Sunday, December 27, 2009


I have a confession to make: I think I might have cheated on one of my dogs' tests.

I don’t think it’s because I’m a dishonest person… at least I hope that’s not the problem. There is certainly nothing to be gained by cheating, nor is there anything lost by failing to cheat. My dogs are “just” family members, will never be certified to be or do anything, will never enroll in anything demanding references, and will never have to produce a transcript. I have no deadlines to meet and no clients waiting.

And yet the nagging feeling that I did something not quite right remains.

When I’m ready to test my dogs, the usual routine is to pull out the video camera, set it up, and then look over my notes one last time to make sure I know what I’m testing. The night in question it was “Distance”. I like to test first and then teach new things, as I figure that way my students are showing they know the test item(s) “cold”.

So far, so good.

That night I turned on the camera, grabbed some treats, and walked to the test site with the plastic cone I was going to use for that test. My selected student (Beau in this case - Beau always goes first) followed me with rapt attention. I took a nice deep breath, looked meaningful at my dog (who appeared ready as he was looking back up at me) and then I pointed one arm at the cone. Beau trotted right over and touched it with his nose.

Hmmm… I guess he wasn’t ready after all. I went back and turned off the camera and then turned it on again. (Movie making Tip of the Day: HD cameras are great, but it takes forever on my older computer to load the large files they make into iMovie. To save time, I try to keep those files as small as possible, and thus the restart of the camera.)

Take Two.

Back to the test site I went, another deep breath, dog seated, and I suddenly had a light bulb moment. I held my arms still, looked meaningfully at my student (once again looking up at me) and I said “Around!” Beau dutifully got up, trotted around the cone, and returned.


Or was it? At the time, I rationalized that it was. I told myself I had simply not realized which part of the command (signal or voice) Beau actually knew. That particular test required just one cue, and I had just guessed poorly which one to give. It had been a while since we last worked on it, and it’s not like I gave any additional hints or tuition. I played with it a bit, mixing up sits and downs and arounds - just to be sure he wasn’t guessing - and he was perfect.

Fine. Life is too short; time is too fleeting, time to move on…

It was now Zachary’s turn. I started right off with the word “Around!” - not going to catch me making the same mistake twice. Zachary immediately ran over, touched the cone with his nose, and hurried back.

Ever have one of those days?

It turns out Take Two was perfect. I pointed toward the cone and Zachary zipped around it. It was one cue, and one cue only; it just so happened that he preferred a signal to Beau’s verbal cue. That’s when I remembered that Zachary had made that very same “mistake” a few months back when I was first teaching this (and I even showed it in my 10 Reasons video. D’oh!) I again played with it a bit, mixing things up with sits and downs, and after that initial hiccup he was perfect.

So chalking it up to me being a horrible instructor, I crossed Distance off my list. Woo Hoo!

Which brings us at last to the topic of this post: As I looked through my footage awaiting compilation into a movie, I began to wonder if what I did was, in fact, cheating? I found myself wondering how many other times I have dismissed initial failure as “dog wasn’t ready” or “I didn’t do the test right.” I’m really not sure. I can’t think of any off-hand, but with as many videos as I’ve taken and the ease with which I justified the above, I have to concede to the possibility that there might be more. I rarely keep the original clips once the movies are finished so there is no way to know for sure.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, none of this really matters. The Zachary Canine Curriculum Certification Committee (uh, that would be me) isn’t going to take my license away, my dogs aren’t going to have their names splashed across newspapers or be brought up for disciplinary action.

But it does sort of defeat the purpose of tracking progress if you aren’t going to bother to do so accurately.

So, I decided it was time to take a stand. I am now instigating the One Take rule for all tests. Barring the camera falling over or my pants falling down, I am going with whatever the first take is. If success, Woo Hoo! If failure, then I shall have to try again another day.

For the curious, this week’s Weekly Worksheet is now posted, offering many opportunities to test my resolve.

Let’s hope I pass.

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