As a trainer that’s one of those sentences I may be sorry for writing later. As a dog mom and a writer I feel no shame about it. I learned something more valuable to me than a set of letters after my dogs name.
We arrived for the test and the neutral dog that was there is one that Magnus just loves. I have no idea why, but he just goes crazy with excitement for that dog. I immediately thought he will never do Test 8: Reaction to another dog with that dog. Perhaps that’s a trainer fail on my part, since according to the test he should, “show no more than casual interest in [the other dog]. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.” Technically it shouldn’t matter who the dog is, so mark that one down for more practice and as a lesson learned. That was not the main problem though.
Our downfall was stress. I wasn’t stressed when we got there, but due to the way the test worked out we didn’t have a chance to get settled before we did the parallel walk past the other dog and start the rest of our test. It was a bit of a sink or swim with no warm up and we sank.
After the first dismal pass of the other dog he started stress sniffing. I have never had a dog that expressed stress that way like Magnus does. This is so totally the opposite of how Maizey tells me she’s stressed that I haven’t ever learned how to deal with it. That’s my second lesson: learn how to help a dog that disconnects when stressed.
After blowing the pass another dog part of the test we went out the the room to wait our turn for the rest of the test. I knew he was stressed and we tried to jolly out of it, played a few little recalls and took some sniffing time, but then it was our turn. Even though it didn’t go good I’m proud of my choices from here on out.
Based on his performance in passing the other dog I figured we had already failed so I told our trainer if that was the case I didn’t want to test with him stressed. She said if he passed the rest of the test she wouldn’t fail him so we got started. He did fine for Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger and Test 2: Sitting politely for petting, but even at his best my boy does not like to be groomed and the next test item is, Test 3: Appearance and grooming. According to the test, “The evaluator then softly combs or brushes the dog, and in a natural manner, lightly examines the ears and gently picks up each front foot.” He accepted the brushing, but when it came time for his ears he was having none of that and backed right up out of reach. That’s a fail. Since it’s the brush he’s had the most trouble with we practiced the most on that and slacked on the ears. Lesson number three for me: Practice it all, practice more and more thoroughly.
At that point since we’d already failed she offered to work with us on a few things, but I declined and that’s where the most important 4legged lesson of the day came into play. I just wanted to take the pressure off of him. If it’s not something that’s a quality of life issue or a life or death skill, like a recall, the most important thing to me is listening to my dog, not if he performs or not. If I was to do it again I would advocate for him at that first stress sniff. I would speak up and say, he’s stressed and we need to regroup. If that failed us, so be it. I listened when my boy spoke and next time I’ll advocate for him even better and that’s what makes me proud of us.
I’m not discounting the value of the CGC or any other title, but there are no letters after our names that matter more to me than building our relationship. I listened to my dog tonight. There are so many human expectations I could have succumbed to. I’m a dog trainer by profession. Now I’m a dog trainer whose dog failed the CGC. That’s reflection on me, not him. Trust me I feel the pressure of that. I could easily have let that push me to push Magnus to continue the test for my ego. But I didn’t. I also didn’t succumb to the pressure of wanting to please our trainer, who by the way, happens to be my boss. I want to do a good job of course, I want to be worthy of being a trainer there and I want the respect of my boss, so all of that could have crowded in my mind when I saw him start shutting down. Now I have to go back to work on Monday and face all the people I work with who actually know what the CGC is and understand what it means to fail. I’m not immune to those thoughts and pressures, but I’m proud to say in the moment I didn’t think of those things. I thought of Magnus. I listened to him and I hope I conveyed to him it’s okay to get stressed out. Now my lesson is just to learn how to help him work through his stress and find success in a new way. That’s a 4legged lesson learned that I know will make me a much better trainer and mom.
So while I guess I should be feeling a sense of failure, I don’t. Which if you know me is ironic, but I’ll take it as a sign of growth. What I feel is that we learned a lot, have a good plan of action to improve and at the end of the day the title that matters most to me is one that Magnus has mastered: that of Master Toe Warmer and Mom Snuggler!