The Necessity of Joy

Dog joy, that is.

One of the things about training a performance dog is how deeply it drives this point home.  One of the things about training a performance Beagle is how it shoves this right in your face.

Did you see the photo of Connery last Monday? Oh, look, I’ll put the important part up again.

Beagle Joy

Connery: I am BAWHSOME!

Connery: I am TOTALLY BAWHSOME!

And he was, too! That was the fastest run he’s ever clocked.   A week later, there’s still a lingering high.

But it wouldn’t have happened without the JOY.

Thanks to Connery’s attack history (we’re not talking dog interaction gone bad, we’re talking targeted giant breed charge-and-attack) and his subsequent worries about the world, it’s my job to reassure him and instill the JOY.

I do this in agility and rally by instilling anticipation via routine, by liberal use of cookies, and by the timely appearance of the vaunted treat bottle.

This is what, you ask?

  1. Take one Ensure bottle
  2. Hold nose, drink liquid
  3. Wash thoroughly, remove label.
  4. Add a pinch of kibble
  5. Gorilla Glue the lid closed.
  6. Seriously.  GLUE THE LID CLOSED.

It shakes.  It rattles.  It rolls.

IT PLAYS BEAGLE FETCH.

I trained him to the bottle from puppyhood, associating with treats.

Connery: BAWH!  BAWH!  THROW IT!  THROW IT NOW!  GIVE IT!  LET ME TOUCH IT!  I KNOW I CAN OPEN IT!

The necessity of joy is why in the obedience ring, we raised eyebrows because we cavorted between exercises instead of behaving with quiet dignity.    (It’s also why Connery’s novice obedience legs ran second, first, first, first.  That last being an insurance leg, as it only takes three.)

You want a Beagle?  Give up on the dignity. If you don’t, they will wring it out of you anyway.

Every once in a while, I get a reminder of the necessity of joy.  This fall, for instance.

Connery loves tracking.

LOVES it.

But.

This late fall he’s struggled with an illness that I haven’t, frankly, figured out yet.  I think it’s been one of his stealth sinus infections, presenting oddly and then lingering extensively.

He is, after all, a dog of underlying brittleness: all full of exuberance one day, felled by some inexplicable ailment the next.  (That there are subtle autoimmune issues in play here is of no doubt.  That he’s lucky to be alive many times over, ditto.)

Anyway, it started to get to him.

Connery: Don’t feel so good.  Well, I can fake it!  Look, the bottle!

Connery: Don’t feel so good.  Well, I can fake it.  Look the bottle.

Connery: Look the bottle.

It doesn’t do to stop training during this time, because paradoxically, it’s one of the things that keeps him going.  But seeing him like that makes my heart sink in a way that completely justifies the existence of cliche.

Now here’s the tricky part. Connery starts to feel better, but his MOM is all wrapped up in, “Oh crap, am I going to be able to fix it this time, and what if I can’t, and–and–!”

Connery: Where’s my joy?  Don’t wave that bottle at me.  I DON’T BELIEVE YOU.  I suddenly don’t believe I know how to track anymore.  AT ALL.

So my past two weeks have been spent recapturing the joy, And seeing the difference it makes to this new tracking discipline of ours, and slapping myself upside the head and going D’OH.

Reality check.

So suddenly, there’s a dog in the harness again.

Connery: BAWH YES WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Sorry.  He really does do that all-caps thing.

BAWH!

About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
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9 Responses to The Necessity of Joy

  1. Leonore says:

    “You want a Beagle? Give up on the dignity. If you don’t, they will wring it out of you anyway.”

    LOL – I could change that to another b-breed and it would still be true!! hope he stays on the up-swing.

    • Doranna says:

      I think if you do it right, there are lots of breeds that make this true. ;>

      Certain breeds seem to come with it more built-in than others.

      “Hi! I’m A GOLDEN! I love…everything! I love it so much! I love it right now! I love you! I love me! I’m a Barney song!”

  2. Elizabeth says:

    The necessity of joy–is also there when working with kids with developmental disabilities. It CANNOT be all about therapy…all grim, all serious, all “staying on task” and “maintaining eye contact” and doing the exercises the way the book (or professional) tells you, that many times, for that long, in that way. Because that leaches out the joy, the spontaneity, the motivation to keep struggling to do whatever the “boss” says to do.

    And yet you almost never hear a therapist or teacher (or far too many parents) say “The joy matters.”

    I used to show people pictures of Michael in full glee and say “Your child should look like that _at least_ once a day–that happy. Whatever it takes. It does not matter if that level of happy comes from completing a task he’s “supposed” to do, or from bouncing to music, or from rolling on the floor, or from hugging a favorite stuffed toy…what matters is the happy–the joy. And their knowledge that you can help them experience that joy–help them find it when they’ve lost it–that you want them to have it and want to share it with them.”

    Therapists would look puzzled and say “But we make it into a game–it IS fun.” No. If it’s fun, the child (or dog) will look that happy, grin that wide, wiggle with glee. If they’re not looking happy, it wasn’t fun. And if you can’t tell what happy looks like (in your kid or your dog) than you do not know enough yet about that kid or that dog to be their trainer/parent/therapist/teacher.

    Teachers would say “But not everything can be fun–children must learn to work.” As if just existing in a stressful environment, struggling to control body and facial expression and figure out what was allowable was not work…as if only grinding work were the goal of life.

    It’s the joy, dammit. You are so, so right, and for so much more than (not to belittle in any way the Beagle) beagles.

  3. Doranna says:

    Elizabeth, I could not agree more. It’s one of the things that Connery (and Belle!) are teaching me, for sure!

    (Dart is such a crazy boy that he’s teaching me OTHER things. ;> )

  4. Doranna, hate to say it but I just can’t share your excitement for a Beagle. When I was young and worked for a veterinarian, we regularly boarded a beagle who was the messiest dog in the world. He thought nothing of romping through messes in his kennel and then greeting me cheerfully in the AM with huge brown spots that were not part of his coloring. Before I moved him to the dog run for the rest of his stay, he would “paw paint” the door of his kennel as well. And he thought it was all jolly good fun.

    • Doranna says:

      Oh, we all have our favorite breeds…and individuals within each breed vary. (Connery and Dart have both profound differences, and yet the same foundation behaviors). Personally, my guys don’t fingerpaint with poo.

      It’s also true that each breed is not for each person. This dog’s home circumstances–and the nature of that fit, as well as his every day training–probably had an impact on how he coped in the kennel. But it’s always good to know what breeds do or don’t appeal to you, and why.

      Meanwhile, I find the root problem with any given dog is usually human-related, even if it goes back to “this breed was created to do X, so you’d darned well better be prepared for him to do X.” Not always, of course, but… “It’s always the handler’s fault” is a powerful lesson!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    The best trainers/teachers/mentors can bring joy to a variety of animals or people…they can adapt to those who can’t yet adapt to them. Many of us (I’m one) can do a good job with this breed or this individual, but find (through sometimes sad experience) that we just aren’t as good as we thought once we’re not in that perfect pairing.

  6. BlogPatty says:

    All this applies to horse training, too, and I have recently come to the conclusion that altho I can work with all breeds I have encountered, some breeds don’t bring out the jfull oy in me and thus I don’t find the joy to bring to them. I really like the use of the word joy with regards to training and I am going to keep that in mind.

  7. Doranna says:

    Patty, that’s how I can feel about dogs. I’ve worked with many breeds, but I did find myself *choosing* a distinct breed for myself. When I work with a different breed, I re-align myself to suit them. 8)

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