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.