When I met Grayson with Lost Highway Kennels almost two years ago, I was in a very fragile spot with Blitz. She was approaching two years old and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with her. She was an absolute heathen in the field; she chased birds like her life depended on it and had caught more birds than I could even count. I wasn’t worried about it because she was having fun. After all, I didn’t get into bird dog work because birds were my passion, I got into it because they were hers. As long as she was having fun, I was having fun. But we had approached the stage in her life where it was time for more formal training and I was scared. People told me she had too much drive, that I had ruined her, that she would never be broke or if I did want her to be steady, it was going to be ugly. I knew that it wouldn’t be worth it to me. Prior to my first lesson with Grayson I had told him as a disclaimer that NAVHDA Utility was a goal of mine, but if it meant doing anything that I didn’t feel comfortable with or taking away any of her drive, I wouldn’t do it. I’d give that goal up in a heartbeat and let her be her wild and crazy self.
In the first lesson with Grayson I was worried about what he would have to say about Blitz. I kept asking what he did and didn’t want me to do, referring to the endless hard and fast rules I had heard over the years (most of which I had broken). In a pivotal moment that I will never forget, he told me: “Relax, she can do no wrong.” No one had EVER said anything like that to me before. It was only what all I had done wrong and what I could do to prevent things from going wrong. He proceeded to tell me that no matter what happened it would be okay because we can fix it. That’s not ego, that’s dog training. Things won’t ever go perfectly as planned, even if you subscribe to hard and fast rules. Look at the number of people who still struggle with steadiness with their dogs even though they’ve never allowed them to chase. Hard and fast rules don’t make for good dog training, being flexible, open minded, and willing to work with the individual dog AND owner is what makes good dog training. Grayson is a damn good dog trainer for a whole variety of reasons, but I have the most respect for how adaptable he is to every dog, handler, and situation.
If it weren’t for Grayson, I don’t doubt that I would have given up on my Utility goals and competing Blitz all together (and if you don’t know, Blitz and I competed in Utility in the fall of 2020 for a Prize 1 – goal met an exceeded!). I don’t see many other people in the bird dog industry with Grayson’s take on training and I wouldn’t have been able to settle for a more traditional route. I am so grateful for his help and support, for him believing in us and for him taking the time it takes for us to do it right. That support has totally changed the trajectory of my life and I hope that other people in the same spot have access to that same support.
The internet can be a VERY scary place for hearing what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your dog. None of it has to have any value unless you want it to. Whether it’s a social media influencer, someone who has had a lot of success with a few dogs, a local club chapter, or an expert professional trainer… take everything with a grain of salt. People give advice on everything and not all of it will be applicable to you. If you’re trying to get your French Brittany to retrieve and you’re listening to hard and fast rules from a lab trainer, you might find yourself in a pickle because a lab’s desire to retrieve is a completely different level than a French Brittany’s. Unless this person giving advice REALLY knows you, your dog and your goals and you trust and admire that person’s work, then I wouldn’t put too much equity in what they have to say. Thank them for their suggestions and find a trainer who supports you, your dog and your goals (here’s an article I wrote on finding the right trainer for you). If you don’t feel comfortable with something someone is suggesting, you don’t have to do it. You can always decide later that you’d like to try if you feel differently, but there’s no rush.
If you are going to prescribe to any rules, may they be based in truth and good intentions:
-To always advocate for your dog and to do what you feel is right for them in your heart
-To always find what feels good and work with your dog in a way that leaves you both happy and excited for next time
-To find and work with a trainer that you admire and trust, that appreciates you and your dog and that understands what's important to you
-To stay true to your dog and keep their best interests as a priority
At the end of the day, it’s your dog, do what you makes you and your dog happy. Teach your bird dog to sit, let them chase and catch birds, dabble in a variety of sports, feed your dog raw food, use tools or whatever it may be, and know that there are people out there that will support you in that decision. Don’t ever feel obligated to do or not do something because of someone else’s hard and fast rules. When people get caught up in telling other people how to train their dog, they miss the most important component: enjoy the journey. At the end of the day, nothing matters except you and your dog enjoying each other’s company.