my blood pressure up tonight with a simple message asking about a picture of my dog training yesterday. I’ll spare you the inside baseball discussion about the picture and what the issue was. She was concerned about the picture itself. I was concerned about the behavior the picture may have portrayed (funny thing about pictures–they may be worth 1,000 words, but they rarely tell the whole story). We take a ridiculous amount of pictures while we train — cell phone cameras, actual cameras, whatever happens to be handy. The pictures provide, not just fun pictures of dogs, but also provide instant documentation of how we work and what the dog can do and has done. Anyway, someone else took the picture and at that moment in time, that split second, it looked concerning. My fear was that the picture was the whole story and that we were done. It wasn’t. We’re not. We’re fine for where we’re at. Phew.
But I did not climb off that ledge for hours. And while Helo nonchalantly shredded a box in the living room, I worried. Are we going to get this done? Is he doing what he’s supposed to be doing? Etc. etc. ad nauseum.
As a bit of a control freak, this whole training-dog-for-search work is SO hard for me. There is this whole other variable here, and it’s huge. It’s like 80 percent of the whole equation. I am, to quote our leader, a dope on the end of a rope. This largely depends on Helo, a 50-pound fur covered animal with his own reactions, instincts, desires and ideas. This is his show, his work. And I am having the worst time getting out of his way.
All my life, the few dogs I’ve worked with in either 4-H or in our home, it was about getting the dog to DO something. To sit. To stay. To high-five. Helo’s early life (his first 18 months with me) was largely getting him to do things. He is extremely good at doing. He aced his obedience classes. He will wait for me patiently outside a coffee shop for hours. He is, officially, a Canine Good Citizen. Helo is a very good dog.
But this thing we’re doing together, I’m asking him to BE something — a Search and Rescue K-9. I need him to be 100% dog, 100% of the time AND to use that dog-ness to perform a task humans cannot perform. I need him to be willing and able to work away from me, to use his nose and his instincts in an extraordinary way. There is talk in our group of “putting obedience” on the dog after the beginning of the search training is done, like a title. It struck me the first time I heard it — “putting it” — as an odd thing. But it makes sense now. It is restrictive to their being. The obedience work is merely so we can live with them, exist with them in social settings, so they know what’s expected of them in public. Because we weren’t planning on this little adventure we’re on, Helo and I did it backward. Now we’re having to go back and undo some of what I did before, what I put on him–Helo, obedient family pet.
This whole work is so amazingly difficult for me, the control freak, the person who works largely on my own. I pick my stories. I cover my beat. I design my class and I teach it.
I have to slow down with this. I have to be quiet, like ACTUALLY QUIET, while he works and let him figure it out. It makes me want to climb out of my skin. Of course, he senses it and the “good dog” worries that he’s disappointing me. See? It’s a vicious cycle.
If you’re reading this, and you’re prone to praying, throw one up for us, for me, that I’ll let him just be. It’s a lesson I need to learn in just about every area of my life anyway — letting those living, free-will-endowed beings around me just do their thing without me worrying about them every minute of every day. I never could keep them all safe and sound, protected and whole, and God knows I tried. It’s no different with the people I love than it is with my dog. I can’t control. I can’t change.
Helo’s not the only one learning how to “be.”