One of the traits that I really love about dogs is their playful nature! They love to have fun! Much of my training with dogs is trying to create small “games” that have specific rules that the dog can learn and play. Rather than treating training like it’s a tedious, boring event, I’d rather dogs and owners see it as an opportunity to play together and learn to become a team. I love hearing an owner say, “I really had fun today!” I know if they have fun, they’re going to want to train their dogs all week long, in between lessons!
I grew up with parents who woke me up every morning at 6:00 or 6:30….rain or shine. My mother was not about to have a child who slept her life away. I was expected to be “productive” with my day….read a book, help with chores, learn a new skill, etc. I had plenty of time to play, mind you, but my mother was big on education and making something of yourself.
That blueprint went deep into my psyche, and I honestly really love to work. I love being productive and staying busy. I own two dog training franchises in cities 90 minutes apart, and up until February, I usually worked seven days a week. I’ve cut back to six days a week now, and my day off is often spent catching up with office work and blog writing. If I were a dog, I’d definitely be a herder….working all the time!
So, for me, just relaxing and having fun doesn’t really come naturally. I have had to learn that skill, and my furry friends have led the way for me. Rugby will let me write or read for a couple of hours, and then he’s barking at me to take a break and have some fun. He often wants me to engage him in some trick training or puzzle play, but now that the weather is getting cooler, he’s really happy if I write outside while he explores the yard and maintains squirrel and chipmunk control. He’s often like a kid who wants his mom to see the cool things that he can do!
When I started training dogs professionally, I had to learn to just relax with dogs and simply have fun during a training session, making room for them to be silly and act out of their goofy personalities. It really made me uncomfortable initially, because I felt as if I had to be a “professional” at all times during a lesson, and that meant getting the dog to straighten up and fly right! However, I’ve learned that I can relax, have fun, laugh with dogs’ silly antics during a lesson, and still be a dog professional. I’ve learned to embrace that silly moment, and then come right back to being in the business of training whatever we’re working on. I think dogs appreciate that moment of silliness, and when they come back to focus on me, they’re all in!
When I’ve had a tough day, it’s really great to come home to my silly speckled dog who is quick to grab a polka dottie piggie and meet me at the door, herding me all the way back to my office….grunting that piggie against the back of my calves every step of the way. It’s guaranteed to make me smile, and Rugby and I often have a quick game of piggie chase, where he pokes me with a piggie, and then I chase him away, and go hide. He comes tiptoeing back to find me…piggie in mouth….and I jump out and surprise him…..he runs away, and I go hide in a new spot. That’s a game Rugby invented and taught me, and we both just love it. We play it almost every night when I come home, and it always makes me laugh.
The bottom line, is that sometimes, I can just take myself and my life and work too seriously. I’ve had to learn how to plan specific time just to have fun and to play, and to laugh and be “unproductive.” I’m so grateful for the dogs in my life who have taught me to stop and smell the roses along the way.