While working with a Freestyle student recently I was suddenly
struck by her comment, "I need to change my focus from obedience
training because Freestyle is more fun to train." "Why," I
immediately asked, "should one be more ‘fun’ than
the other to train?" And now I ask you the same question.
Why should anything we teach/train our dogs to do be more fun
than anything else?
I think part of the answer is we have allowed ourselves to fall
into the trap of a certain mindset: obedience is work, agility
is fun, freestyle is fun, etc. Agility is fun because dogs naturally
love to race around at full tilt, running and climbing and tunneling
and weaving. Those are all great tricks. Freestyle is fun because
it is also perceived as teaching tricks, whether backing and
laterals or spins and weaves. Well, why aren’t a spiffy
finish or a flashy recall or beautiful heeling also great tricks?
I think they are. The bottom line is that everything we teach
our dogs is a great trick, a marvelous example of the dog’s
learning capacity and our ability to teach them.
So whence comes the mindset that obedience is work and can’t
be as much fun? Is it because much of obedience revolves around
real everyday issues which enable our dogs to coexist with us?
Is it because we feel that to be well mannered, long lived pets
we must teach our dogs to come, sit and stay? Well, yes of course
we need to teach our dogs these basic manners, but who ever said
it shouldn’t be fun, for us or the dog? Does the must take
all the fun out of the accomplishment? Why not try approaching
obedience exercises with the same joy and anticipation as we
look upon teaching our dogs to roll over or shake or climb an
A-frame or sidestep? Why not show our dogs the same sincere delight
and appreciation when they accomplish any of these asks/exercises/tricks?
Many people seem to be jumping on the Freestyle bandwagon because
they think Freestyle is more fun than obedience. Well, actually
they’re just two sides of the same coin, a many sided coin.
It’s all training, whether Freestyle or obedience or agility
or field work or earthdog or lure coursing or carting. If one
is more or less fun than any other it is because we have allowed
it to become so. This is a mindset. And if you think certain
training isn’t fun you can be darn sure your dog thinks
the same, because your dog is a master at reading your attitude.
Maybe the music makes Freestyle more fun than obedience. Maybe
you are intrigued at teaching new skills to your dogs and as
you experiment you are very cognizant of maintaining your dog’s
attitude. Maybe just breaking out of the mold of the same old
exercises is what makes the difference. Many Freestylers are
saying that Freestyle is, at the same time, the most difficult
and the most fun and satisfying work they have done with their
dogs. Do the new challenges change your mindset?
Regardless of the reasons, I challenge you to take your newfound
joy in Freestyle and apply it to your obedience work. Freestyle’s
foundations are in obedience anyway and if Freestyle can give
back to obedience the joy, pleasure and delight of training,
then, in that alone, its contribution will have been substantial.
I know many of you have already found your obedience work improving
after taking up Freestyle. Have you been able to figure out why?
So remember, your attitude and mindset toward training are all
important. Training wasn’t your dog’s idea and you
owe it to him/her to make it as much fun as possible. If your
dog is bored or unhappy look to yourself for the reasons. To
those who say "My dog is bored with obedience," I say "Who
let him get bored?" This can be a disturbing revelation
at first, but once you choose to make a change, you and your
dog will develop an even deeper relationship and will soar to
new heights together.