Life pursuits and Canine Careers

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Do you ever feel like thinking of doing something and then realising it’s something you wanted to do as a child but somehow never ended up going for it? That’s me right now. I’m self employed doing what I love doing yet having this niggling feeling that there is more and I’d love to expand my work in a different way to how I thought I would want to do even just several years ago…

One of the riders I teach used to be an avid horse person, had her own horse, loved it and was totally immersed in horsey lifestyle. Then, adult life happened. She spent the next 20 odd years having nothing to do with horses other than seeing them around…When we met, she had had just got her first horse since that break and told me how wonderful it felt “to be back” and how she had missed it all and also, how vast number of things from basic care to riding details she had forgotten! Tragically, that horse died of colic but after another, this time a very short break and teamwork search, she purchased her second adulthood horse. And life changed all over again with this younger, more athletic, more able and happy chap. In a very short time she came to the life she once left and is now re-learning everything fast.

I’m reflecting on this because when she first told me about her long break and how she loved it all yet left it all and forgot most of it, I thought, how could this be! And yet, here I am. Fast approaching my fourth decade of life, dog mad as a teenager and wanting to work with dogs, yet ending up not even having one for 10 years until now…

For the last 20+ years of my working life, half of it has been strongly focused on horses, their training, biomechanics, health and care. I’m forever fascinated by it and I don’t think that will ever change. The other has been dedicated to the human element – training the rider. Equally fascinating area of my work that I spend considerable amount of time on and I strive to improve daily.

Coaching in the equestrian sports for someone who converted to force-free methods in horse training and biomechanics focused rider training is a relatively niche endeavour. Equine training is largely pressure/release based training and that varies from very logical and well accepted body aids/gestures/touches to the use of severe gadgets aimed at producing submission. Clicker training and other positive reinforcement methods are largely absent from horse sport, even at grassroots level (albeit present within pleasure horse owner communities where many owners practice various force-free methods of communication indeed).

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It’s safe to say, dog sports like Agility, Competitive Obedience, GunDog tests and other active dog pursuits have a much larger owner population interested in positive reinforcement training although this is not to say pressure and force methods are non-existent because they are equally common as in the horse world.

Over the years I discovered that what drives my passion in working with animals is the development of respectful, positive, empowering communication. Dogs, with their innate need for connection and pure joy of cooperation with humans, are so much easier to train by us as many breeds are motivated by the cooperation alone. Horses, I find, are less intuitive to train positively to an average person, especially one highly extroverted and action focused, as many horses are often strongly motivated by space/cessation of active communication. Humans on the other hand, are “must do it now” focused…

I know many dog owners (and some horse owners too) look at “training” as something of a chore, a part of animal ownership that needs to be endured but to me, and thankfully many others, teaching (and learning) is the goal in itself šŸ™‚ There is nothing I love more than figuring out different ways of communication to achieve an outcome (both athletic and mental) with both sides having fun in the process.

And so, whilst playing with Jazz with all the gundog games and various life training subjects like lead walking and excitement control and steadiness etc I realised that all those years when I kept feeling some void, and some missing puzzle to my working life, it has been because I let the childhood passion lay dormant.

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I’m currently at a big life crossroad and I know how cliche this sounds but I am not sure how else to put it succinctly. It probably is the worst of times to be throwing myself into something I might not even be that good at but I feel like I owe it to myself to give it a go.

I’d been talking to people and scouring the online world learning about what courses I could do, how do others started and continued dog training careers and what path(s) would be best for me to take. I didn’t know how many resources are out there until I tried to sieve the relevant from useless and valuable from a complete waste of time!

This post is becoming very long so I will finish it here and write more about my course choices and reasoning behind them soon šŸ™‚

In the meantime, if you are a dog trainer (especially if you work with working dogs and/or dog sports) I would love to know how you got into it and any advice you could share would be hugely appreciated!

All the best,

Wiola & Jazz

Candid shots in this post are by Rebecca Bunce Photography

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