|Lessons from Xena
By Alex Clemmons
As an old African proverb goes, “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors”. When I first got Xena, my Rottweiler puppy, she was a typical puppy and not that hard to train. When she got older Xena was definitely not smooth sailing. But in some ways I am grateful for that because in the long run it has clearly made me a better trainer and a better person.
I started working with dogs five years ago by training our old family dog in 4H. When he developed serious health problems, I asked my parents about getting a puppy. In two years, I earned enough money to purchase Xena. I was so excited to go pick up my new puppy!
As Xena grew and became more comfortable she began testing the limits. At first, I did not know how to properly handle the Rottweiler temperament. I started to feel a bit worried. But just in the nick of time, the owners of Xena’s sire came and gave me a crash course in handling her. Without their help, Xena and I would not be where we are today.
So after the crash course, our training really began. I began to realize that the training was as much for me as it was for her. Xena and I started out doing well, but we had a lot of setbacks. She was just not progressing as well as I thought she should. We did well in the training sessions, but every time she would go into a show or a demonstration she would not behave as she would during the training. For example, once, when we did a demonstration for our 4H club on being safe around dogs, she was supposed to come to me when I called her. Instead, upon hearing a fire truck, she just sat there and howled. Several other times during competitions, she would just start running circles around me. I was so embarrassed! I realized that a lot of the problem was my feeling stressed therefore not providing the leadership she needed.
So, with perseverance, we kept working hard on our teamwork. In April, Xena finished her CD with a first place at the 2009 Rottweiler Nationals!!! It took three years, three county fairs, one state fair, too many dog shows and classes to count but, most importantly, the help and support from family and friends (Western Rottweiler Owners club and AKC). I have learned a lot from all the shows I have competed in and from the dog obedience training classes I have attended. I have learned perseverance, patience and consistency.
The skills that I have learned from training my dog enable me to lead a Dog Care & Training project in 4H where I teach kids to be safe around dogs, how take care of them, and how to train their dog. Also, because Xena is TDI (Therapy Dog, International) certified, I am able to take her to nursing homes and a special needs sports program to cheer others up. Xena has shown that any breed can be a great family dog. She’s truly an ambassador for her breed.
We are now training for Open Obedience and hope to be competing this spring. She has one leg of her Rally Advance Title and I hope to complete that this year. My goal is to get Xena her UDX title in the next couple of years.
My experiences have led me to pursue a career training animals. One option I am considering is to become a private dog trainer, and training Xena has given me a head start.
My experiences with Xena have not always been “smooth seas”, but they have worked to turn me into a more “skilled sailor” and have changed me for the better. When I got Xena at age 13 I was not confident at all, but with Xena being a Rottweiler, I needed to rise to the occasion. Her confidence and drive have pushed me to develop patience, dedication, and determination. Because of the character and life skills I’ve learned while training my dog I will be better prepared in life.