Remember me saying that Clover and I had plans to take a big step in her dog agility training? Yeah. Never mind. We’re not ready, at all. True story. Our first-ever agility seminar turned into abject failure, leaving me floundering and trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Without getting into all the sad details, which only make me emotional all over again, here are a few insights into the experience and our response to it.
Clover required constant management.
Clover required constant management, after being not keen at all (and definitely NOT quiet) being crated in the car or in the crating barn (which was nearby but separate from the training barn). Poor sweetheart was not coping well at all, and her non-stop noise put me completely over my own stress threshold.
I worked so hard on my own mental prep for the event, using strategies I learned in an online class I’m taking. I felt like I was doing SO well, then noise!
So, I ended up moving Clover’s crate to just outside the big training barn doors so that I could sit with her. From there, I watched and listened to the instructor the best that I could, which wasn’t easy.
Clover immediately improved, with me praising her and giving her bits of food to help her stay chill. I took a few notes, but not as many as I would have liked because Clover needed a good percentage of my attention.
Clover literally could not do a single jump.
Clover literally could not do a single jump during either of our 2 times on course. She seemed overwhelmed (more distracted than fearful) when it was our turn to try the new handling moves we were there to learn. We’ve had some trouble with this in our regular class as well, but most times we’re able to get Clover to focus enough to try the sequences.
I specifically chose ONLY this part of the 3-day seminar for Clover because the drills only included a couple of jumps and a tunnel — NOT full sequences or anything too intimidating. Alas, it was still too much for Clover to try to work in a new place, with new people and new dogs.
So, I ended up running the drills ALONE. Essentially I used our “working spot” in the seminar to practice the body mechanics of these new handling moves.
I found the whole experience stressful, embarrassing, and wickedly discouraging.
Worst of all, despite my best intentions and planning, Clover responded like I’d thrown her into the deep end of the pool. That’s heartbreaking.
Cue the sobbing (once I got home). Lots of sobbing.
The Way Forward
As I’ve learned to do from my online mental prep class, I looked to my strengths for help. Using strategies I’ve used in the 18 years of running my own business, I:
- Gave myself a full day to wallow
- Took a couple more days to sort through my feelings for their true meaning (alone and with the help of smart friends)
- Got straight to work on a new plan
With dogs, behaviors are simply information. The same is true for human emotions. It’s just information. It sucks. It hurts. But, it’s just information.
On the plus side of things, the experience gave me fresh clarity about mistakes I’ve made in the last year with Clover’s agility training. It’s a real bummer to feel like I’ve squandered a year’s worth of time and effort, but I’m working on a new plan to go WAY, WAY, WAY back and rebuild Clover’s agility training.
I’ll try to write more about the details and maybe even chronicle it here, but basically, I need to create some patterns and rituals, so to speak, that feel predictable and safe and motivating to Clover. This includes:
- What happens when Clover moves from her crate to the agility start-line
- How soon and how much Clover is rewarded
- What rewards really matter to her (which may not be the things people tell you that an agility dog should love)
- What things I need to stop doing because they’ve become predictors of stress to her
Our Own Way
To protect my own heart and mind, I need to move my expectations back into a safe place — where smaller goals pull us forward, where the intent is clearer, and where joy can once again live in our agility world (for both of us).
I joked online recently that I have the opening lines from “The $6 Million Dollar Man” TV show stuck in my head (with gender pronouns replaced):
We can rebuild her.
We have the technology.
We can make her better than she was.
Better, stronger, faster.
The words aren’t quite right, but I think it’s fun to have a little mantra.
Ultimately, the goal is to find a way to help Clover run agility with joy and confidence (again).
And, if we can’t find that place or that balance in our efforts, then we may need to find a new hobby. But, that’s a decision for another day.