They know not that they have earned a title. They care not for the scores. They are unimpressed by the cheers of the crowd and they remain ignorant to the scorn of those who judge them. Yet our dogs continue to try, to strive and to achieve. Why? Titles and accomplishments are not for dogs. They are for the owners and the window shoppers. What is for the dog is the time that the owner invests, the pride shared with that much beloved dog and the joy of working together.

When my dogs fail to perform a task, follow a command or pass a trial I always look to myself, to my performance, to find the fault. Did I spend enough time working with my dog? Did I form an appropriate bond? Did I work the dog repetitively with high motivation and fun? Did I myself give a performance consistent with what I present to my dog during training? The fault never fails to be mine. If we do not pass it is because I did not teach the task; because I did not present the same picture; because I failed to bring what I needed to bring to our team. As handlers it is easy to blame the dog, the venue, the crowd, that weird tuft of grass or that sunny spot that blinded us for 5 seconds. But these are not reasons, they are excuses. Excuses because we fail to admit to ourselves and to our ever forgiving canine partner that we, the "higher being" failed to do our job when the heat was on.

One could easily assume that since I look first to myself for fault that I may also look first to myself in success. The exact opposite is true. When we have success it is because of my dog. It is because my dog did his job, as he always does, and brought his half to the team. More importantly the success is his (or hers) because he suffered my repetition in training, he made the correct decision even when I asked incorrectly and he gave me his all when the time to put up or shut up was right in front of us. Because while I worry about the judge, the crowd and the performance, he worries only about working with me and experiencing the joy of teamwork.

Your dog is the only relationship that you will be in where the other participant will put your happiness first. Each and every time. Cherish that selflessness for what it is, strive to deserve it and above all try your hardest to remain ever conscious of it. None of us will ever be good enough to deserve such devotion in our lifetime but we are lucky enough to have it anyway. That in itself is a gift beyond measure. One which we owe our dogs for all of their days.

by Jen Rainey on Thursday, March 15, 2012