By Karen R. Scheiner
As a rule, dachshunds are not known for their prowess in agility. Honestly, they would rather be following a scent or chasing bunnies in the field! To teach any dog to dash across a yard at their fastest speed, take jumps and run across a dog walk with impulsion, merely at the command of its owner, is a challenge. But more so for a dachshund whose nose, naturally, is intended for hunting. This article is intended to encourage those of you who are considering, or just beginning, to train a dachshund to perform what does not come naturally. That is, taking your dog to a place in training that would never happen without you. So think of this not as a training article, but rather one that will inspire you to continue working with and training your most loyal companion to be all that he can be.
Success can be measured in many different ways. It usually starts with setting a goal. If you set your goal too high, you will never find success. If you set your goal too low, it won’t mean anything. Success can be measured when your dog earns a title; with each higher title, the greater the feeling of success. Other forms of success don’t involve titles at all. Instead, it’s a measure of where you started when you first began to train your dog, and whether you believe that your dog has measurably improved. There are some goals that you initially may consider to be unattainable; but ultimately, after time, they may become within your reach and actually realized.
I often ask people whom I casually meet, what exactly do you do with your dogs? Inevitably, they look at me strangely and respond that they do “nothing,” because their dogs are “just pets.” So, does that mean they are destined to lead a life of dormancy? When I ask them if they would let their children just lie around the house all day, they admit that would certainly not be the case. So why is that okay for your dog to lack training? In my house, that’s never the case! In the my experience, from over the 16 or so years that I have been training dachshunds, I can truly tell you that the extra effort put into training your doxie, will reward you tenfold, in time.
I have to admit that until now, Chelsea has not been the subject of any of my articles. In fact, until very recently, many of my friends didn’t even know that she existed. Five years ago, when Chelsea was born, as the only girl puppy in a litter of four black and tan puppies, her fate to live with me was then decided. Although probably not the best manner to choose a prospect for performance training, now that I look back, I am convinced that Chelsea’s life is for the better. Therefore I am confident that I made the right decision in keeping her. By doing so, I have learned that the road to success is paved with cobblestones of both patience and perseverance. In fact, I have learned many lessons by owning and loving Chelsea.
We started with agility training when she was about six months old. She was initially nervous and not totally focused. I figured that she was a young puppy, so that her fear would soon be outgrown. But it continued. When I took her to classes, she could run very fast and I was concerned that she would run away from me in the training field. I hooked a 20-foot long-line on her, so that I could catch her if she took flight! For the first few months, she learned jumps and obstacles, dragging that long line. Ultimately, with greater confidence in her recall, I felt that she would not run off into the woods and the long-line became obsolete. We trained for over a year; she learned basic obedience skills and agility maneuvers. Chelsea learned jumps, contact obstacles and effortless weaves, but was always looking over her shoulder to see if there were other dogs around. I had trained a number of dachshunds previously, but none had shown so much hesitation. I wondered if this was a waste of time, and if we would ever find success. At that point, my measure of success was in just getting Chelsea to focus and stay in the ring. What I didn’t anticipate throughout this journey, were the lessons that Chelsea taught me!
Based on her backyard performance, I naively figured that at the age of two, she would be ready for her first competition. Chelsea had other ideas and clearly was not ready. In her first several Novice runs, I recall that I would set Chelsea up at the first jump. I had done this many times before, with other dachshunds, without issue. In Chelsea’s case, while she was waiting at the first jump, she would turn to look behind her, then peruse the perimeter of the field, taking in barking dogs and all of the ring activity. When I would give her the signal to run, she would cleanly take the first jump, and maybe the second, but then suddenly, before I knew it, she would dart out of the ring, leaving my expectations of a successful run in a heap of dirt.
After about three weekends of Chelsea’s two-jump runs, apparently being driven out by fear of being chased, or barked at, or who knows what, I decided it was enough. Although she had mastered the equipment in my yard, clearly the prospect of competing in a public place, with assorted noises and dogs all around, was too much to ask of her. I realized that she couldn’t possibly run successfully with this kind of an attitude. A less determined owner would have probably given up at that point.
As a result of Chelsea’s behavior in the ring or, I should say, running out of the ring, I received unsolicited advice from friends and other well-intentioned observers. “Face it,” they would say. “She’s never going to run in agility. She will never get a title.” Their advice was mostly telling me to place Chelsea, give up on my obviously poor choice of a performance dog, and that I should let her be owned by someone else. I pondered that advice and thought about the life that Chelsea would then lead. Would she have an active life, practicing agility and obedience? Would she go on trips and regularly play outside? Or, would she live cooped up in someone’s house, because the prospect of taking her out in public would be too much for her, and for her new owner, to handle? In fact, would her new owner take her out at all, or simply give up on her? Would her life be reduced to lying around and sleeping on someone’s sofa all day long as “just a pet”?
The answer came to me clearly. Chelsea would be a challenge, but I firmly believed that we would find success in the end. I now know that the dogs that are easiest to train don’t really teach you anything. The ones that have issues are the dogs that you learn the most from. I definitely think I am a better trainer now, for all of my dogs, having worked through many issues with Chelsea.
Patience. The first lesson that I learned from Chelsea is to have patience. They say that “patience is a virtue,” and that certainly rings true in training a dachshund! Although some doxies are bold, many may be fearful, like Chelsea was. She showed signs of this by running out of the ring, and by barking incessantly at the other dogs and strangers. She would constantly look around, her eyes darting from dog to dog, or from person to person, and was not capable of focusing on the job at hand. On the rare occasions that she did stay in the ring with me, her worrying and looking around, caused her to crash into the jumps that were right in front of her. So from these experiences, I learned from Chelsea that she needed more time; there was no reason to rush her into the performance ring. Instead, she needed to be exposed to as many different sounds, people and dogs as possible. I started to take her with me everywhere. The best places were Pet superstores, my office and the mall. I let strangers play with her, feed her treats (that I provided) and pet her. Every public experience was an opportunity for her to become more familiar and socialized.
Instead of training just in my yard, I began to take Chelsea to classes where there were lots of other dogs. Although she may have had less practice runs than in my yard, the socialization in being around other people and other dogs was invaluable. If you have a dachshund like Chelsea, it may take another year to get your dog ready for performance, but you may actually start to find pleasure and satisfaction in the progress that she is showing. Rushing a skittish dog into a performance ring can be a disaster: the probable result is that the dog will learn to hate the activity and the handler will become frustrated. Unfortunately, I have seen this all too frequently with other handlers. Then all of the fun – for both of you – is gone. So I learned to wait it out, until I was sure that Chelsea was ready for the performance ring. I watched her progress month after month; she showed small steps leading to success.
After another year of training, at the age of three, Chelsea’s performance had improved not only in my back yard, but she was doing better around other dogs in a small class. She was always happy to receive attention and her tail wagged like it was the propeller of a helicopter taking off. This kept me going and inspired me to work more with her.
Perseverance. Another important lesson is to persevere and not give up on your dog. There are so many poor excuses that people find to give up on a dog that does not immediately measure up to their goal for success. Proof of that is found by counting all of the dogs that end up in shelters. Or dogs that just sleep in the house all day. Perseverance is what their owners lacked. No doubt, it is much more difficult to feel that success is within reach, when the dog is difficult to train, or not Q’ing (i.e. running clean courses) in the ring. But then, that is the challenge. Would it be easier to give up and start with a different, dog? Probably. But then you will never feel the thrill, the “high,” that comes with beating all odds. Nothing worth having comes easily.
And so, over the last several years, I have watched people with various breeds compete in agility. Many dogs, even dachshunds, have surpassed Chelsea in titles and scores. Yet I have been steadfast in my commitment to train Chelsea to have successful runs. About a year ago, Chelsea actually started to enjoy herself in the ring. She let loose of her fears. The lack of security was gone. There was no more hesitation. Positive reinforcement and rewards played a major role in Chelsea’s ability to come out of her shell, and to finally focus on the game, rather than what was happening on the periphery
Success. I am proud to say that at the age of five years old, in October,2014, Chelsea did reach for the brass ring. Amazingly, she achieved that goal that I had believed, for her, to be unattainable. She earned her Master of Agility Championship (MACH). The story of success though, is so much more than Chelsea’s earning this top agility title. It is about where she started, and the road taken to reach that goal.
If you think of a large carrot growing underground, it may be evidenced only by a tiny sprout above the ground. (See graphic). But by its size, you know that the effort to grow that carrot was tremendous. Growing next to it, another sprout may be huge, but with very little carrot underground. Which one would you consider more successful? Clearly, the huge carrot that you can’t readily see wins the prize.
Many dogs have earned a MACH. However, Chelsea’s MACH is really incidental to her change in attitude which I consider her greatest success. She developed a love for agility competition and in doing so, can now focus on her runs and truly enjoy the game.
In writing this article, it is my hope that someone reading this has had similar experiences with a dachshund and may have considered just giving up. I hope that Chelsea’s story will be an inspiration to continue positive training and to work through whatever issues your dog may be presenting. Your patience and perseverance, in the end, will be rewarded with overwhelming success.