I have pretty high expectations for my dogs. I have specific goals and expectations for what Romeo will eventually be doing. (Note: I originally wrote this blog post when Romeo was under 2 years old in March 2011.) I expect him to be extremely well-behaved and reliable wherever we are and whatever I ask of him. I plan for him to be my demo dog that I can take with me to classes and use to demo whenever needed. I plan for him to be my “neutral” dog when working with others whose dogs have issues with other dogs. I plan to be able to take him anywhere and everywhere and he'd be calm and travel well. I plan for him to be able to get along with all other dogs and especially puppies for my Puppy Recess. I plan for him to be my partner in new ventures like Rally and Freestyle and whatever else spikes our interest. I have big plans for him.
Those are some pretty high expectations for Romeo. Is he there yet? No, of course not! He's still young and has plenty of work and maturing still to do. He has come a long way, and he's pretty darn good at a lot of things. But is he 100% reliable. No. Will he ever be?
Ah, there's a loaded question! Can your dog ever be 100% reliable? I think you'll agree that I have very high expectations for Romeo. And I see plenty of people who have their own very high expectations for their dogs. I think it's good to have high expectations. If we keep our expectations low, our dogs will live up to those low expectations. We do need to challenge them, but we also need to realistic.
As much as I would like Romeo to be 100% reliable and do exactly what I say immediately every time, I know that's not realistic. He's a living breathing being, and not one of us is 100% perfect. I am going to work so that Romeo is as close as I can get to 100%, but I don't expect 100% perfection each and every minute of each and every day.
I was reminded of this the other day when I was working with Romeo for his breakfast. I'd tossed a ball into the other room and sent him to fetch it. He ran after the ball. He got sidetracked and forgot what he was doing. I had to remind him a couple of times before he got back on track and actually brought the ball back to me. How could he lose his focus so easily? How hard is it to retrieve a ball from the other room?
Fast forward about 15 minutes. Romeo and I are done training. I walk upstairs to my office to get something. As I reach the top of the stairs, I promptly forgot why I went up there. How could I lose focus so easily? How hard is it to walk up a flight of stairs and remember why you went up there in the first place?
Aha! There goes that little light bulb over my head. Why would I expect better focus from him than I have myself? I expect him to respond pretty reliably, but I can also forgive those occasional moments when we all need a reminder what we were doing.