In all honesty, I’ve always been a wee bit of a nerd.
I know, you’re stunned. How could someone so wordly, someone so dang cool, be a geek? It’s crazy, yes, but it’s true. When I get involved with something, I tend to go all the way. I don’t just watch one episode of The X-Files, I watch them all. And the films. And the animated shorts. (I don’t think they actually made these but they should have.) So it follows that when it comes to dog training, I try to read and watch and learn as much as possible. I just can’t get enough. Like dorky television shows, I also have my favourite trainers. If it was possible to be a dog training groupie, I would have crossed that line long ago.
Dr. Patricia McConnell is my dog training hero. If you haven’t read her books or her fascinating blog you are missing out. I think I learn new things from each and every post. One of the things I appreciate the most, is that Dr. McConnell never seems to stop learning and questioning herself. Dog behaviour is such a new field in many respects. New theories are being tested all the time. The Other End of the Leash is one of the ways I keep in touch with the more scientific side of things
She is the kind of person I aspire to be – not just with my animals, but with everyone in my life. Whenever I encounter a difficulty with Shiva (ie. every five minutes), I try to ask myself how Dr. McConnell would handle the situation. It helps me think a little more clearly. Instead of crying in frustration, I remember to be patient, to take a deep breath, and to laugh.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to meet her in person. One of my life list goals is to attend one of her seminars. As she almost never comes up to Canada, I don’t know how likely it is to happen. Besides, what would I even say to her? I don’t normally get nervous about celebrity status. People are people, after all. But when it comes to things I am so passionate about, there are many people I would find super-intimidating. Even with all of her apparent kindness, Patricia McConnell is at the top of that list.
Zak George is probably second. I first saw him on his Animal Planet show Super Fetch. I liked that it wasn’t the standard dog training show about behaviour rehabilitation. There was no mention of aggression or dominance or reactivity. Instead, he taught people how to teach their dogs a fun trick. From riding a bike to pouring beer at a bar, the dogs that appeared on the show all attempted to learn some very cool new abilities to show off. Sometimes they were successful and sometimes they weren’t. Zak had a very “no pressure” attitude. It’s one of the reasons I admire him so much. He would describe the basic training plan and leave it up to the dog’s owner to follow through. It was just all about having fun with your dog.
While Dr. McConnell reminds me to be patient, Zak George reminds me to relax and enjoy myself. Dog training is supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be so stressful I want to hide under a blanket. If I find myself getting uptight, I am doing it wrong. Channelling my inner Zak George energizes me. I stop worrying about my previous failures and make myself play around. After all, what’s the worst that could happen if a training session doesn’t go the way I planned? As long as I remember to chill out, we’ll have a good time regardless. So my dog can’t flush a toilet. That doesn’t make me a bad person.
Do you have any dog training heroes? How do you keep it together when your dog just isn’t listening?