"My dog loves jumping on the furniture and running across the back of the sofa. He would be great at agility!"
To my dog training friends… professional and hobbyist:
How many of you rolled your eyes?
Be honest! I know I have!
The idea that a "pet person" could think that because their dog liked jumping on the furniture – likely "out of control" – they could compete in agility?
How many of us have disparaged the thought, deemed that owner ignorant of what is involved in training for agility, and becoming competitive in the sport?
Or in freestyle (my dog loves to walk on his hind legs!), or flyball (my dog loves tennis balls!), or obedience (my dog has a great stay!). Pick your sport.
We were all there once.
Few of us entered the world of training and dog sports knowing what we know today, nor does what we know today mean we won't learn more tomorrow. We were once one of "those pet owners."
... After all, dog sports starts with an appreciation for your dog
That owner, whose dog loves jumping on the furniture, is the perfect person to become involved in dog sports! That owner has something that all dog sport trainers need and are lucky to have: The appreciation and ability to observe what their dog loves!
They are aware and love their dog to the point of thinking jumping all over the furniture is not a bad thing. They are thinking (consciously or unconsciously) of ways to channel that into a more appropriate activity that they could likely both enjoy and do together.
They just don't have the knowledge or understanding of what is involved or how to get there.
Turning "misbehavior" into a positive
As trainers, dog sport enthusiasts, and competitors, we all started somewhere.
We are likely where we are in our sports today due to the patience, kindness, and empathy of a trainer that, when we said "I want to do that with my dog," didn't dismiss us in spite of our lack of knowledge or understanding of what that meant... but instead guided us, and taught us.
I'm thankful to my mentors that took the time.
I have also been very lucky in my sport to meet and to have mentored so many "pet people turned trainers!" That includes many who have not only exceeded expectations (both theirs and mine!) but have surpassed me in skill and ability.
I say Bravo! Bravo to them for their hard work and persistence. Bravo to them for their willingness to learn and Bravo to them for seeing something in their dog, in themselves, and in that relationship that started them on the path of dog sports.
So, the next time you hear an owner say something like "My dog loves to lunge and bark at strangers! He'd make a great protection dog!" rather than rolling your eyes (or widening your eyes in this case), or dismissing their comment as idiotic, try to see what's behind the comment.
It's likely an owner that loves their dog, wants to see them succeed and just doesn't know how.
While this dog isn't likely to make a great protection dog, I'm sure my fellow trainers are already thinking of ways to help this team succeed and be the best they can be (anyone else think nose work with a side of behavior modification?).
Even for this team, there is an activity or sport that they can grow into.
Let's not be so quick to judge when an owner tries to turn their dog's "misbehavior" into a positive. While these are the teams that have the most to learn, they are also the teams that we can learn the most from.