Trainers and handlers alike have a big responsibility in the function of their service dog partnership. I've always felt that I was good at this- you know not just at training obedience, skills, and other necessities but at keeping those aspects at optimal levels throughout the year/s.
Recently I have been taking a second and third and fourth look at this team of ours. It has problems I will admit that. I think the biggest thing that impacts our partnership is honestly where we live. Living in rain nine or more months a year, makes it very difficult to take your time as you work. My good friend Sharon at After Gadget blog in her comment reply to me in her post WOOT! Do I Have a Working Dog? said something pertaining to her own situation that stuck with me. She talks about how Barnum had been getting mixed signals in LLW due to other people not having the same requirements of him. I was thinking about the mixed messages and though Thane's work in harness is generally the same year around, I will admit that I am less likely to slow down and work on keeping work at the optimum performance and/ or fixing things that are slipping when its wet and rainy outside.
During wet weather all I want to do is get the errands done as quickly as possible, get inside the dry bus quickly, get inside the max quickly, get inside the store quickly. Are you following the pattern here? LOL Three-quarters of the year, I ask Thane to function in a rushing here, rushing there mode and then when the land dries up and the sky quits dumping its rain, I wonder why I can not get him to slow down! Now its probably not all about the messages I have given to him all year long, but it certainly plays a roll.
In looking at how well we function, not just while Thane is guiding me but in other areas as well, I've come to see areas that we need to address. Some is most definitely from those mixed messages- letting sloppy function slide because I was too tired, too sick, too cold, too miserable in the rain. These things all contribute to the falling apart of teamwork.
Don't get me wrong, our work and partnership are not in jeopardy, but I need to make permanent changes in the *me* end of the partnership to assure that the *Thane* end of it stays in top form. In the process, of getting some of our communication and follow through back to where it should be, I will be working intently on the messages I am giving Thane. Am I myself following through with clarity or am I telling him by my inaction or acceptance of less than stellar form that my commands are mere suggestions.
Thane most definitely still meets criteria for a service dog, but in taking a look at flaws I see (many of which were not there the end of summer) it has also taken me back to see areas that I went through a bit quickly and/ or even may have passed over altogether because at the time I saw no or minimal at most application to my needs from him or that I was so messed up from grief that I skipped things over entirely without even realizing it. Second Dog Syndrome has many features that are easy to miss!
Now I am eager to take a step back- look at the big picture and make a checklist of areas we should work on with whatever summer we get. I am eager to address these areas with clarity for Thane and as a result to hopefully rid all of those mixed messages I've been handing down to him. The hardest aspect won't be in the re-train/ re-vamp process, but it will be months from now when the hard rains return for us to work in again. My hope is that I will be able to remember what I am seeing happen to our partnership now as a result of lowering my expectations because I just wanted to get things done as quickly as possible.
And for the simply curious, right now I'm working on something with him that I never really put much time or effort into other than to assure he understood my request, that of working on the opposite side of me. No, not in harness, but it could be handy for indoor function and tasks as well as transportation- not to mention that its just sort of fun!
So thanks Sharon at After Gadget for helping me to look more intently at my partnership!