Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Hard and Soft (04/23/09)
TITLE: Chains (ii)
By Nancy Higginson
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As a teenager I dreamed of walking into the show ring, a dog at my heel, walking out with ribbons. Nearly thirty years later, finally having the time and money to really consider showing in performance events, I began my puppy search. I knew what breed I wanted, the rest was just my wish list. In my heart I wanted a specific color, a male pup between two and four months, double registry, and good bloodlines but with my budget I wasn‘t expecting to get those wants. An ad in the paper caught my eye - the price the breeder was asking had my expectations low but we went look at the two three month old pups she had left. The male was the color I wanted, and had double registry. He had been sold to a man in the military but the man was transferred to Hawaii and couldn’t take him. Now she needed homes for them that weekend so had cut her price in half. My pup came home with me that day. I did a pedigree search and discovered he even had the bloodlines I remembered from our previous dogs. His name means His Gift, as he truly is a gift from God.
I picked a dog training class that was close to my home. I had already done the basics with him on my own so we started in the novice class. He learned readily, I rarely had to correct my dog on the novice exercises. My dog had a tender heart, he was eager to please doing whatever I asked as long as he understood what I wanted. After we graduated novice we moved up to the open class. The exercises were harder here and the instructor could have given lessons to a drill sergeant. Your dog is too far out front, run the other way. Your dog is walking away and not looking at you, throw your throw chain at him. Your dog wants to drop the dumbbell, give him a sharp rap under the chin. The instructor would yell at me for not correcting my dog firmly or often enough. Training went from joy to misery for both of us. I dreaded the classes and my dog began cringing away from his leash. The hard training methods were destroying my dreams, and we needed to leave the class.
I worked on repairing my relationship with him, going out for fun, not training. We would go to the pet store, the local bookshops that allow dogs, and leisurely walks. One of our fun outings was to the Animal Fair, showcasing different animal groups in our area. There, I met a group that changed my thinking on dog training forever. I observed their demonstration with awe, seeing how happy the dogs looked, eager to please, and so focused on their masters. Their training classes were very reasonable and close to home, so we began again. We had a lot to unlearn and the softer, positive training methods to practice. Gone were choke chains, throw chains, the yelling, the corrections. We used soft collars, clickers, treats, gentle words. In very little time we found our joy again. My dog would run to me, wiggling all over, when I grabbed his leash, and joyfully jump into his crate when it was time to go. I was filled with happiness, watching him prance through the ring with his first ribbon in his mouth. We worked our way to a handful of ribbons and three titles before slowing down.
After eighteen months off training and nearly two years off showing, we are training again with an eye to the fall show season. I will never again put a chain on my dog, but I will keep these chains as a reminder. As I held them, I thought of the chains that once held me, and the Master who used His soft words and loving hands to train me. He threw away my chains. I pray I will be more like my dog, walking with my Master, running towards His voice, heeding His commands. May He never need to use hard training on me.
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