By Chris Tresch
Chris (curly hair) with Scout and friends after he got Scott got his 60,000 point title FDGCH 60k (Flyball Grand Champion in 60k). Rescue dog Scout is 11-12 years old in this picture.
Have you ever wondered what the considerations are when selecting and developing a rescue dog for performance events? Not surprisingly, it involves many factors. First and foremost to consider is your goal for the dog; do you want to get a MACH (Masters Agility Champion) title? A UD (Utility Dog) title? To reach a FDGCH (Flyball Grand Champion) title? Or, do you just want to show the dog casually? Is the journey more important or is the result more important? Any of these goals is good, and all of the goals are possible with the right dog, the right training and the right trainer/owner with the right commitment.
You need to think long and hard about your goals before you begin your search for a dog. You also need to determine your own personality – are you laid back and patient, or are you high energy, driven and in a big hurry for a result? Again, nothing is wrong with either personality type, but you need to honestly assess your goals, your personality and your commitment. I am going to go over a few points and hopefully you will take a long, hard, honest look at what you want to do.
Puppy vs. Young Adult vs. Adult
Based on my 25 plus years of training both adult rescue dogs and puppies, I do feel that great things can be done with a wide range of ages. With a puppy, you can take your time and teach everything in stages. The journey is much longer, but with a puppy you are not sure of long term health, true personality and drive. You can pick out a few things and work with what you have. On the other hand you can take a young adult (my target age for a performance dog is over 6 months and around 2 years). At this age I can see the personality, and have a fairly good sense of the overall health and structure of the dog. The drive is either there or not with the dog. With the older dog, you know what you have. To add one more thought to the mix let’s consider the adult (over 2 years) dog. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working with an adult dog. The adult dog is usually healthy, with a known temperament and a calmness and seriousness that you can’t find in a young dog and puppy.
Now what are the cons of getting dogs of certain ages? After training many dogs of many ages, here is what I find:
- With puppies, you get what you get. The cute puppy at 8 weeks to 6 months is an unknown quantity. Also, you have to wait to work them a lot, and worry about fear periods. Plus I would not recommend jumping or strenuous workouts till after 2 years to protect the dog’s health and bone structure.
- At approximately 6 months to 2 years (young adult), you can for the most part see the personality, the drive and the physical structure of the dog. However, at that age you may have some baggage you have to deal with such as bad habits, fears and quirks.
- With adult dogs, again there may be some baggage, and of course the journey may be shorter depending on the age of the dog.
My guess is that you can see where my preferences lie. Around 2 years old is my idea age for picking a performance dog. It is all there at that age – health, structure and personality. That said, I have trained puppies to great performance careers. And I have taken mature adult dogs and helped them to great performance careers. One of my highlights was taking a 5 1/2 year old Sheltie that had spent his life with a woman in her eighties. When she passed on, we inherited him. He excelled in obedience and agility. At 8 years old he entered one of the first AKC agility trails in our home state where he received the first perfect score of the trial. He showed until he was 10 years old in AKC, UKC and other venues in both obedience and agility.
Other Factors to Consider
What else should be considered when picking a dog for performance? Let’s go back to my goals for a dog. I enjoy the journey; the process of training a dog. As far as personality, I like a serious dog – one who will want to work and to be totally involved in the process. I also prefer shy dogs. And I enjoy a dog that will totally bond with me.
You may wonder if shy dogs are harder to train. In many ways they are, but it has been said for as long as I remember, the harder it is for a dog to bond with you, the more extreme the bond will be. I work very hard to earn the trust of my dogs, so once they do bond and learn to trust me they will have faith that I will do what is right and safe for them.
The next thing I need is a dog with food drive. Of course different breeds have different levels of food drive. I don’t know too many Shelties that don’t like food; collies the same. Some border collies have less food drive, but with patience you can bring that out in them.
As for a more hyper dog, there is nothing wrong with a highly driven, wild and outgoing dog; these dogs make great working dogs; however, they also can have training issues. Often it is easier to bring a dog “up” rather than bring them down. Again, my personality is quieter, so I like a quieter dog. My best dogs have been those who couldn’t care less about other people as long as I was there. I have recently trained my first outgoing, truly friendly dog and it has been really hard to keep him focused on me and not the crowd. It has been fun, but a lot of work. If I had a high energy personality, it would be a good match to have a hyper dog. Over time try dogs with differing personalities and see what fits with you.
How to Make the Selection
So now I am going to look for a rescue dog for performance, how do I go about it?
- First, honestly determine your goals and your personality.
- Work closely with your rescue contacts so they know exactly what you are looking for in a dog.
- Attend as many adoption events as possible to meet and spend time with dogs of all personalities.
- Talk to your rescue contact and ask if there is someone in the area who trains rescue dogs for performance. See if you can meet with them and experience their dogs. Discuss the personalities of the trainer’s dogs and ask about the pros and cons of each personality type.
- Talk to the foster families of the dogs you are considering. Do not be afraid to meet and say no to a dog that does not suit you – these dogs are safe, they are in rescue, you are not that dog’s last hope. Get the dog that fits your goals, commitment level and personality. Once you make your commitment to a dog it is for life, so most of all enjoy the journey, enjoy the result and enjoy the bond.
Chris started training Shelties in the mid 1980’s. She has shown in obedience, conformation, agility, flyball, herding and freestyle. In the early 90’s Chris got her first Border Collie. She has had both Shelties and Border Collies continuously since then. Some of the titles Chris and her dogs have earned include UD (Utility Dog) (obedience), OA (Open Agility) plus in agility, JHD (Junior Herding Dog) in herding (with shelties and border collies), Flyball FDGCH 60 k (Flyball Grand Champion in 60 k), and NAFA (North American Flyball) region 4 MVP (with her Sheltie). All of Chris’s current dogs are rescue, including the MVP Sheltie.
Information on NAFA can be found at: http://www.flyball.org