A sad video was shared the other day which caused minor outrage and pitchfork wielding among many viewers. In said sad video a 12 week old BC was being lured around a course (yes…a course) by his new mom. She took him over jumps (requiring actual jumping), on the teeter (a healthy drop of a foot or so) and over a dogwalk (full-sized, lowered but over half height). She asked him to jump a mini grid requiring turning. She failed to recognize the signs of his mental exhaustion. He failed to recognize the point and dismissed himself. All in all, not a great exposure for him. Not really sure if the saddest part is the bleak future for the cute little puppy, or the fact that mom is a vet tech and on her third or so agility dog- meaning, should totally know better by now.
And there is the problem. I’m sure the owner is educated only enough to be a danger. There is probably a teacher not doing much better close by, leading by (poor) example. Bottom line: Uneducated. Ignorance is probably one of the most dangerous nouns in the English language. So many bad things happen under the power of Ignorance. Knowledge could take her from someone who SHOULD know better to someone who actually DOES. But where does the knowledge come from?
Naturally, a lot of strong feelings come up around a topic like this. With strong feelings come strong opinions. Everyone has an opinion of what the problem is here and what would be ‘best’ to solve it. Complication: Given the vast flow of opinion, how does one define and determine the art that is raising an agility teammate? What steps to take? When to take them? You’d think ‘safety’ would be a clear qualifier to set a standard but it isn’t. The question of ‘best’ remains.
It’s obvious to most that it’s wrong to jump a 12 week old dog. But what to do? Tricks? Flatwork? Waiting? (Hint: If you aren’t jumping a 12 week old, you’re probably on a good track.) You can make an argument for most anything. How does one decide what to do when there are so many opinions? Though we can mostly agree 12 weeks is bad, you can bet your agility trial savings account that no two people can agree on the age marker that is BEST. And how do you capture the rest, like the woman in the example, who even feel that 12 weeks is acceptable?
It sounds like an impossible situation. If no one can agree, you can’t please everyone. You’re right as can be in the eyes of some, yet wronger than wrong in another view. At some point, someone somewhere is going to give you that look or comment that makes you doubt what you did. And you still don’t have the answer of what you should have done or do next time.
But don’t worry. It’s not impossible. You don’t have to please everyone or know everything there is to know about agility, or even pay $5000 for someone like Susan G. to tell you very quickly. Here is the one thing you really need to know to decide what is ‘best:’
Know your dog. This means physically and mentally. Be aware of their physical capabilities and stages of growth. Then be aware of their mental constraints and maturity. Know every inch of your dog. Our problem with the woman in the video is that she so clearly doesn’t know her dog. If she took the time to know her dog, we would have seen a very different video. She might have been listening to a teacher, but she should have been listening to her dog. The fact that she wasn't was her only mistake, and the knowledge of her own dog is the one thing she MUST have now.
I can sleep at night because I know my dogs- meaning, I don’t really care what anyone’s opinion is on the logistics of my training when it comes to The Pup. I get that I did some things ‘early’ to some and I skipped things others would have done. Here’s the thing: After almost a year (but, GASP! Not a full year!) of bonding and training (and the vet’s ok) I knew she was physically and mentally fine to work up to full equipment and BECAUSE of all the bonding and training it went very quickly. The Pup has shown me what to do every step of the way and I listened. On the flipside, four years with The Dog and I have only just begun to feel as though she is mentally ready to have her limits pushed. She needed time and she received it. Again, I listened.
So there you are. Know your dog. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s ok. But you have to know your dog. Your dog will lead the way.
This has been a public service announcement.