I am often approached by keen and enthusiastic dog trainers who want to have a career in this industry, and asked advice about the best course to take or the best book to read, or what route to take…all of which I often offer suggestions on. However the biggest piece of advice I give is, be prepared to embrace the struggle.
I recently listened to an interview with Ed Sheeran, in which he tells a story of spending time living from sofa to sofa, and the goodwill of others that allowed him to pursue his passion and his craft, to eventually reach the heights of stardom that we all now know. However he also states that it took years for him to accomplish this and people don’t always appreciate the struggles and heartache that goes into becoming an ‘overnight’ success.
When I equate this to my own career, leading to the path that I now follow, I can see this same pattern. Not just with my own journey, but that of training my own dogs and helping others realise their own goals.
The path to ‘success’ is laden with boulders and valleys, and it is this that makes success so much sweeter. The rosette, prize card or accolade is often a representation of the years of dedication that go into creating that perfect moment.
This doesn’t matter if you are a World Championship performer, or starting out… or even a first time dog owner trying to navigate the trials and tribulations of dog ownership.
I started training dogs 27yrs ago, when like so many, I had a dog that didn’t listen to me and as a naive first time dog owner, I needed help! I had seen Agility on the television and watched the junior competition and saw these kids, not much older then me competing and thought ‘I want to do that…. if they can, I can too’.
So I took my first steps on the ‘ladder’
and started homing my craft. But this is not where the struggle started….
My love for dogs was evident way before that, I literally had to beg my parents to let me have a dog… even threatening to leave home (not sure that was a threat or an incentive), several emotional outbursts and eventually I wore them down, till I was allowed to get my own dog.
The first dog we actually had was a kelpie cross, from the RSPCA in Sydney. We only had a few months before having to give her back because my dad got a job back in the UK. We would have had to have her in quarantine, and as we didn’t have a house to move back to, we had to live in one room above my uncles accountancy offices, we literally weren’t in any position to bring her with us. She would have had to be in quarantine longer then we had owned her. The heartbreak of finally getting ‘my’ dog only to have to give her back was a ‘struggle’ in itself.
However the dog that I then got in the UK, my dear little brown mongrel Scrunch (this was in the days before designer crossbreeds!), after more begging was the ‘perfect’ dog to start this journey as she has every issue you could think of! Separation anxiety, resource guarding, no recall, didnt play, fearful… the list goes on! So training her was filled with struggles.
Then came Tai, my first ‘proper’ Obedience dog with his quirky ways and his sensitivities…. the pursuit to gaining his title was filled with struggles… struggles in his training, personal struggles, mental and emotional struggles.
Every dog I have owned has had ‘struggles’ to overcome. I use the word ‘struggle’ because thats what they are… they are challenges that show me who I truly am, and what I am really made of. Every time I encounter one, I am convinced that this struggle is the final one and I contemplate giving up. Its at that point that I grow.
Its these struggles that now allow me to help others, empathise with them and assure them it will be ok. As, others around me have assured me.
Training and owning a dog, isn’t always plain sailing… don’t get me wrong I’ve had easier dogs, but there is always a struggle to overcome.
This is applicable to any goal, aim or dream you have. Struggling through and overcoming obstacles are what make the eventual success so glorious!
Thats the irony. The real beauty lies in the struggle. It is where you develop your skills, hands on experience, where relationships are forged. Its where you develop your ‘feel’. There is no short cuts to this. No amount of reading books or talking about it, can compensate for ‘doing’ it and applying the theory. Its a necessary part of the process.
The struggle isn’t to be avoided, its to be embraced. The sacrifices and hardwork are what make success that much sweeter. Getting in the trenches and getting your hands dirty, is all part of the process. And sometimes you’re going to hit some rock….In what I do, having my own dog and going through those struggles allows me to relate to those I teach. It would be like learning to drive from someone who has read a lot about driving cars and seen it on YouTube, but hasnt actually driven themselves or drove so long ago, they have disconnected with the speed of vehicles now and the roads that exist. It is in the field that our theories ideas and data is tested, collated and ratified. Be it getting your dog to recall away from a running rabbit or achieving a High In Trial at your Nationals. It doesn’t matter. The blood, sweat and tears that go into achieving that one ‘perfect’ performance are what its all about.
There are so many cliches to articulate the concept that hard work goes a long way, and that the path to success in any field is built of years of sacrifice, dedication, hardwork and commitment.
No short cuts, no magic wands, no easy fixes…. its all about the journey not the destination! Enjoy the ride!