Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Dropping Out

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped out of the competition obedience class I was so ambivalent about.

In part, I dropped out because the logistics were too hard to finagle. Fighting rush hour traffic across the entire length of Philadelphia meant leaving work at 3 pm in order to make a 5 pm class, and even then I was always a few minutes late, which made the beginning of each session a minor exercise in embarrassment.

The larger reason I dropped out, though, was because after a few sessions it became apparent that the class was not a good fit for what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.

Here's the thing: When you are a beginning student (as I still mostly am), the world of possibility is wide open. You have no investment in developed skills. You are a blank slate, unformed clay, insert-your-cliche-of-choice; you have complete free choice as to which methods you wish to learn and how good you want to get with them.

It's much harder to walk away from a particular methodology once you've invested a ton of time and money into mastering its skills. If you've had success using those skills, you have to be willing to risk losing that success; you have to un-learn old habits and develop entirely new ones. It's difficult and discouraging and I suspect the monumental nature of the task is one of the reasons that people can get so defensive about whatever their preferred training philosophy might be -- because if they're wrong, then suddenly all those sunk costs look like a really bad investment. And nobody wants to make (or admit they've made) a bad investment.

I used to think that forcible methods were faster to learn/teach, more reliable in producing competition results, or otherwise "better," because why else would people choose to use them for this sport? I took it on faith that this was so. Those were the reasons that people who chose to train this way gave me, and I assumed they knew what they were talking about, since after all they had done it and I had not.

So I wanted to check out the alternatives before going all-in on my original investment. I wanted to see, and try, a different school of thought firsthand.

I'm glad I did. And having done it, I feel reassured that I made the right choice for me and my dogs.

What I saw (and here I'm doing a thing that I hate: jumping right over discussion of concrete specifics to arrive at conclusory labels) was that compulsion-based methods aren't better, don't work faster, don't produce more consistent or precise results, and don't hold up more strongly over the long haul of competition and maintenance. The fallout of using them, on the other hand, was actually greater than I had anticipated, even though I dropped out before the harder "corrections" came into play.

Someday I might be able to analyze and discuss the exact reasons that I came to those conclusions. I don't feel entirely comfortable doing that today; I feel like I need more distance to be able to bring hindsight into full focus. All I can say now is that it wasn't a road I enjoyed walking, and it didn't take long to see that it wasn't leading where I wanted to go. Plus the scenery was pretty discomfiting, for both me and Pongu.

So we decamped for a more pleasant path, and I feel much more confident that we're heading to the right destination.

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