Monday, July 29, 2013

Reflections on the Lessons I've Learned From My Dogs

I seem to get philosophical after agility trials.  No - I only get that way after agility trials that didn't go very well.  Anyway - this past weekend was certainly not a disaster, but I didn't get that great teamwork feeling I look forward to.  No "dancing with my dogs" feeling at all.  I went into a pretty good funk over it.  I could describe myself as sad, confused, distressed and anxious.  Oh boy!  I decided to ponder this problem and try to approach it with a little common sense.

First I tried to figure out why a game I claim to love can slice right through my normal self confidence and optimism.  The heavy part of this blog is my realization that I am having serious fears about aging.  I am so panicked at the thought that this may be my last agility dog.  Maybe I am already too old or slow to accomplish any of my goals with Coach.  Maybe not.  For crying out loud - enough of the soul searching and panic.  My biological clock maybe be ticking in the last half of it's life, but the only thing to do is keep going or quit.  The very thought of not being able to do agility with Coach is why I'm so panicked in the first place!  How silly.  I will do this until I can't.  Besides - I'm not sure I would have been any better 20 years ago.

I did have a good time trying to figure out what I have learned from my dogs so far.

First Jazz, since he was the first dog I ever competed with.  He ran two runs this weekend and was a total brat.  He barked and refused weave poles on Saturday.  Finally completed the course, but too slow by a lot.  Sunday he jumped several jumps and then tried to steal his leash from the leash runner.  He stood next to her and ignored me until I threatened him.  He then dashed about and we left the ring.  He was extremely pleased with himself.  I was disappointed because I really enjoy running with him when he is trying.  He has taught me patience, the joy of building a relationship with a dog, millions of small details about handling dogs, humility, creativity and most of all he helped me learn to trust myself.  I know my dogs.  I try hard to listen to people's input and advice, but when it comes to actual training I need to listen to my own instincts.  They really are pretty good.  I have also learned that I absolutely cannot accomplish anything by using methods that just feel wrong to me.  Now that I have worked with Coach for a few years, I am constantly surprised by how badly Jazz behaves!  He really is a brat.  He is smart, funny, sweet, flirty and completely impossible.  I love him, but he is really a challenge to train.

Coach is so much easier to be around at a trial.  He pays close attention to me.  He listens to me.  He tries very hard to please me.  He is treat and toy motivated.  He comes when I call him and if he is unhappy in the ring he comes to me and barks.  (Unlike another big white dog who goes to bark at others and ignores me!)  These are all things I trained and encouraged as a result of working (or failing to work) with Jazz.  Coach is almost the opposite of Jazz.  I wanted a motivated, fast dog.  Boy did I get it.  Unfortunately, I am now learning how to calm a dog instead of how to motivate one.  I am constantly a step behind Coach in agility.  I can't think or react fast enough.  I haven't got the experience or skill set to work with a fast dog.  I am learning so many new things.  Jazz taught me to be patient with him.  Coach is teaching me to be patient with myself.  I suspect one of the things I will have to learn from Coach is how to deal with aging.  I am not getting faster, smarter or younger.  Coach may be too much dog for this older lady to handle.  It doesn't really matter though.  He is very much my dog.  We both agree on that important fact.  That means we're the only material we have to work with.  We may not be as successful as I daydreamed about when he was a puppy, but I suspect daydreaming about being the best agility team in the world was a little unrealistic!  Meanwhile - he is growing into a really lovely obedience dog.  He heels with joy and now that we have mostly quieted the hysterical barking fits, he is really fun in the obedience ring.  I can trust him not to run off or snub me.  That is so relaxing!  Coach is teaching me the real joy of heeling together.  It is a slower, smoother version of dancing with my dog.

That - thank goodness - is the conclusion of my pondering for this trial.  I think we'll go try AGAIN to convince Coach to weave.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Trust Your dog

Coach and I entered an obedience trial a week ago and for the very first time ever - I walked into an obedience ring without a really painful case of nerves.  I have been told over and over to relax, have fun, nerves travel down the leash, you have to stop being nervous....  Great advice.  Kind of like ignoring the elephant in the room.  I stopped being nervous in agility a long time ago.  I thought it was because we have done enough agility that I somehow got used to it.  This weekend my dim little light bulb finally came on and I realized it's because I trust Coach (and Jazz) in the agility ring.

Coach did a very nice job in novice obedience at this trial and it was two trials on the same day.  What a great opportunity that is to help work out the kinks.  Since the first time through was pretty nice, I realized that we could do this.  The second time in the ring in the same day was so much nicer.  I had already proved we could do this and we were working together.  I only hope I can continue this trend toward calm, happy obedience.

By the way - no qualifying for us.  I trust him, but he does not sit stay.  He sits, he stays for a little while, he starts to wonder why he's sitting there.  He visits the dog next to him or he wanders tentatively to me.  I think I may have the visiting next door part worked out.  I can't believe I never thought to use the "leave it" command.  He has a very nice "leave it."  The second show he started sniffing at the dog in front of us on the way into the ring.  I said "leave it" and he immediately quit.  As we were setting up he glanced at the dog on the other side and I said "leave it."  He did!  He still got up and came to me, but it would sure be easier for everyone if he either stayed like a good dog or came to me.  We will work very hard to get the stay before the next obedience trial.  He just needs lots of practice in a line up.  He stays fine all alone.

Anyway - I am certain that if I go into the ring believing that we have done our preparation and the dog on the end of my leash is working with me, the ring nerves will settle down to something more like excitement.  I hope so.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dear Deb

I haven't really been able to write anything since you died last March.  I thought I would write to you or about you, but that seemed too hard.  Anything else I wanted to write seemed too trivial.  So here I am.

When you died, I felt like the ground came out from under my feet.  I reached for you to steady me and I found myself groping in emptiness.  The very next day I felt your hand take mine and you were there again.  I really felt you in my mind.  I could see and feel your hand holding mine and I was able to regain my balance.  Thanks for that.  I really was lost and I'm not sure I could have recovered without your help.

When Becky and I were in Texas emptying your house, I felt you there in the house.  Becky was able to drive your truck everywhere and she felt you in the truck.  I know you loved that truck, but you died in it and I could not bring myself to drive it.  It was cancer that killed you, but still - I kind of blame the truck.  That was the worst week of my life, and some how one of the best also. Three sisters are so very much more than two, but two of us can still help each other and love each other enough to make it through.

We laughed a lot about your absolute insane organizational skills.  Who has a garage that is so organized that each tool has it's instructions and parts hanging next to it on a pegboard?  Who stencils flowers on the shelves in their garage?  I still don't know how we managed to empty all those shelves and drawers in a week, but there is one happy neighbor who has screws and nails in plastic boxes divided by size.  We did laugh at you, but we sure did cry a lot also.

I have always been proud of you, but I really didn't pay that much attention to your work.  You managed to create a structural engineering business in a very male dominated world.  The work you did on huge, expensive houses and the respect we saw from contractors was really impressive.  Your friends sure did you proud.  They told us great stories and took us out to eat.  They helped dispose of equipment and furniture that we could not move.  They told us how much they will miss you.

The first job I ever had was big sister.  I took it very seriously.  I still do.  When the house was empty I heard you saying goodbye and your hand let go of mine.  I remember knowing that it was time for you to go.  After all - once your dead, shouldn't you get to do better things than hang around an empty house or hold my hand?  There must be a lot of wonderful things for you to go on to.  I told you to go.  I let go.  I miss you.

All my love always, your big sister.