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It's Not A Race

2 weeks after my dog met the age minimum, he and I stepped on the trial field for the first time together- he was 15 months old at the time. The experience was a successful one in the sense that he did earn his first title, a BH, that day, and that he and I made it through without embarrassing ourselves too much! More than anything though, it was a much needed reality check for me.

Was I extremely proud of my dog for earning his title so young? Yes.

Could he have benefitted from more training before stepping on the field? Also yes.


Trialing with him showed me exactly where the biggest holes in our training were, and it gave me the opportunity to get out there and gain some trial experience that will benefit us both in the long run. But it was also the perfect reminder for me that there is no prize for getting it done the fastest.



Accomplishing something quickly with your dog, whatever that may be, has become a bragging right in itself. "My dog was heeling at 4 months." "My dog passed his Canine Good Citizen test at 6 months." "My dog was the youngest of his breed to earn his Novice Obedience title."

Don't get me wrong, achievements like that with young dogs are impressive, but what do we gain from them outside of a bragging right? More importantly, what do our dogs gain?

And what exactly are we sacrificing for the sake of getting it done the soonest?


In my experience, very little good actually comes from rushing our dogs and their training. Sure, it feels good to tell people about all that you've achieved while they're young, but at some point I think we need to carefully evaluate the role we allow ego to play in our training and ask ourselves "why?"

Are we doing it because our dogs are truly ready and progressing is what's best for them? Or because we feel like we have something to prove?


In reality, there is no actual benefit to rushing through training. There is no prize to be won for being the soonest to finish, but there are plenty of problems that can arise from moving too quickly too soon. Not spending a sufficient amount of time in the foundational phase is almost a guarantee for issues moving forward. Beyond the surface-level problems like incorrect obedience positioning and lack of engagement that are commonly seen when we progress too quickly, we also need to think long and hard about the effects that rushing can have on our dogs' state of mind during training.


Putting too much on a young dog too soon is an incredibly easy way to cause burnout. Instead of spending adequate time building a relationship with your dog and setting the groundwork to ensure that they have the tools to problem solve and work through stressors, we fly through their foundation because it's "boring" or "not as cool" as more advanced training is. As a result, we not only have to go back and fix issues down the road that could have been avoided, but we also have to manage the effects that too much pressure too early on in training can cause when we don't take enough time to truly teach them first.


As a rule, dogs will always revert to their foundation, and holes in that foundation will always show themselves eventually. We can choose to rush or cut corners to make it to the "fun" stuff a little sooner, but it will very rarely come without consequence in one form or another.

There's a quote from Archilochus, a greek philosopher, that remains entirely relevant in the world of dog training: "We don't rise to the level of our expectation, we fall to the level of our training."



Personally, I know I've rushed both of my dogs at different times for different reasons, and I can definitively say for myself that I have had a hard time with placing too much value in outside opinions. At times, I have been so focused on impressing other people or proving that I do have what it takes to teach my dogs certain things that I've pressed them to do too much, too soon.


It’s hard to take a step back and put into perspective what we want in comparison to what our dogs need. Recently I’ve caught myself getting too focused again on meeting a goal with my dog by a certain time frame. Rather than being a simple objective that I’m working to reach, it had become a source of stress for me- an invisible deadline that I’d set for myself that I was determined to meet regardless of outside circumstances. While venting to a friend about how I felt behind and unprepared for the upcoming event, I was reminded of exactly what I needed to hear: "It's not a race."

It's okay to slow down. It's okay to take your time. It's okay to get there when you get there.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being more concerned about doing it well than doing it fast.


For me, it takes an attitude check and an honest reevaluation of my priorities to remember that just because you can doesn't mean you should.

I have my dogs' entire lives to get the title. To meet our goals. To be "impressive."

But I only have one shot at a relationship with them.


Is it worth it?

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