It’s been a rough time training these past few months, although Ender has made the most incredible strides. He’s such a fun dog to train, and I really couldn’t really ask for anything better. We often have struggles in training, whether it’s related to the dogs or not, and I think I’ve really come a long way in terms of learning from myself and my own methods. Conan has one more leg of his Novice A, and although I had great plans for him it may be time for him to retire. He just doesn’t really have the trial gusto that he used to. It’s no big deal. We’ll still train, we just probably won’t keep trying for titles. At almost 7, though, he’s allowed to get bored. He’s slowly turning into a crotchety old man, but he’ll never be far from perfect in my eyes.
Ender is now almost 13 months old and his heeling is better than I ever thought. There are still problems and it’s certainly got a long way to go, but it was incredibly easy to figure out how to get the picture that I’m looking for. Far easier than I thought. That’s not to say I did it alone – my entire training group helped me get there, each with their own ideas and experiences. His heeling is probably the biggest collaboration in our group, I really took a piece from everyone.
That brings me to the healing. Training for competition has brought tremendous emotional struggles. I never expected it to be easy, but I expected it to be enjoyable. My struggles with Danni may have seemed smaller to others than they did to me, but putting in the effort I did for the diminishing returns was more than disappointing. Conan was always, and still is, a fast learner. Two or three markers and he understood what I wanted.
Ender has been fundamental in making training a hobby again. I took a lot of time off after I decided to retire Danni. I wasn’t even sure I’d enjoy training another dog again. He’s shown me that I can. He doesn’t learn as fast as Conan, but that just pushes me harder. He wants to work. He enjoys it. He enjoys the rules and boundaries. He enjoys playing with me. We have a relationship. And when you’re feeling that the relationship with your mentors and training friends is failing, as you sometimes do, you can lean on your dog. And I have. And I do. Every day. Even when things are going well, he makes them better. He makes me go train, alone or with everyone, and reinforces both decisions. When I don’t want to go out, he doesn’t care. We wrestle on the floor or snuggle on the couch, and he’ll watch TV as if he’s actually interested and can understand what’s going on. Even when there’s a rough patch in our training, he pulls through because he wants to pull through. It doesn’t take excessive force or punishment or endless shaping and rewarding. It takes a few reps, and when he finally gets it he shines so bright in my eyes I could never possibly think that any struggle with him wasn’t worth the effort. And it’s not even because the behavior or exercise is exceptional, even though it often is, it’s because we did it together. He tried just as hard as I did, and I didn’t have to ask him to.
Things go wrong. Sometimes they’re out of your control. Sometimes you just have to accept that either way you lose. But I never lose with Ender. Even when I lose in the real world, I can look into his eyes and know that I still won. He’s still here, rooting for me, asking me to go out and keep pushing. I’m always trying to make myself a better person, but he reminds me that I’m not really that bad a person to start. I have my flaws, just like anyone, but I think he sees the effort. He sees the flaws, too. But he reminds me of them by running around the agility course, or sneaking onto the bed at night, or pulling the ball out of the training bag when he’s not supposed to. In his training, he never shows me, except to tell me he doesn’t get it; he’s not sure what I want. But I feel like he listens, as much as a dog can listen. He’s actively working with me. He actually wants to work with me and not just for the ball.
He’s fun. Both of my dogs are fun. They’re both even a little similar in ways I can’t really pinpoint.
Anyway, I never really know how to end these long, intimate, somewhat self-absorbed posts. So, uh…
Cease emotional posting.