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Sometimes Schutzhund Sucks

Not how we do the blinds! Jamie Ryan's Dante gleefully ignores the search command to Blind Two and heads straight to Blind Six at the 2016 NW Regional Championship. Photo: Brian Aghajani.

It’s time to be honest. Sometimes Schutzhund sucks.

It’s hard. There’s always something to be training or fixing….ALWAYS. It’s difficult to find time for it. It’s even harder trying to find tracking places, plus the time needed to lay a track, age a track, and then run a track. Sometimes we find ourselves driving hours to club training, only to be disappointed with a less-than-stellar session that leaves us drowning in negative, despairing thoughts on our way home. Or we pour so much time and energy into training and into preparing for an event, only to be disqualified or terminated during the trial. All that hard work blown in one brief moment! Perhaps the dog gets injured, or isn’t meeting our expectations, and we start wondering if it’s even worth it to put in all this time, money, and effort.

And the people – by and large, the people in the sport are good. But spend enough time in the sport or in the online training lists, and you see the nastiness come out. A handful of people trash-talk handlers, helpers and trainers. Instead of building each other up and supporting each other, some insist on criticizing and tearing down others to whomever will listen. Others disparage Schutzhund/IPO, make it sound so “easy” and “watered down” compared to how it was, and essentially make you feel like your accomplishments and struggles are worthless. Some nitpick and argue about organizational politics or perspectives, and sometimes even resort to name-calling and insults, leaving you to wonder why we can’t just all get along and support each other.

There’s a saying out there: “There’s no crying in Schutzhund!” But I know that’s a lie. I’ve cried many times, sometimes out of frustration, sometimes out of despair over shattered expectations or a heart-breaking DQ at a National trial, and sometimes from legitimate hurts inflicted by the words and actions of others (or even by my dogs). Schutzhund is blood, sweat, AND tears.

The road is long. The way is hard. We often fail more than we succeed. So how do we keep with it?

1. Focus on what you can control.

There’s a lot that we cannot control in the sport of Schutzhund. We can’t control the weather on trial day. We can’t control the fact that the farmer sold our favorite tracking field and now it’s being developed into condos. We can’t control other people, their actions, their reactions to us or our dogs, or the things they say. We can’t even control the responses of our dogs! It becomes disheartening when we focus on everything that we don’t have a hand in. So instead, focus on what you can control and what you can influence. You can control yourself and your behavior. You can control when and how you train. You can influence your dog and his behavior, and stack the deck through your training toward a favorable outcome. You can control when you trial, and can control how prepared you are for that event. And while you can’t control the outcome of a trial, you can control how you handle yourself on trial day.

At this point, the handler has no control over the outcome. The dog will either release when given the command - or second command, or third command - or won't, and there's nothing the handler can do about it right now. Photo: Louise Jollyman's Apollo at the 2014 USCA GSD National Championship.

2. Be thankful for the good stuff.

We have a very human tendency to focus on all that’s going wrong and all that’s negative. Instead, become more mindful of your thoughts, and purposefully focus them on what you have done right and done well, no matter how small. Make a ‘gratitude list’ of all the things that you are thankful for about the sport. An attitude of gratitude has been proven to improve our perspective on life, so surely it can work for improving our perspective of Schutzhund as well! Fail a trial or DQ? Look for all the things that went well so that you aren't just sitting there lamenting the disaster. Then, when your perspective has improved, you can look more objectively at the areas you need to improve.

3. Find supportive friends.

This is essential. You can’t do Schutzhund alone. We need people to help support us, encourage us, cry with us, pick us up, and even give us that kick in the pants to keep going. Finding a good friend in the sport makes the struggles worthwhile, and gives you someone share in each other’s sorrows and joys. And there are some amazing people in this sport!

4. Avoid the toxic people.

They can be found everywhere, but do your best to avoid them, even if it means just walking away whenever you see them coming, or staying out of the Facebook training lists where some of these people lurk with the sole intent of “having discussions” (i.e. stirring up trouble and voicing their own negative opinions). Nothing sours your training experience, trial experience, or overall joy in Schutzhund faster than the toxic person who complains about everything, or talks badly about everyone, or purposely tries to hurt or undermine you or other people in their life with their words and actions. The problem isn’t you; the problem is them. Schutzhund is hard enough without the toxic people in your life, so do your best to keep them out of it. You’ll be much happier in the long run.

5. Embrace the grind...

We have to believe the pain is worth the plunder, that the fight is worth the victory at the end. And so we tackle the sport head on, and keep moving forward one step at a time even when we don’t want to. Just like training for a half-marathon or committing to a workout or weight loss program, we have to keep going. We have to make it a part of our daily life, even if some days it’s just a short two-minute obedience session in the backyard because we don’t have time or energy for anything else. When you are consistent, those short sessions add up over the course of a week, and you will see progress. Even if you are not moving ahead as fast as you’d like or as fast as other people think you should be, keep taking one small step after another, and work toward your goal.

6. ...But also make time for what really matters.

Believe it or not, life is more than Schutzhund. Sometimes this means that we take time out of Schutzhund for family, friends, and even vacations without the dogs or without our training equipment. Sometimes this means remembering what’s really important within the sport itself – not the points, but the relationship with your dog, the journey you are on together, and the people you’ve met along the way. It’s fine to want to score top points, but not at our dog’s expense nor at other people’s expense. Don’t sacrifice what really matters.

7. Remember that you and your dog both have value beyond Schutzhund.

Your success in Schutzhund is not the final verdict on your worth. Your dog’s ability to do IPO is not the sole determination of his value. Your dog still has purpose and worth beyond whether or not he can do the sport, or do it up to your standard (or that of your training director, helper, etc.). So even when you feel like you or your dog just can’t cut it in this sport, remember that you both have a value that transcends Schutzhund.

There's a saying in the horse world: "When you get bucked off, you get back on." It's the same thing with Schutzhund. When it gets hard, when it throws us for a loop, or when we fall off the training program, we're left with only two options: quit, or dust ourselves off and get back on!

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