In The House of Dog – Starting Over and Finding Inspiration

I think about everything that has happened over the past few years. Things I am proud of. Things I regret. Things that I can’t change. My mind is the type that goes back and dissects and replays every situation, looking for details that I missed or things I should have done differently. I can’t change who I am, or what I’ve done. Neither can you. It makes us human.

A lot has changed since I sat down to actually write something. I feel like I’m older and wiser. I’m definitely older. I’ve learned so many things, and unlearned many more. So where do I begin?

Beginnings are difficult. You have the foundation of an idea, of a dream, but that foundation is unstable and you have to be careful as you build on it. It’s easy for all of it to come crashing down. You need friends and family to support. You need conviction and drive to keep building. You need patience to watch you have built solidify so it can grow more. This isn’t really the beginning. But it is a beginning. I think Robert Jordan wrote that line.

I’m starting over, sort of. I’m trying to renew my efforts and do more and get out of this slump that I’ve been. And today, I want to talk about inspiration. Where do we draw inspiration from? And what do we do with it?

I’m a sci-fi/fantasy nerd. Especially fantasy. Tolkien, Jordan, and Hobb took me on adventures as a child. I traveled to distant lands, met strange people. My imagination was very active, and elves and dragons and magic found fertile ground there. I constantly return to these authors and others when I need to feel better. These books are comfort food for my mind and soul. Robin Hobb in particular. I never realized how much her books affected me.

My aunt Sandy, whom I love like a mother, introduced me to Robin Hobb by giving me one of her books, The Assassin’s Apprentice. I won’t spoil it for you, but the main character Fitz is trained to become a royal assassin, serving for his king. Fitz is also has a special ability to speak to animals. As the story unfolds, Fitz bonds closely with a wolf, Nighteyes. The two go on all sorts of adventures, and part of the story is told from Nighteyes perspective. The wolf, who is more than a little snarky, experiences his world through scent AND sight. Nighteyes outlook is unique, in that he lives very much in the moment and he often resolves conflict the way a wolf would: with his teeth or running. Unlike the Lord of the RIngs or the Wheel of Time, the Assassin series gave me a completely inhuman view of the world. And I loved it.

How does that effect me as a trainer? Obviously, it makes me think about how my dog (or animals in general) perceive our world. There are several instances in the books where Nighteyes ridicules Fitz for adhering to some human behavior that the wolf finds useless or unnecessarily restricting. Nighteyes warns Fitz several times when he smells danger on the wind, or helps him hunt for food. Fitz learned over the course of the story about how to look at the world from something besides his own unique point of view.

That is important to training and behavior work. You can’t be a successful trainer if you are limiting yourself to what you alone can perceive. You have to be aware of your subjects other senses, and how your subject perceives their world. You can’t base your training on your limitations, but instead of the limitations of the creature you’re training. Otherwise, whatever you are trying to communicate to your subject is lost in translation.

The other thing those books taught me is that training really is a partnership. The bond between Nighteyes and Fitz was intense (I cried at the end…), and that is the way it should be. The bond between your dog and yourself should be strong. There shouldn’t be any doubt between the two of you. Your dog should trust and love you without question.

When you are working with your dog, look for inspiration for both you and your dog. What inspires you to train your dog? Do that before you train. What inspires your dog? Treats, play? Use that as your rewards. And remember: this is all about building your bond and strengthen your relationship. At the end of the day, all you have is each other.

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben