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Keeping Your Sanity in Schutzhund

Photos courtesy of Brian Aghajani

Let’s be honest. Schutzhund isn’t all cupcakes, rainbows, and roses. There’s blood, sweat, tears, setbacks, and sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to cross. This sport and the people within it can be simultaneously joyful and perplexing, entertaining and annoying, inspirational and irksome. And with everything going on in the Schutzhund/IPO/IGP world, things can get a little insane. Here’s a few tips on how to stay sane, Schutzhund style.

1. Maintain perspective – it’s just a sport.

We love our dogs, and sometimes we get a little carried away with this thing called Schutzhund. Training overtakes all other aspects of life, and we can get so caught up in everything that we lose perspective. Remember, Schutzhund is a sport and breed test; it is not life or death. Most of us do not participate in IPO/IGP because it fattens our wallets, feeds our families, or gives us power, prestige, and recognition. Schutzhund is not our occupation. We do it as a hobby, as something we enjoy in our spare time. Some of us also use this as a breeding suitability test, valuing the information it gives about the dog’s temperament, trainability, and working ability. But at the end of the day, it is something we do because we find it intrinsically rewarding or valuable, and because we enjoy spending time with our dogs. Our dogs aren’t going to be emotionally destroyed if they don’t get a title or make it to Nationals or onto the world team, so neither should we. Yes, be passionate! But also maintain perspective.

2. Remember why you are in the sport.

What were your reasons for starting Schutzhund? Why did you get into it? Sometimes we need to reflect back on what got us started in the first place, so that we can regain that proper perspective. Again, most of us do this because we enjoy it, and because we enjoy our preferred breeds and like working with our dogs. We may start to obsess about getting everything perfect or just right, or we may get caught up in the club drama or dog politics. But I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what got us into Schutzhund in the first place. So what was it? Why do you do it? Remember this, and hold fast to it.

3. Focus on training your dog, not on the politics.

This one can be hard, because it seems like dog politics are everywhere, from individual to club to national and even international levels. And it's not to say that we shouldn't care and shouldn't be involved in protecting and preserving our sport (see #7). But really, at the end of the day, it’s just you and your dog left. None of the Schutzhund drama has any real impact on the relationship between you and your dog, on the way you work together. At least, it shouldn’t.* Regardless of what’s going on politically in the Schutzhund world, that stuff shouldn’t follow you onto the field when you go train. Your dog doesn’t care what’s going on. He doesn’t care who recognizes his titles or who he earned it under. He just cares about living life and spending time with you.

*Caveat: there are some politics - such as freedom of choice in training tools and methods, appropriate animal husbandry practices, breed specific legislation, etc. - that can have a direct impact on your training and should be a concern of all working dog people!

4. Stay off Facebook.

If you want to be less anxious and happier in your Schutzhund life, then this cannot be stressed enough – stay off Facebook and social media. Perusing social media and all those “perfect” videos of people training their dogs can create discontent, disillusionment, and even despair – “I wish my dog looked like that! We’ll never get there.” Additionally, there is no greater drama in IPO/IGP than what’s found on some of these Facebook lists. Many “discussions” just incite drama, spread misinformation, and create confusion. So if you want to enjoy the sport more, avoid these forums, or at least avoid those posts where the same few people always seem to vent (which brings us to the next point!).

5. Avoid the toxic people.

Every sport, every venue of life, has these people. They suck the life out of you and make this sport so much less enjoyable. Toxic people may be the ones who complain the loudest about every little thing, who bully others to get their way, who backstab others, incite gossip and spread it at every possible opportunity, make selfish decisions without regard for anyone else, or form relationships based only on the "What's in it for me?" principle (the "I'll be your friend in the sport as long as you are useful to me" mentality.). Do your best to avoid hanging out with these toxic people, and you will find that without all their drama and negativity, your Schutzhund life is much happier and more satisfying. Build a tribe of supportive people!

6. Find what you enjoy, and do that.

What is it you enjoy about the sport of Schutzhund? When all the drama or stress is making you crazy, remember what it is you love, and go do that. Do you enjoy playing with your dog out there on the obedience field? Then forget about dumbbells for a second and just go have fun. Do you love to go tracking where you can relax while watching your dog work? Then block out a chunk of time and go track your dog, and keep it fun. Take time to do what you enjoy most in the sport, and forget about what other people might think or say. Sometimes you have to ask: “If I’m not enjoying it, then why am I doing it?” Or better yet, “If I’m not enjoying this, what can I change to bring that passion and joy back?” Because if you’re not enjoying it very much, then chances are your dog isn’t either.

7. Get involved in a constructive way.

I emphasize constructive. Complaining, whining, venting on social media, gossiping, threatening, bullying, “educating” the newbie on all the recent drama in the IPO world, etc. are NOT constructive. Constructive involvement may include:

  • supporting local Schutzhund events (even if not hosted by your home club) and helping out

  • volunteering to help at a Regional or National level trial

  • contacting your Regional Director, Director At Large, or Executive Board Members to talk politely about your concerns and get correct information

  • taking a new person under your wing and serving as a positive mentor, sharing a love for the sport and breed

  • encouraging your club to host a seminar, workshop, or fun non-trial event (such as a club potluck)

  • attending a seminar, workshop, or fun non-trial event with or without your dog

  • volunteering to get involved in your organization of choice – you CAN make a difference!

  • getting to know Schutzhund people better outside of the training field - go to lunch, have a BBQ, drinks, etc.

  • becoming involved in preserving the sport and your breed for future generations

  • brainstorming possible solutions and presenting them to your club leadership

Be proactive and get involved in a constructive way to help make positive changes!

8. Take a break, and a breath.

If you have to, step away and take a breather. Take some time off from Schutzhund. Maybe it means not training your dog for a little while and just enjoying him instead. Or maybe it means taking a break from your club for a bit, and just working on your own and having fun. Or maybe it means taking a vacation from it all, and doing absolutely nothing related to Schutzhund. Sometimes a break is needed, even if it is just stepping off the field for a moment or away from the keyboard or phone to take a few deep breaths. It helps us regain perspective. It reminds us that really, we’re the ones who chose this life for our dogs, not the other way around. They don’t care if they earn a title. They just want to be with us and enjoy doing what they were made to do.

At the end of the day, all we want is to just train our dogs, title them if we can, and enjoy the journey together. The life of a Schutzhund dog is far too short, and that journey will go by far too quickly. Enjoy it while you can.

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