Jazz and I finished our novice preferred standard AKC title this weekend. It was great and I am very happy to be out of novice. I am happiest to report that I have accomplished a few handler goals.
My biggest goal was to stop worrying about titles and find something to be happy with in every run. I don't think you can fool a dog into believing you're happy if you're not. They hear what you think instead of what you say. I never chastised Jazz or punished him in any way for bad runs. They were usually my fault at the time and certainly my fault in the long run since I am the one that trained him! The problem was my disappointment when we ran poorly. He could tell it was a problem and he lost confidence. I have worked very hard to get my "mind right!"
Saturday we ran a nice standard run in novice and then proceeded to Open jumpers. I was not convinced that I had the right approach to the course and I was a little flustered thinking I would forget where we were going. This is certainly the best way to mess up your dog's run! Jazz started cheerfully and immediately realized I was confused. He ran a few feet away from me and started barking at me. I have been embarrassed by this, frustrated by it, and confused. Saturday, I realized how funny it is. Poor dog - goofy handler! I patted my legs and asked him nicely if he would please come back and play with me. I know I was using a very cheerful voice because I was trying not to giggle. He came bouncing over with a happy look on his face and was all set to play again!
Unfortunately - the very next thing I did was to jam him into a jump and front cross too close to him. Bless his forgiving heart, he let me get away with it and we finished cheerfully. This is the second thing I am trying to learn. I memorize a course in order and with all the crosses and handling sequences I hope to use. This is fine if things go well, but if they go wrong, I am clueless! I often get lost if Jazz goes off course at all. Saturday was a case in point. Why in the world would I put him on the wrong side, too close to the jump, tell him to take the jump and immediately cross to the other side? That's just dumb. I think the ability to improvise, think on my feet and make changes depending on circumstances is mostly a matter of experience. I just need to keep working at handling and keep this in mind.
So we finished a title and I am glad, but I am extremely happy that Jazz and I had a very good time. He was proud of himself and happy to be with me. He has a little bit of arthritis in one knee and I find myself being grateful for every weekend that he is physically and mentally ready to play. It's very clear that he can play or just wander through the course because I ask him to. I am working to put the "play" back for him. I have my mind right and plan to keep it that way.
A final note on Sunday's jumpers run. It was VERY hot in that barn and the barn door was open next to the weaves. We ran fairly well until the weaves. Jazz entered nicely and a beautiful breeze blew in the door. He froze, sniffing the enticing smell of horses and feeling that cool breeze. For a second there, I stood with him and enjoyed the breeze. It was definitely not an agility moment, but I think I may remember the breeze in his fur and his nose sniffing away at the horse smell long after we are done competing. It makes me smile.
We dropped a bar a little while after that, but I said "let's run" and we ran as fast as I could over the last three jumps. It was fun and we were both happy with ourselves. So - I will continue to enjoy him, work on being more flexible, and remember those sweet moments we share. It really doesn't get much better than that!