In a previous lifetime, I was a fairly serious cross-country ski competitor. Just ‘citizen races’ – the x-c version of 5K’s & 10K’s that are popular with runners. Except the ski races I competed in were 25-75K in length. Some were in Europe or on the west coast.
For 12 winters, from the beginning of January to mid-March, I raced virtually every weekend. Thousands of miles of driving or flying, tens of thousands of kilometers in races and of training on skis, or on roller blades or roller skis in off-season.
For someone who started the sport in her late 20’s, I did pretty well. Age category placements in state-side races with occasional overall placements. Top 10% finishes in the big European races (think ‘fields as large as those of the NYC marathon on a continent where x-c is a popular sport’).
I put on my roller skis this morning. It’s been a l-o-n-g time since I’ve been on them. Everything still fit. Boots, poles (straps still perfectly adjusted!), technique, sport. Homecoming.
My focus these days is dog training, and specifically nose work. I’ve been campaigning with my own dogs in NACSW and AKC, with jogs into PSD and USCSS trials. I’m also a boutique NW trainer (snobby way of saying ‘hobby trainer’), trial host and judge.
There are a lot of similarities between the two activities for me: hobbies that became lifestyles.
The focus, the intensity, the ability to pack my car with all required accouterments in 10 minutes, the friendships I’ve formed. The weekend trips (and miles of windscreen time) as I drive to trials. The hours (and hours) of research, conversations, cogitation, training to improve my skill set. If Gladwell’s Outlier theory of logging 10,000 hours to master a sport were true, then I’m a master in both.
The difference is the dogs, of course. Gladwell’s theory has been debunked, and even if it were factual, the confounding factor for training canines would be the dogs themselves.
Training is all about connection with these wonderful, sentient beings who have their own foibles, needs, desires and opinions. Our dogs make us better humans when we listen to and respect them. Figuring out how to work with my two Akitas has been wonderful, frustrating, exhilarating, challenging, and rewarding.
My experience is that virtually all dogs can be trained. It’s up to us as the ‘smarter’ species to figure out how to simplify what we teach our dogs so they understand us. Generally it’s not that our dogs are stubborn or stupid, it’s that we don’t know how to communicate with them.
When we do, when we understand them and they us, and we connect, it defies description. Training not just practice, practice, practice (10,000 hours worth). It’s also flexibility, adaptability, communication, openness, being humble, and listening to our dogs.
Call me crazy. My most profound relationships these days are with my dogs. I can have a bad hair day 365 days in a row, and my dogs still think I’m “mahvelous.” Move over, Billy Crystal. They don’t care if I’m grumpy, short-tempered or sighted-, opinionated, tired, aging rapidly, self-centered, or curmudgeonly. I am perfect in their eyes, and they in mine.
When we are working, and are present for each other, are ‘on,’ engaged and involved in work and in training, there is flow.
True teamwork, amongst different species.