Sports training is currently one of the biggest regrets I have when it comes to things I have taught my dog. Yes it looks nice and always gets likes & shares on social media. But in reality it is completely useless, and also counter to creating a working relationship based in mutual trust and respect.
I want my dog to work for/with me because he finds joy in the work, spending time together and doing fun stuff with me. Instead he works for his toy. He has become so ball obsessed and the work/ obedience have become a means to an end (getting the toy), instead of it being something that is innately valuable & rewarding to perform. True work ethic means the dog works because he enjoys working, not because he's getting a toy at the end.
Furthermore, I have come to the realization that sports training is not only totally unnecessary, but also counterproductive to true functional obedience.
Sports training is all about high drive and high energy. With everything the dog does he needs to be in "high drive", ie a highly excitable state for the trainer to achieve the picture needed for competition obedience. Sports trainers will often refer to this as "power" in the obedience.
Breeders are catering to this demand for "high drive" by breeding the dogs with a more "wired" mindset, often times also accompanied by anxiety. Most working dog people accept this as normal and even required. A dog cannot be considered a good working dog unless he has drive!
Personally, I don't think it has to be this way. I don't think a dog needs to have high drive in order to be considered a good working dog.
When training functional obedience I am always able to achieve more reliable & consistent obedience when I cultivate a calm mindset in the dog. I naturally have more control and compliance from them when their minds are calm, clear & stable.
High drive sport dogs are not really giving obedience. They are performing circus tricks with the promise of a toy at the end This is not true obedience. True obedience and control comes from a calm and composed mindset, and a close bond with the handler based in trust, respect, clear communication & understanding. This is what we need to practice and cultivate in both the training AND the breeding of working dogs. A working dog does not have to be crazy in order to be a good working dog. We are breeding dogs that are suppose to work for us, but we are barely able to live with them without making huge changes to our lifestyle.
By training and breeding for more and more drive, we are purposely creating an anxious mindset in our dogs. And we are doing it for the sole purpose of looking good, earning points and giving the ego a nice little boost. It is not good for the dogs and it's not good for breeding practice. It's good only for human ego.
If you cultivate calmness and composure in your training, your dog will be happier with a healthier mind, and his work performance (not sport performance), will improve because he can actually calm down enough to think about the task at hand.
The breeding should focus on creating true work ethic (not drive), ie. the dog works because he enjoys working. For instance; a good hunting dog does not need a toy to motivate him to hunt,; a good herder does not need a toy to motivate them to herd and a sled dog does not need a toy to pull his sled! They do it because the work in and of itself is intrinsically rewarding to them, because they have been bred to find joy in it. That is what true work ethic is.
When I read older articles and books, I rarely ever see anyone talk about "drive". The German Shepherd Dog by Max von Stephanitz (founder of the breed) is a 710 page book and it never mentions "prey drive",.. not once. They didn't need "drive", and if anything a highly aroused & excitable mindset would be counter productive for the work they needed to perform in those days.
Sports changed things. A test turned in to a competition and suddenly it was all about who looks the best performing the exercises. Common sense went out the window and with it that which is real and true.
For me personally, I will be moving away from sports training and working on creating a partnership with my dog.