Though 2011 was a magnificent year, full of magical moments with my furry friends and their families, it also brought one of the toughest times in my family’s life, the loss of our dear sweet Toby.
When I reflect back on his short time with us, and all the precious moments we had together, it is not the times of perfect obedience that fill my heart; not the times he sat on a dime for me when I asked, nor when he waited patiently for his dinner, or the times he walked in a perfect heel through downtown Hermosa.
No, these are not the moments that fill my heart, though I am certainly proud of him for what he was able to do when given a cue.
No, the times that resonate the most are the serendipitous moments together, like the times we sat together on the couch, cuddling closely as he rested his chin on my lap, or the spontaneous walks down to the park to watch the sunset, hand in paw, or the absolutely fabulous moments of joyful disobedience.
Yes, the absolutely fabulous moments of joyful disobedience!
As a professional dog trainer, it my not be “pc” or “good business” to encourage disobedience, and don’t get me wrong, we should absolutely positively teach our dogs manners and how to “be” in our world, and we should always help them overcome their insecurities and fears.
However, we can sometimes become too focused on obedience, and can “over train” our dogs, turning them into “doggie robots.” Lifeless, without that special sparkle in their eye.
To me, the single most important part of training is the bond that I build with my dogs, and the consistency with which they respond to my requests. Other than that, what more do I need, or want?
Do I want a dog that never bounces up and down happily when I grab his leash to go out for a walk, or never rolls around with pure abandon after he enjoys his yummy dinner, or never darts around our courtyard happily, excited beyond belief to be taking a ride in the car?
My answer is an adamant “No way!” Some dog professionals may say, “Oh, you shouldn’t let your dog do that.” Well, maybe not, but who/what does it hurt? Their lives are short, and I want my dogs to enjoy them fully, with pure joy, from head to tail!
So as we ring in the spring, I ask you to consider what you want from your dogs. If you honestly cannot say that they are having many joyful moments of disobedience, then maybe, just maybe you’re expecting too much, and not allowing them to live their lives fully, and completely.
I miss my Toby desperately, but it gives me great peace knowing that he had many moments of joyful disobedience, and always had that sparkle in his eye!
Rebecca Mandell, owner and trainer at Dog's Best Friend, positive reinforcement training