What Are You Training For?

Submitted by Lucy Martin

For the past 1½ years, Rayna and I have been working on the various skills and nuances of the CKC sport of Formal Obedience. On paper, it looks like it should be easy to do (and for some teams I am sure it is) – Heel on Leash; Walk a Figure 8 pattern around two people; Stand for Exam off leash; Heel off Leash; Formal Recall; 1 minute Sit Stay and 3 minute Down Stay (both at 40 feet away). For Rayna and I, it has become a test and redefinition of our partnership, in addition to our skills as dog and handler.

sitting in the parkI won’t go into the tedium of training all these behaviours, nor about putting them together into the compulsory routine. I am grateful for a coach who has been through this process with a number of dogs, someone who can guide me through this process with Rayna. When we started on this journey, I had no idea it would be this challenging – both in learning and developing the skills, but especially in managing our relationship and navigating the highs and lows of working together as a team. It has been an ongoing struggle to find ways to engage with a sometimes less-than-willing partner, to connect and move in harmony, to try again when things go poorly.

Our developing partnership is being put to the test with our first competition next weekend. Neither of us has ever done this before so keeping it together during the test, as well as before and after, are sure to require a monumental effort from both of us. I could argue that I haven’t proofed her enough to be comfortable in a new environment with new dogs and people, but in that case, we may never be ‘ready’. There will always be some excuse, or what if, or uncontrolled factor that I didn’t count on. There will always be that fear… There will always be that underlying lack of trust within our relationship…

In committing to entering this competition, I realize that I have pushed our partnership into a new domain. I know it is me who is asking Rayna to do this with me – not because she has asked or even wanted to do this – but because I have set a goal of getting a title for my dog. Of course, this process helps me develop and expand my skills as a canine professional. But perhaps most importantly, it is challenging my understanding and expectations of what a true partnership is all about (whether it is between a dog and a human, two people, or whoever).

For the first couple of years, our relationship has been about me as primary caregiver/parent and Rayna as the dependant/child. To a certain degree that is still the case, but as she gets older and more mature, our relationship is evolving into one of partnership.

For me, partnership involves a shared vision of who we are and want to become, both separately and together. It involves cooperation and collaboration in achieving each others’ needs, goals and life purpose. A deep sense of belonging and connection carries us through the valleys and up the mountains that arise on our journey. I also think partnership is about choice – choosing to be actively committed to being in and working at this relationship.

Partnership does not come easy or cheap. For Rayna, it means additional responsibility and maturity. It may mean participating in something that is difficult or frightening. It requires trusting that she will be safe and loved, no matter what. For me, it means relinquishing some control and my desire for specific behaviours and outcomes. It means allowing Rayna to make good choices and trusting that she will – and loving and respecting her even when she doesn’t.

Rayna on her matThe larger goal of this upcoming trial has become about defining and clarifying what our partnership is about – what we want and need out of it, what we are willing to put into it, and finding a common purpose within our partnership. In the big picture, passing this trial (or not) will have minimal consequences for our partnership, but truthfully, don’t we all really want to be successful?

I challenge you to try something new with your partner (whatever species) that takes you out of your comfort zone. Most likely, it will open you to new insights about yourself, your partner, and your partnership. It may help to find a good coach who can help you navigate the fears, struggles, anxieties, etc that are inevitable. Someone who can teach you the necessary skills as well as offer support and guidance when you need to get back on track or seek out a new direction.

Partnership is a living organism which constantly needs to be attended to. Is the balance of responsibility right for this moment in time? Are the needs and desires of each individual being taken into equal consideration? Are the partners moving together toward a mutual destination?

If you feel that it is time to renew or advance your partnership, an obvious and trusted resource is Shirley Lynn Martin. Call or email today to move your partnership to its next level.

Be Courageous! Take that first step forward…