We look for that shining star and our hopes and dreams lay on that little bundle of fur. Some of us find a friend/mentor to help us on our way. Most of us start right away working impulse control games, teaching tricks, and developing a relationship with our dogs based on time, effort, compassion, and love.
Our young dogs represent the future to us and a bright future it is.
But what happens when those dreams don't pan out? When the going gets tough. When your pup shows behavior patterns not consistent with a future champion of the world. These challenges might be physical, or mental. But challenges they are. How you face that disappointment will test your mettle as a human being and a dog trainer. Because, that's what we are, aren't we. Dog trainers.
When your dog says, "Talk to the paw." What is your response. Do you give up. Do you look for reasons outside of yourself? Do you look at your training program seeking answers?
Recently I've faced some challenges. Olive (yes little miss perfect) has been having some motivational issues. Yes they all occurred during the heat spell we recently had and I believe the heat and her lack of wanting to play agility are connected. But how I respond to it is what is important. I had a number of emotions happening all at once when Olive over a period of 2 weeks showed me that she was loosing connection with me.
- First I got scared and worried that after all this time why wasn't she paying attention!?
- I questioned, "Why is this happening (reliving all the years trying to get Tazz to play with me)." ... poor me :(
- Then I got a little depressed but pretended it was no big deal.
- Why, I had dreams of starting agility in August!!! What if she is like this and I can't sign her up?
- My stress in thinking she wouldn't perform and the honest desperation that I felt caused Olive to get lifeless and uninterested in playing with me.
- Oh it makes me so mad when someone says, "well what did you expect, she is a terrier"
- Then I said, "what have I done wrong?" Too much freedom, not enough training, did I get lazy?
- The spiral of non performance was humiliating.
Then something interesting happened. I put my big girl pants on and started looking at the hard work other people were putting into their dogs. Students and friends with bigger problems than me. A little white dog that was demotivated seemed small compared to a 85 pound reactive dog. People with dogs that were much older that Olive that still couldn't trial due to much worse issues then a little sniffing.
I realized that my expectations are getting in the way of Olive's fun. Me feeling I need to push to get this pup ready for a competition that is meaningless in the long term was part of the problem. Me expecting too much from her was simply stressing her out.
Agility training is a journey. It is a journey that has bumps and lumps along the way. I don't know of anyone that has not faced challenges in their paths, reactivity, health issues, motivation, physical problems (both handler and dog), inexperience ... all these things are part of what makes this sport a challenge. How you deal with the challenges that face you will say a lot about how much enjoyment you will get out of the sport.
I'm not proud of the emotional wreak I have been these last few weeks. Why I'm a better person than to feel such things as sorry for myself when my problems are nothing. But there you go. It is real. Negative thoughts slip in and sometimes it is difficult to stop them from happening.
What do I always say? "Have fun." If you aren't having fun, ask yourself why. Well last weekend I did ask myself why and came up with an answer. My expectations are getting in the way of my training program.
Isn't that a problem we all face? Silly expectations.
As I watch Olive go through her paces this morning with a fire in her eyes and joy in her heart, I know that taking things slow is the way for her and I. So what if we don't trial right away. Most important is joy in both our hearts. Because, the journey is not about praise or posting blue ribbons on facebook, the journey is about the relationship and connection I have with my dog.