Some in the world of dogs used to only see friends at conformation shows on the weekends, or a night or two a week at training classes. Nowadays, social media has completely revolutionized every aspect of our society, including the dogs. We can now catch up with friends and their dogs twenty-four hours a day. It’s even easy to keep updated on dog friends from around the world.
Each time they log on, dog people can see how colleagues performed at recent shows, track the training goals of a recently-born litter of puppies, and more. Needless to say, we can be inundated with dog updates around the clock, which can be a lot of fun, but it can also cause harm if we let it interfere with our relationship with our own dogs.
Social Media Woes
Do you find it hard to see friends posting win after win after win? Are those pictures of blue ribbons haunting you? One of the best parts of social media is being able to virtually “experience” your friends’ successes and wins at shows across the country. But it’s important not to let yourself doubts and judgments get in the way. Negativity will only end up hurting your friendships, as well as your relationship with your dog.
Developing a healthy connection to canine social media can be hard, but it’s a part of good sportsmanship. It can be easy to feel that your dog is behind when all you see online are snapshots of success. Some on social media like to compare their wins to other teams or worse, compare their dogs to other’s dogs. Disparaging comments have unfortunately also become increasingly prevalent in some canine social media circles.
As you get involved in online dog communities, try to avoid getting overly involved in debates and arguments. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted from your goals and training priorities by what others are doing with their dog. Put down your phone, step away from your computer, set realistic goals for you and your dog, and develop a training plan to work towards those goals.
Facebook and other social media sites are filled with photos of handlers returning from shows with dozens of ribbons. Some other competitors, instead of offering congratulations, post resentful comments because their dog didn’t do as well. There’s nothing wrong with sharing wins on social media, as it’s exciting for the handler and fun for others. However, that’s not indicative of everyone’s experience every weekend, and that’s OK.
Just remember, no dog is going to ribbon every time they walk into the ring. For some dogs, just being at the show or making it into the ring is a success. Success should never be measured only in ribbons.
It’s ok to be competitive, and most people need to have a bit of a competitive streak to step into the ring. Competitiveness isn’t bad, but unchecked and fueled by social media, it can get in the way of what matters in the end, and that is strengthening your relationship with your dog.
Train, Don’t Compare
Competition is healthy, and it’s a big reason why many love dog sports. But, comparing yourself to others online is a slippery slope. It can ultimately do damage to both your training and your relationship with your dog. The old saying goes, “Train, Don’t Complain,” but in the instance of social media, “Train, Don’t Compare” is useful as well.
Part of the challenge of dog sports is not knowing what might happen when you step in the ring. Dogs aren’t robots, and each dog is unique. It’s also important to remember that someone’s winning photo or video clip doesn’t show an entire picture. What you can’t see in that post are the hours, months, and years of training that it took to get to that point.
You also might not see the five previous runs where the dog went off course, dropped a bar, or peed in the ring. Try to cherish the “oops” moments as much as the wins. Our time with our dogs is limited and, win or lose, quality time with your dog matters far more than anything else.
Digital Good Sportsmanship
Most dog sports competitors would never think of sitting ringside at a dog show and badmouthing someone. From behind a keyboard, however, it can be easy for some to fall into the toxic practice of picking apart other handlers or dogs. We are all learning and growing as dog handlers and trainers, and our dogs are watching and learning from us. Treat other competitors the same way you treat your dog, with praise and positive reinforcement.
“Like” posts about wins, and cheer your people on when their dogs have off days. Most importantly, don’t compare your dog, or your journey with your dog, to anyone else’s path. Social media is a wonderful tool to bring us together. However, it’s also just a curated look and not the whole picture. The bottom line is, never let social media dictate how you feel about others, their dogs, and especially your dog.