I often get updates on the dogs with which I have worked, telling me how well they are doing or showcasing some special talent. Few things give me more satisfaction in my job than to see a dog that has grown into a focused athlete or performance dog. Seeing a former student perform an amazing Canine Freestyle routine, or run a clean and fast agility course, or finish a successful flyball race. Although most dog sports are considered “individual events”, I consider them all team sports, as the dog and handler must work in close communication in order to succeed.
Of all of the dog-handler teams that I have coached, Abbie and Michael are among those that make me the most proud.
Among other things, Abbie is a Guinness World Record holding surfing dog. I met Abbie and Michael years ago, when they showed up in my basic training class. Abbie was a young Kelpie, and Michael’s first dog, adopted from the Humane Society Silicon Valley. She had been found near death along the side of the road and taken to the shelter. Being drawn to high drive dogs, I saw the potential in her right away, and set my mind to encourage Michael to get involved in dog sports or other activities. My thought was to keep Abbie’s busy mind as occupied as possible so that she would not become a problem for him. He picked up the proverbial ball, and ran with it, moving through my series of classes into sports preparation. What I loved about Michael was his desire to learn as much as he could about working with his high energy dog. He would frequently call me with questions, or asking for training suggestions on certain topics.
When he announced that they were moving to San Diego, I was sad at not getting to see them, but wished them well and asked Michael to keep in touch. As with many clients, though, I did not really expect to hear from him. I was pleasantly surprised to continue to get notices from him about the various activities that he was doing with Abbie, including achieving her Canine Good Citizen certificate and Junior Herding Dog title.
But the really exciting news started coming when Michael introduced Abbie Girl to surfing! Unlike many dogs who are trained very gradually, Michael put Abbie on a board just as a way to rest when they were out swimming in the ocean. Abbie took to it right away, and has been a surfing fanatic ever since.
As I always emphasize in my classes and with my clients, dog training, particularly in sports, is all about relationship. And when people have nervous dogs, as Abbie was when she was young, I tell them that they must do all that they can to convince their dogs to trust them completely. One of the keys to the relationship that Michael has with Abbie is what he now calls “Trust, Not Training”. This does not mean that he does not train Abbie, but it does mean that he won’t convince her to do something that is against her nature or frightening for her. Instead, he has taught her to trust him completely, and she happily and willing does things for him – and with him – because her trust in him is exceptional.
With this philosophy, Michael has accomplished with Abbie what many people wouldn’t dream of, and he takes her with him on all kinds of excursions from hiking and mountain biking to surfing and paragliding. His work with her has landed them commercial spots, including a segment on the Dogs 101 TV program, as well as a lovely piece for the San Diego tourism board.
Michael continues to promote Abbie’s accomplishments and has since landed spots for her in movies, including the 2010 feature film, Marmaduke. Through the bond that they share together, Abbie and Michael can accomplish anything, and I consider them role models for anyone who loves dogs and truly wants a relationship with a dog that is beyond just “master and dog”.