A Year For the “Different” Team

In 2017, Miles and I did really well in competitive agility. We not only had a blast, we were in synch in a way that we had never experienced in agility before. Each competition came and went with incredible results, and then the next, and then the next… And it became clear that these weren’t just lucky weekends… A pattern was forming. So why did our Agility statistics seem so surprising to me? We’ve worked hard together, and we are a real, solidified team. Still, success for us took a long time to sink in due to the memory of our beginnings, and because of the statistics of Miles’ breed.

So many Welsh Terriers, despite being rare and in high demand, end up in rescue with all of the “boxes” checked: no dogs, no cats, no children…  Behavioural problems run rampant in this breed. Why? Where does it start?

When Miles was young, I went through a series of shocks over how multiple dog trainers and his first veterinarian reacted to his natural, unfiltered terrier behaviors. The veterinarian recommended a private trainer. The private trainer and several group classes all had the same negative result, and all before Miles was even half a year old. These professionals viewed young Miles as “different,” which to them seemed to mean “broken.” To them the only way to fix broken was to jam the confusing parts together into “normal” in the way that a dislocated shoulder needs to be painfully shoved back into place. My gut told me that Miles was just a puppy, and he wasn’t broken… Yet. This was a juncture where I could have continued down that path, and he would have been broken. As naturally as Miles’ instincts rose out of his little body, there was a general impatience and frustration exuding from the people I was supposed to trust as authorities.

Fast forward several years, and I am now a professional dog trainer who specializes in coaching others with like or similar terriers. It was somewhat luck that I got a Welsh Terrier, and a Welsh Terrier was the perfect fit for me! I come from a background of dog training, and now, I live and breathe it. To me, the living part is the experiences acquired along the way, but the breathing part is keeping an open mind and always learning. Dog trainers and other professionals who work with dogs are often not questioned because they are the “authority.” But no one is without bias, and no one can know everything about a whole species. I want my clients to ask me why. I am passionate about working with terriers, and they too always ask “why.” In my work, the answer comes from both parties, in the form of communication, problem-solving, and understanding. I think the most important thing when you are responsible for the the well-being of any living, breathing thing, is to ask “why?” and trust your gut. I urge anyone working with any professional, be it a canine professional or otherwise, to remember this.

You are your dog’s protector. If it doesn’t feel right, try a different way.

A Year For the "Different" Team
{ Where it all began. }

Welsh Terriers and many other breeds of what I affectionally refer to as “full-strength” terriers are rare. I would say that most, if not all, breeders of these dogs do their very best at trying to speak candidly to prospective new owners. Many prospective owners leave the initial conversation(s) with one personal motto in mind: “I am up for the challenge!”

This is a Welsh Terrier, not a challenge.

I don’t judge anyone for thinking that these breeds are “challenges” that one can handle or overcome. However, my aim is to take that mindset further. To be blunt, we do this within our own species; thinking that difference is a challenge to overcome as swiftly as possible. Often we either attempt to accomplish this by ignoring that differences between people matter, or we begin to think of that which is different as being a problem, or even, a frustrating nuisance. Humans are by nature prideful and we scramble to avoid the vulnerability of admitting that we don’t automatically understand something or someone. It is our natural impulse to avoid honestly thinking about or approaching difference. Partially, because it is scary, and also, because it is hard work. A large part of the success I have had with Miles and my work with other terriers is that I accept that they are different, and I want to celebrate and work with who they are. My advice to anyone finding themselves frustrated or at a standstill in training a terrier is to adjust your expectations, try something new, and don’t blame the dog. Shift your vantage point.

The mindset you have about your dog from the beginning will shape your training choices, and ultimately the kind of life you will have together. If you are going to take on a different breed, like I did, you will likely at some point (or many points!) be told that your terrier is willful, stubborn, or even broken. If you take on those perceptions, it will alter the course of your life with your dog. I chose to go a different way. I chose to be a teammate to a very intelligent, different dog. I chose to resist the urge to surrender to thoughts of “what is normal” and other’s opinions of something natural being “broken.” To work with Miles, I realized that I needed to figure out who he was. I picked a very intelligent breed, full of history and personality. It was time to set aside human expectations and norms and decide: was I going to be Miles’ owner, or his teammate?

You can end up with a challenge defeated, in a perpetual battle or compromise of wills, or, you can have a teammate that you will learn from everyday, and vice versa.

A Year For the "Different" Team

From basic training all of the way to optional pursuits like agility, the mindset has always been that we need to change who a terrier fundamentally is in order to succeed. I have seen many successful agility terrier handlers use this as their goal, and it also becomes a part of their accomplishment. The two main outcomes usually observed in competitive agility are the terrier who is taught to think less (and to focus on physical drive), or the terrier who is taught mostly to think (and to lessen their natural physical drive). The terrier taught to turn his mind off chases his handler through runs, runs manically in a state of overdrive, and often lacks control. The terrier taught only to think runs methodically and carefully, his body moving tentatively and often slowly. I don’t think most realize it can often become an either/or of mind or body. My dream has been to channel both parts of my wild terrier in agility. These parts are so different on a terrier, that we often struggle just focusing on figuring out how to channel one at a time (hence how we end up in the either/or area). On the long road towards trying, Miles was full terrier mind and body! Over the years, I worked hard to make sure that when my attempts at juggling these two parts failed, that I fell and Miles didn’t. Frequently in times past, agility competitors asked me, “How do you stand the disappointment? If I could get through half of what you do with a smile on your face, I’d be better for it.” I guess this post is, in a way, my answer.

Welsh Terriers were bred to think for themselves, and to question everything. The more true to breed, the more fiercely independent and stubborn problem solvers they are. The very traits that make the breed who they are, are usually seen by us as being incompatible towards living harmoniously with them as companions. These traits are also seen as being highly contrary to success in competitive agility.

In 2017 when years of patience, hard work, ups and a lot of downs suddenly turned into something exciting and real, it became clear to me that there is a place for a “different” team.

I had accomplished the task of preserving Miles’ wild natural spirit and personality so well in every other aspect of our life together, that I was determined to keep trying as we entered into an accomplished place in agility. We kept at it, together, and we made it. Because Miles has always been able to be himself, nothing less, he has always been able to communicate his side of the team. I have learned so much from Miles that I would not have otherwise. Best of all, we have been able to have an unbelievable amount of fun together. So many opportunities and experiences have been possible for us. I cannot express in words the feeling of getting to be Miles’ teammate.

I am really proud of our accomplishments on paper this year (see here!), but most of all, I am proud of being brave, putting Miles first, and believing our team. It has paid off for me and Miles, and I think what I’ve learned will help absolutely anyone achieve goals with a terrier, at any level.

If I can run a Welsh Terrier through 164 perfect-score runs in the top level of agility in just one year, without dampening his spirit and fully enjoying who he is, then anything is truly possible.

32 comments on A Year For the “Different” Team

  • Denise in Dallas

    Holy, Welsh Terrier! One hundred sixty-four perfect-score runs in top level Agility in one year!! Go Em&M!!! Geoff, George, and I stand in awe and send our heartiest congratulations. 🐶🎊❤️ I often use your 11-second video of Miles’ Gamble practice as my “pump up” for the day. We cannot wait to work with you on George’s basic training: one month, and counting, until the humans and dog, mind, body work begins.

    • Emma (author)

      Denise, Geoff and George, thank you for the kind words! I am so glad my videos inspire you, and really look forward to being your Terrier Coach. 2018 is going to be a great one for you and George!

  • Jim Constantine

    Wow!!! We (Anita and I), have a 3 year Welsh Terrier named Jameson. This is our second Welsh after our 15 year old Guinness passed. We thought we knew terriers, but Jameson has taught us how really little we know! Jameson is dog beautiful dog and ALL terrier. We have been working and training for 2 years in Agility with Jameson. We still are working on ACT1 and ACT2 titles having qualified 1 leg in each. Jameson has strong hunting instincts and our challenge is trying to control and funnel that when he is in the ring. He still feels the need to “run free” for a time while in the ring and it takes a little effort to get him refocused to the tasks at hand. We have a long way to go, but your accomplishments with Miles gives us hope that we can become a better agility “team”.

    Jim and Anita

    • Emma (author)

      Hello Jim (and say hi to Anita for me). Thank you for commenting! Jameson sounds like a healthy true-to-breed Welsh Terrier — just my kind of guy! 😉 I think the ACT tests are wonderful motivation, I am rooting for your team! There are lots of posts coming in 2018, and I look forward to you being part of the discussion. Your experiences with Jameson’s natural instincts are so helpful for others to hear, as will be your accomplishments in every step of the way!

  • StephanieJ

    My dear friend, I just wanted to let you know that I read this and am ever-proud of the awesome things you accomplish.

    • Emma (author)

      Thank you for taking the time to say this. It means a lot!

  • Kim

    Wow, this is an awesome acrticle & Congratulations on your amazing year with Miles!! Truly inspiring!!

    • Emma (author)

      Kim, I am so glad you liked the article! And your support means so much to me! I’ll dedicate an excited practice run for you. Miles would thank you if he knew for the excited running around and smoked chicken breast at the end. 🙂

  • Karyn Kistner

    As I wait for my Lakeland pup to enter my life (we lost Skip our Smooth Fox Terrier in June at 15) I look forward to being the best teammate I can be for him. And I count on you for the research you’ve done and written about to remind me to honor him for who he is….

    • Emma (author)

      Karyn, I am sorry for your loss! I can’t wait to hear more about your new Lakie! There are lots of posts coming soon here that I’d love for you to be a part of in the discussion. Your experiences will be helpful for the many people who come here to learn a bit about the terriers we know and love. You perfectly summarized the heart of this article. <3

  • Darcy

    Emma, thank you to you and Miles for showing how to partner with one’s dog rather than control/dominate/intimidate… after all.. the very beginnings of the human-dog relationship, at the time of the Neanderthals, was about cooperation and partnership.. thank you for being dog’s champion and Welsh Terrier’s champion specifically! You guys are the BEST!

    • Emma (author)

      Darcy, exactly! It is pretty cool how far we dogs and humans have come from surviving together, to now doing crazy things like timed serious courses of jumps and tunnels! Ha! You’ve been such an amazing support and you too have done wonderful things with your beloved beasts!

  • Nate Bettger

    Emma, thank you for this post and for your work with Miles. We just welcomed out first Welsh Terrier, Wendell, into our home two months ago. He is five months old now and challenges us every day to pay attention and understand him as a unique dog with a very unique personality. It is helpful and encouraging to read your posts and believe that it is possible for him to excel and grow in his own way… and that we can too! I look forward to this year and learning from you two.

    • Emma (author)

      Welcome Nate, and congratulations on your new family member. I really like the name Wendell! I hope to hear more about him in this comment community this year. Your feedback inspires me to keep writing. The feeling is mutual! You completely “get” what I am saying. I am glad to “meet” you! To a great year ahead of my family, and yours!

  • Gail

    “The mindset you have about your dog from the beginning will shape your training choices, and ultimately the kind of life you will have together.” That says it all. Thanks!

    • Emma (author)

      Indeed! *clink of wine glass*

  • Larisa Hotchin

    Hooray! You have SO much to be proud of! Well done! Thank you for helping others understand what *is* possible. Requires work and focus, but it is possible. Thank you for doing this with the breed I love so dearly.

    • Emma (author)

      Thank you for your support, Larisa! It means the world to have the support of quality, responsible breeders for such training pursuits. This really is the best breed ever. Viva la Welsh Terrier!!

  • Mary Anne

    I am so proud of you and Miles! As someone who managed to put a CDX on a Welsh Terrier in the dark ages of the early 1980’s. I so wish Agility would have been around in his day, Thank you for sharing and letting us rejoice in Mile’s milestones!

    • Emma (author)

      Mary Anne, your accomplishment is truly impressive. Sometimes I feel that way too, because as a kid, I could’ve been doing agility! But in some ways maybe it is for the best. Training methods were so different then. Which as you say makes you such a rare gem — you had to have been against the grain back in the day to accomplish what you did. Good on you!

  • Yohonna

    Congratulation to you both on such a great year! We are becoming more of a team with Harvey everyday (although we may be due for another training session!) and I love your encouragement to learn from them and to work with their wild spirits and personalities instead of trying to stifle them. Thanks Emma!

    • Emma (author)

      Yohonna, I am always rooting for Team Harvey! 🙂 The mutual support is really wonderful. Part of me is total integrity but there is the small little reality that stifling can occasionally to more chaos — LOL! Go team terrier!

  • Danielle

    As always, I’m so proud of both of you! Not only for the amazing things you have achieved in the ring, but for all the hard work you put in to support and understand Miles, and passing it along to the rest of us so we and our unique terriers can all benefit. There are some wiry little chaps and lasses that will be all the better for it! I can’t wait to read more about what’s been going on all year long 🙂

    • Emma (author)

      Thank you so much for your support Danielle! You are one of our oldest followers, not in human age but in the age of this blog, of course! I am completely honored at the effect the blog has had on you and your relationship with Oliver. Seeing him so happy and connected with you throughout his life brings me so much joy. To be able to truly enjoy a Welsh Terrier the way you do is a thing of beauty. Hard to imagine life any other way, oh we are so spoiled!

  • Karen Yeomans

    Great work and super inspiring, wishing you every success in 2018. I’ve just started beginners agility with my Ruby following 3 basic courses from puppy. At 10 months she is doing well and reading your story warmed my heart. Go Miles and Emma

    • Emma (author)

      Welcome Karen! There is so much planned on this blog for 2018, I can’t wait to read more about you and miss Ruby in the comments, and I am sure others will love to read about your experiences here as well! The good wishes for 2018 are completely mutual. I am truly honored to be a source of inspiration for you! Go team Karen and Ruby!

  • Paula Renaud

    So inspiring and interesting! Yay for Emma and Miles, and Vive la Difference!!!!

    • Emma (author)

      Thank you and agreed!

  • Kim M

    When I was owned by my Welshie, Sadie six years ago, I was unaware of the so called challenge of owning a terrier. In fact, I was clueless that there was such a thing. My husband and I just did what we had always done with training our previous dogs, Labs. As a teacher of children I always had high expectations, and I had the same for Sadie. She didn’t disappoint us and is the best dog we have ever owned. We did try agility for a while, but people were very negative about terriers which I thought the was strange. One person even said it was silly to waste my time on the sport since there were better choices for agility like border collies and their counterparts. I felt she did rather well and I praised her wildly in front of the doubters. I on the other hand had bad knees and had to have a replacement. So I was the one who had issues since I couldn’t keep up with her. My only regret is that I would have had terriers sooner since I think my grown children would have had a more active relationship with dogs (Labs aren’t the greatest house pets). Anyway, enough about my team, and congratulation of your successes. I so enjoy your blog, and will continue to enjoy it no matter how often you communicate with us.

    • Emma (author)

      Kim, thank you for the really, really great comment. I experienced so much negativity too, and I could not understand it. I heard all of the same things you did. Good for you for not stopping. Sadie sounds so special. I wish I had been there to cheer you on as you praised her! So many runs with Miles, a mistake happens, and I still praise him wildly after the run. People look confused about why he is getting praise and steak. Even when the only thing wrong was my handling. I am sorry your agility pursuits were interrupted by your knee replacement, that is such a big surgery.

      Please keep sharing your experiences and thoughts here. Lots of people are reading here that don’t comment and they benefit from your thoughts.

      I appreciate your support so much. Thank you.

  • Shannon

    What a great blog post! I loved it and it really reminded me of the feeling I had when I saw you two run at the UKI trial we were at together last year. I remember thinking what a huge transformation had taken place with you guys. The efforts of not giving up and of working hard.

  • Suzanne Fryer

    What wonderful diaries of your challenges and great achievements. While we all enjoy watching the Olympics at this time I can’t help but compare the journey you & Miles have been on (and I am sure will continue to be on) with the achievements of all the Olympians. Most of the successful people in the world make what they achieve look easy. I (as you know) can relate to the work that you & Miles have done to accomplish all your great achievements. I know there have been moments when things seemed insurmountable but you both soldiered on and look what you have accomplished!!!

    Although we don’t see each other often enough you know Axel & I are your greatest fans. We love you & Miles and are with you in spirit every run you take in your agility careers.

    Hugs & High Five Paws to both of you – you make us so proud
    Suzanne & Axel (who says WAY TO GO BRO!!!)

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