Friday, March 7, 2008

Inspiring Dog-Owners and Trainers

You know, there is something that I have found to be generally true of the dog-training community. Each and every member of it believes they are the only right one, and all others have got it wrong. In fact, so well known is this case that a joke has developed around it:

"If you have three dog trainers in a room the only thing that two of them can agree on is what the third one is doing wrong."

However, once in a while, there are some who stand out above the others. They are the exceptional dog-trainers and dog owners who share a willingness to help others, are flexible in their approach, and have a natural flair for understanding, and working with, dogs. The fact that these people are so rare, make them all that little bit more special.

So which of these people inspire me? Of course, there are many people who do, for various reasons. However, the people listed below, for me, are the cream of the crop, in terms of how they have inspired or helped me personally.

Silvia Trkman
First and foremost is Silvia Trkman. She is everything that I aspire to be, in terms of working with dogs. Aside from her really quite amazing natural approach to motivating and working with dogs, what I have also admired about her is that she's never allowed herself to be dragged into the usual arguments and politics of dog-training.

She has, as far as I can see, just focused on her dogs instead, and ended up with incredible success as a result. It's also her philosophy that I admire. She states, very clearly, that there isn't a "right way" to work with your dog, and I think this is the part of training and living with dogs that too many people forget. Most people are so busy looking for that magic system that they don't realise the system is staring them right in the face - literally. The dog will show them that magic system, and this is what I think I have learned most from Silvia.

She also keeps it incredibly simple. None of the scientific mumbo-jumbo, and no dedicated following of the latest fads, or latest fashionable trainers.

I also admire that she's never bothered to write a book. The fact is that if she were to write a book, we, the dog-owning and training crowd, would buy it in droves, hoping that some of the magic will eventually rub off onto us and improve our sometimes lacklustre efforts. (For the record, I think the magic behind Silvia is not in her methods, but her actual core beliefs, attitude, and personality. I'm not convinced that those things can be taught to the level that makes Silvia the success she is.)

However, as she states on her site, her "methods" are so simple that a book wouldn't be worthwhile. I find it hard to fully trust any information or trainer when I know that they have a book to sell too. It's so refreshing that Silvia hasn't yet bought into that.

But then, let's not forget her agility accomplishments. Even if you ignore the several agility titles under her belt, (two-times world champion, nine-times national champion, and world team member since 1997) what she can get a dog to perform, in terms of tricks, is just beyond staggering.

I think it will be a very long time indeed before we see another trainer who is as naturally gifted as Silvia seems to be. Sure, we can all learn technical expertise and methods, but that 'natural' approach is so rare, and that is where the magic truly is.

Silvia Trkman Website

Now if you don't already know of Barbie, and her beagle, Xsara, you must have been living under a rock for some time. That clever beagle of hers is getting quite a fan-club!

Barbie is another one who, whether she realises it or not, we dog-owners often want to emulate. She has such a passion and enthusiasm for Xsara, and she's never afraid to echo that. Barbie isn't, as far as I know, a trainer. She has, however, learned under Silvia Trkman. That latter fact shows so clearly when you see the tricks that her Beagle performs, how she approaches training, and how she views her Beagle, Xsara.

To me at least, Barbie has never been anything short of helpful, sharing her tips and videos for others to learn from. However, what really touched me the other week, was learning how Xsara came to be, and how it all started for them. You can't help but be touched by the story.

For most of us, getting a dog is an incredibly easy affair. Some might argue that it's too easy. However, for Barbie, it was a long road to travel before she could get her first dog.

I can't help thinking that the waiting she had to endure helped to form the natural and enthusiastic approach she now has towards working with and living with Xsara, and giving Xsara such an enriched and varied life. After all, if you have to wait for something for so long, then you're going to treasure it all the more.

Again, I've never seen Barbie get involved in the politics of dog-ownership and/or training. Many of us will sit thrashing out our beliefs in the many dog-related forums that exist on the web. Barbie and Silvia seem to have figured out the secret here though - that's just wasting good time that could be spent bonding with your dog. It's taken me a while to realise that, but they have both taught me to a large extent, whether they wanted to or not.

Again, the results she achieves with Xsara are nothing short of incredible, and being able to read through her tips and thoughts through her website is invaluable.

Xsara Website

Cindy Jacobs
I first got to know of Cindy through YouTube. I stumbled upon her videos which she kindly shares there. I was immediately blown away by what she was accomplishing with the young GSD puppies that she trains. Cindy, or Cyd, as she is commonly known works only with puppies.

Now, I don't know that much about Cindy, other than to say that, when I first spotted her, I had the cheek to ask for tips in specific areas. I really didn't expect a response to be honest, but I tried my luck anyway.

Within just a few minutes, she had replied to me, and gave me some invaluable advice and tips, which, to this day, has proved to be worth its weight in gold.

Here in the UK, perception of a great many American trainers is really quite poor. This is largely down to Cesar Milan to be honest. The general perception is that many American trainers are harsh, use abusive techniques, and are a decade behind the rest of the world in terms of dog training.

Cyd, and others besides her, show this is really not the case at all. In fact, I was really quite amazed when I saw Cyd work. She talked to the dog so much. I never really expected this. There is no single barking of orders at the dog when Cyd works. She's like a Mother cooing over a baby, and it works. Yet, despite the apparent disorganised cooing, when you really listen to it, you hear that it's actually very structured and consistent. She just has a knack of making it sound all very friendly and loose.

I can't say that Cyd and I have exchanged many words, but when we have, her enthusiasm and sheer delight at doing what she does is so clear. You just get the feeling that she feels herself to be the luckiest person in the world, just to be able to train puppies. Wouldn't we all want to feel that?

Even last night, I needed some advice and so got in touch with her. She wasn't able to answer me specifically as it was beyond her area of expertise. However, she gave me the details of someone who could help, and sure enough, I was able to get my question answered through her contact. I know a great many trainers who would have pretended to know and just answered me with opinion instead of fact. The fact that Cyd didn't even attempt to was really very refreshing indeed.

It's her unselfish attitude and enthusiasm that inspires me, as well as the amazing work she manages to do with such young puppies. That takes dedication.

Cindy and David Harris' Website

1 comment:

Xsara ... said...

Wow, I can't believe you listed me among such great trainers, you almost made me cry! I'm getting soft in my old age :) Just to let you know, your work with Ellie is inspiring too, you two make a wonderful team and I'm sure you have wonderful things waiting for you.