It was in 1992 that I actually got my "own" dog and
that was Josh. I had always loved animals - especially dogs - and had
earlier been a keen horse rider. However, at that time, the arrival of a
dog was very inconvenient. We had just bought an old, long-uninhabited
house and were busy renovating it while we were actually living in it. In
addition, I was working a lot to earn the money for my part of the house.
So, I was rather stressed. However, after a long stay with his family in
England, Jeremy wanted to bring a Border Collie back with him because his
family had always had Border Collies and now, as we owned a house with a
garden, there was room for one.
For the first year, Josh probably thought of me as a
sheep which he had to herd and keep busy. Jeremy - who was at home all day
- was his boss and responsible for his basic training. At one year old,
life became serious for Josh and the dog school beckoned. However, as
often happens, I took on this work and what followed. At the beginning, I
thought that the trainers knew what they were telling us in their parade
ground voices but I soon became sceptical because I noticed that some
things were psychologically incorrect. Thank goodness, Jeremy had done his
work well in the first year so that we passed the BGH 1 (Companion Dog)
exam - in spite of the training at the dog school!
Then, for the first time, I saw an Agility
demonstration at an international dog show in Klagenfurt. Josh saw it as
well and went crazy. That should have warned me, but no, I began agility
training at another club when he was nearly 2 years old. Unfortunately, a
lot went wrong there. Agility was still very new in Austria and also the
trainers had no experience of Border Collies. Our trainer was very nice
and tried hard but she had never done agility with her own dog and, as
everybody knows, Border Collies learn very quickly - especially mistakes!!
Albin Birkl saw me at a competition and must have
had sympathy with my amateurish endeavours. He was the first one who gave
me proper training tips and made me aware for the first time of body
language. Many thanks to him!
As the training time was much too short at the club I
was in at that time, I changed clubs again and landed at the ÖGV where I
That remark stayed with me. It was true. At
university, I had heard so much about teaching, learning and training. I
now just had to sit down and go into the thought processes of a - or my -
dog and adapt the training to him. From then on, I began to approach this
subject from the point of view of a psychologist, and I think that this
gave me a lot. Between 1996 and 1998 I taught Josh everything he needed to
pass the FH 1 (Tracking) to FH 3, and GH 1 (Obedience) to GH 3 exams. That
was not just my training skill. For me, Josh is the most intelligent and
wisest of all dogs. All this training was done as a sideline because
agility was the main thing. Over time, I have been able to improve a lot
of things but I have never managed to rid Josh of his compulsion in
agility. He didn't even become quieter as he got older. Agility was the
centre of his world. He was probably the fastest dog but, correspondingly,
mistakes always occurred. He couldn't be slowed down and neither could I.
For years I was told that I must run faster and turn faster etc. I tried,
and became faster - but so did Josh. Then, for the first time, Mario
Bonetti told me that I shouldn't compete against Josh, i.e. I must be
slower and better coordinated. However, due to habit, that was very
difficult for me to do in tournaments.
I stopped doing agility with Josh in 2000 and, since
then, I've just done obedience with him. With agility there is the danger
of injuries for him because he can't reduce his speed and, after an
injury, he cannot be trained up again slowly. He is simply a workaholic.
I learned a lot with Josh. I have got to know,
learned and done various types of dog sport, and - maybe - how a dog
thinks. Josh is generous. He has coped with my mistakes, never borne a
grudge, and has let himself be retrained in many aspects. The important
thing for him was that I worked with him.
However, I also read a lot, took a lot of training
courses with various trainers and, in accordance with what St. Paul said -
"Test everything and keep the best" - I've extracted this and that, tried
it and implemented it. I observe a lot and analyse some. It became clear
to me how some dogs who are super in training, fail in tournaments again
and again. As a psychologist who has run mental training courses, it
quickly became clear to me that it was not that more agility training was
needed but that many dog handlers needed mental training. So, I adapted my
notes and ran mental training courses for dog handlers. Unfortunately, in
dog sports - as in some other sports areas - the emphasis was laid on ever
more and better sport training instead of admitting that the problems in
competition often lie in the mind.
After a while, the wish grew in me to have a second
Border Collie - but this time, my own. The desire had already been there
for some time but I kept postponing its fulfilment because I wanted the
time to be right. In the meantime, I became a trainer of puppies and young
dogs and learnt a lot from that. It was clear to me that I would need a
lot of time for the second dog, so I didn't want to get him while Josh was
in full training. Today, I am very glad that I did it like I did. I spent
a lot of time searching for suitable dogs and for breeders whose methods
corresponded with mine. Josh was nearly 9 when Robbie came. With Josh I
then only needed to do "maintenance training", so I could devote most of
my time to Robbie. I even reduced my working hours so as to spend more
time with Josh and Robbie. Of course, Robbie is a totally different type
of dog from Josh and, therefore, a new challenge. I definitely did not
want a working dog like Josh - that would have been too much for me.
I play a lot with them and teach Robbie a lot
through play. He has already passed the BGH (companion dog) 1 and BGH 2
exams as well as GH (Obedience) 1,2 and 3.
I'm still doing obedience training but in summer 2004 I also started
with agilty training. Let's see how well we'll do in this field.
From psychology I have learned a lot about working
with dogs, but my psychology work has also profited from the dogs! Many of
my clients know Josh and Robbie. Through his empathic nature and his
calmness when he is with me in my office, (that's holiday for him, not
work!), Josh has cured several dog phobias. Also, I sometimes use examples
of dog behaviour as metaphors, whereby situations can somehow be explained
more simply and also more clearly.
As you can see, dogs make up a major part of my life
at the moment. So, anybody who wants to talk to me about something else
should not, out of politeness, raise the subject of dogs because they will
never be able to get back to their original subject! However, on this
Website the subject is dogs and still more dogs...