433 — Five Tips for Staying Motivated During Uncertainty

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Five Tips for Staying Motivated During Uncertainty

The global Coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a plethora of change. Staying motivated to train, groom and condition our dogs has been a challenge.

Event cancellations, isolation, quarantine, toilet paper hoarding and stay at home orders crashed down on all of us in March. And here we are, nearly seven months later. A few events of various types have been held around the country since this summer.

The purebred dog fancy has generally been careful to follow all mandated precautions at these events (More on this next week in my conversation with handler Bill McFadden) in order to encourage more events to resume. A great many more events have continued to be cancelled for any number of reasons.

Exhibitors are frustrated. Exhausted by the ups and downs. It can seem daunting and pointless to maintain our usual routines when there is no identifiable goal. The finish line is uncertain and hazy off in the distance.

My regular listeners know my “penchant for Polyanna” … a tendency to focus on finding what sliver of a silver lining shines through any storm … a lemonade out of lemons mentality that helps keep me grounded.

With that, here are five tips for staying motivated in your training, conditioning and grooming plans.

Win the War on Weariness

We are all tired. Tired of home schooling and masks and no hugs. Exhausted by national politics and worried about money, health, and the future. Weary of the unending unfolding nightmare that 2020 has come to represent to nearly everyone.

One guess as to the best medicine for this type of fatigue and burnout… Yep. Dogs. EVERYONE is either buying or attempting to buy a new dog. We have all seen the registration numbers going up and our inboxes flooded with puppy requests.

So, if John Q Public sees the benefit in acquiring a new best friend, *clearly* we dog people are ahead of the game! We often have *multiple* dog households! We have dogs to snuggle, to listen to our darkest fears. We have dogs to distract us, get us off the couch, away from the fridge and keep our blood flowing.

Celebrate “man’s best friend” and all she represents to you by practicing your stand stay, your send out, your watch me. Whatever your discipline, there are games you can play to keep your dog sharp and your muscle memory intact, while simultaneously beating back the looming grey clouds hanging around our heads. I’ll include links in the blog post to previous podcast episodes with some good doggy conditioning exercises. Listen here and here and here.

Working from home, home schooling and limited social outlets can feel chaotic, confused and disorderly. One of the few things you can absolutely take into your own control is the time you spend with your dog. Whether you choose to carve out an hour a day for training, trimming, trotting or simply tears behind closed doors, you are in charge of that. And our dogs are always up for the attention and the time spent together.

That small measure of being in control of SOME damn thing is a major component of defeating depressed moods and being better able to cope with rest of the daily aggro.

Prevent Pandemic Pounds and Pandemic Puppies

While we’ve all been eating — and possibly drinking — our feelings during the last seven months, our young dogs have had nearly zero socialization opportunities. Our motivation to improve our dogs’ future success can provide the kick in the pants we need to get up off the couch, push back from the dinner table and head for the grooming table.

Even if you have to wear a mask while doing it, walking around the neighborhood is allowed everywhere. Walking or running or biking with your dog will keep both of you fit and ready to handle whatever comes next, including fitting into show clothes …

Innumerable studies have proven conclusively that the more physically active we are, and the more time we spend with our dogs, the healthier we are physically AND mentally. The healthier we are, the safer we are from ALL types of viral infections.

Socialization is tough in these times, but even getting your dog out and walking around the parking lots of the stores that are open allows them to see and hear new sights and sounds. Varying surface texture — from gravel to concrete to grass to dirt to asphalt — is critical for young puppies once they are vaccinated and able to be on the ground. That can be done outdoors in a safe and socially distanced way.

Car rides to open spaces are excellent opportunities for training and socializing to new environments. Check out the podcast on Sniffspot to find spots in your area where you can run or train your dog safely off-lead without fear of germs, for you or your dog, or encountering uncontrolled dogs.

Build the Bond

One of the most valuable results of spending time training your dog, or grooming or conditioning, is building the unshakeable bond of trust that our dogs crave.

Every time we reinforce “watch me” for eye contact, every time we use our quiet hands to calm their excitement, every single time we work through a knot in their coat or pull coat in wire coated breeds or run a clipper or a Dremel, every time we take off on a loose lead walk or jog, we are teaching our dogs.

Every single interaction between us and our dogs is an opportunity for us to teach and mold them…. Or, conversely, for them to learn that our cues are meaningless and it’s easy to blow them off and do their own thing.

I repeat. EVERY interaction with your dog is a training opportunity. Of either them or you. Choose wisely! Dogs respond to affection, to food, to toys, but mostly to trust.

If the dog knows you won’t hurt him or allow him to be hurt, if the dog TRUSTS that if you give a verbal or non-verbal cue it means the same thing every time, if the dog is 1000 percent confident in you as the lead dancer in your performance, whatever event it might be, you will be miles ahead of your competition. Even when your puppy hasn’t had all of the “hands on” socializing and people interaction you would prefer due to the pandemic.

I recently attended the very first west coast dog show since March with my own personal pandemic puppy. Agatha is a Spinone Italiano… The litter was born the day they shut down Louisville. I’ll never forget her birthday… The breed in general and this individual dog tend to be a bit hesitant with strangers.

We have worked at it, but getting enough “hands on” has been a struggle. The only handling class we could make it to, I was teaching. Her co-breeder/co-owner brought her and I worked with her a few minutes. But that was *literally* her only practice before the shows in Washington last month.

PS it was the worst dog show weather known to man. Raining sideways in torrents, wind, blowing tarps flying, gallons of water being dumped off tents inches from her nose, raincoats, rainhats, masks, gloves, barking dogs and weirdness at every single turn, from her perspective.

She wasn’t perfect, she melted on exam. She *leeeeeeeeeeeeaned* on exam. She wasn’t sure what the heck to do with a dog running behind her. But she trusted me. She stood up, shook it off and wagged her tail after every encounter. She moved head and tail up, stacked on the line, considered free stacking before she was just toooooooo distracted. She won. She wasn’t perfect, but she trusted me.

I was soooooo proud of this little dog who had to suck it up in the very worst of conditions for her first actual dog show. Trust, along with all of the things that we COULD do, made the difference.

One thing that I made clear going in. The dog show was five days. If I felt she was becoming overwhelmed or having a bad experience, I would walk away. As it turned out, a crisis at home cut our week short and I wasn’t sad.

I think it’s important to remember the old axiom, always end a dog’s experience with anything on a positive. Don’t push young dogs to do more than they can handle. If you eat an entry fee, it’s a small price to pay for not blowing the dogs brain up and ruining it for the long run.

Find the Fun

Wait for it….. This is, or it’s supposed to be, fun! Whether you are showing your dog, running fast CAT, barn hunt, agility or a field trial, it’s OK to have a good time! Competition is great. It keeps us sharp and striving to succeed and improve. But as soon as you aren’t having a good time, rethink what you’re doing. Because if you hate it, the dog definitely does.

I just had a young woman tell me this exact story about a dog show a few weeks ago. Her dog lost, she felt her dog was a better example of the breed, but her dog moved head and tail down in true Eeyore fashion. She admitted that she was sooooo not interested in being there and that it traveled directly down the leash to her dog. Which caused her to lose and become more frustrated. This vicious cycle can happen to ANY of us.

Remember, our dogs count on US to be the fearless leader. Their knight in shining armor. Their Princess Bride. It’s why it’s so critical to get YOUR head space right before you try and ask the dog for a *performance*…

When you can take away the ribbon part. Focus on your partnership with your dog. Quit worrying about blue or white. Just concentrate on the dog in front of you. On getting inside that dog’s head. On pouring confidence and strength right down the lead and into their bodies. Make sustained eye contact. Communicate on a private level. Quit jacking your jaws with friends and competitors ringside and inside the ring and completely concentrate on your dog. THEN you will be able to find joy. To find power. You may or may not win, but you sure the heck will have fun with YOUR DOG!

Because It’s All About the DOGS

This final point is one I see waaaaaaaaaay too often left behind. Walked past. Ignored. Don’t know what you’re talking about.

In the race for points or rankings or notoriety or whatever one hopes to gain from dog events, folks have a painful tendency to forget the dog entirely. They lose, so they yank the dog around. The dog fidgets, so they yell at the dog. They’re so busy jacking their jaws about the unfairness of professional handlers or politics or mean girls or whatever has them all busted up on the given day, they pay NO attention to the dog… Is it spooked? Doesn’t feel good? Uncertain? Jacked up? Mad? Who knows! Exhibitors of this stripe rarely even look down the leash, never mind feel the vibe up it from the dog.

It’s About the Dogs. Period. End of discussion. You have paid someone for an opinion and received it. If you didn’t like it, step back, like my friend did, and figure out why. If you aren’t willing to do that, you are doing the DOG a giant disservice.

Bad things happen when you are focused on YOU and not on the DOG. It can be a small bad thing, like losing out on a ribbon. Or a very large bad thing, like losing a dog. I can’t say it often enough or loudly enough. The DOGS are why we do this. The DOGS come first. In EVERYTHING. EVERY time. If that is too hard, perhaps you should consider goldfish instead.

So, in the final analysis, our *motivation* is always the DOGS. There will be a next year. Or the year after. There will be another dog event. There might even be another dog. But there will never again be THIS dog. So, find your mojo. Give her the best you have of time, training, grooming, conditioning and effort. Build your bond with your dogs. And, for the love of all that is holy, have FUN!


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