by Gaea Mitchel, Carolina Canine Freestyle Guild
Recently I have heard several Federation friends voicing concern that, trying to start again with a new dog, they are not feeling a connection. Some question the dog’s aptitude for the sport, some feel the dog is unmotivated, still others doubt their ability to choreograph or perform, fearing their past successes were due not to their own creativity but somehow dependent on that original dog. (I of course may fit into several of these categories.) It’s a sad fact but true, that if we want to continue to enjoy DogWork, and to grow and pursue our journey, we will have to change partners to continue the dance. That in no way means abandoning a faithful and cherished partner, or memory of him. It means taking the basic concepts we learned from the first, but being open to the development of another and probably very different relationship with the next dog. This honors both dogs.
The birth of a DogWork team is always a process requiring time and focus. The challenges vary from one to the next in often unexpected ways, differing as much as the individuals involved. Emotions and expectations can cloud the process even more. We must be aware of the dog’s unique abilities and personality, and open to trying the familiar concepts from different perspectives.
If CanineFreestyle DogWork® is new to you, but you and your dog are seasoned competitors in obedience, rally or agility, your greatest challenge may well be learning the concepts of choreography, and learning to watch the dog for inspiration in building your movement vocabulary. Your technical skills will have to wait for your artistic and creative ability to catch up. Patience and regular classes with your local guild or a skilled instructor will speed your progress.
The seasoned freestyler can encounter other, equally daunting challenges. Having forged a relationship with one dog (and few will argue the incredible depth and power of that relationship), the handler now appears faced with starting all over. For a period of time your entire focus in DogWork has revolved around the original dog’s strengths, skills and personality. Mesh with the new dog?…not so much! You may have been working on basic skills—heeling, backing, pivots and more—but try as you will there is not the feeling of togetherness, of the right fit. There is no set method for overcoming this frustrating
dilemma. Somehow handler and dog must establish a relationship of respect and trust. The movement vocabulary will have to change somewhat to play to this dog’s strengths and skills. You will find yourself adding new movements, discarding others, and possibly speaking with a different accent. The new dog’s personality will invite a different oneness, and the handler must be willing to accept this. Mutual trust is essential. Listen to the dog! Be patient with your dog and yourself. But remember, nothing will invalidate or disrespect the original partner. The first dog has broken important ground in your understanding of the sport, and made many aspects of DogWork easier to navigate with your new partner.