Looking for the Sticking Place

 As many of you should know, I am a coward. There is a big agility training weekend coming up with a member of the Canadian world team, and I am waffling. My dog trainer has made it clear she thinks I need to participate in some of the “world class” fun runs on Sunday but the idea terrifies me. There are solid reasons for my reluctance beyond simple fear. Although that is enough of an excuse for me.

The last time we went to this facility in December, it was too much for Shiva. It was a new environment with some new dogs and people. The instructor had set up an extremely difficult gamblers-type sequence that even the more experienced handlers struggled with. Shiva and I went first. I don’t think I need to elaborate here too much, let’s just say it didn’t go well. She was overwhelmed. I was nervous. We hadn’t had any time to calm ourselves down yet. Once I finally got her back on the leash, I looked at my practically husband and said, “that was predictable.” Unfortunately, this attitude set the tone for the rest of the day. I am happy to report that by the end, Shiva did run a short sequence with great success and no running off but it took over four hours for us to get to that point.

Are we going to have to have a four-hour-long pre-trial routine? Maybe.

Anyway, as I contemplate this upcoming super-weekend, I worry. Shiva and I have improved so much during our weekly classes. She is a lot more focussed and seems to care a lot more about what I want her to do. Instead of just doing whatever obstacles she feels like doing. I am scared to mess that up. I am also scared that Shiva and I will never be able to leave the comfort of our usual training centre. Perhaps this is how it will always be. In order to ever feel ready for a real trial, I know we need to get out in new environments – even if we fail miserably. Each new environment is one tiny step forward. Each new distraction, each new experience, is so important. If Shiva is ever going to learn how to relax in new spaces, attending events like these is vital. On the other hand, I worry that if we do fail, we won’t come away with more confidence, but less. It’s hard not to feel discouraged when Shiva relapses back into her zooming-self, as if she’s never done this before.

I guess the big question is this. Does it take more courage to push yourself even if you know you will probably fail, or does it take more courage to disregard pressure and move at a slower speed?

If it was just myself, I know the first choice would be smartest, but when it comes to my dog, I am a lot more hesitant to push. However, I wonder if Shiva was ready to move forward a long time ago and is just waiting for me to catch up.

Any advice? Has anyone been in a similar situation? Do I just need to suck it up and see what happens? Thanks in advance for any encouragement and/or butt-kicks.

Before I forget, I also want to thank Road Dog Tales for the yummy and special dog cookies. They arrived in the mail a few days ago and I have done my best to prevent Shiva from devouring them all. They smell so delicious, I have thought of sneaking one myself. Thanks for the awesome giveaway!

32 thoughts on “Looking for the Sticking Place

  1. What a thought provoking post.

    I try to set Oreo up for success as often as possible. If I feel it is going to be a disaster, I either search for ways to control the situation, or skip it altogether.

    Most often, Oreo surprises and does better than I thought he would.

    My thoughts on your situation….bring Shiva to the event, expose her to the environment, and if you feel she is not overwhelmed try a run. Set small goals in the ring, you don’t have to do the course as it is set up. Oreo and I often do 3-5 obstacles at fun runs, then we leave the ring and have a party.


  2. Several years ago I led writing workshops to help people bring to the surface what they already knew. Did the act of writing this post give you your answer?

    Can I throw out a few questions for you? Oops, I already did.

    Anyway, why are you doing agility with Shiva? And will going to this event help your goals or hurt them?

    I’ve never done agility. But I’ve witnessed any number of dogs getting distracted mid-course and doing zoomies (or even running away outside the agility ring).

    I think the people who take it in stride and remain calm create just another learning moment for themselves and their dogs. People who get upset and nervous and embarrassed see it as a setback.

    I know you’ll decide what’s best for you and Shiva. If you go, you’ll need to have the courage to stack the decks in her favor (go early to allow the activity levels to increase slowly over time, give her a calm place to rest in the middle, try to arrange a different spot in the order (is that possible?).

    And if you don’t go, you’ll have to have the courage to know you’ve made a decision that’s best for your dog and not listen to anyone else’s judgment.

    Whatever path you choose, it’s the right path. Because you’ve chosen it.


  3. I just had to comment on this one. First, I think you should go for it Kristine. So what if it doesn’t go as you expected? You and Shiva will likely learn something you can bring back for next time. I think you will likely do better than you think.

    I posted this quote on my FB page a few days ago. I hope it helps/inspires you (it struck a chord with a lot of people):

    “If you’re never scared or embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take any chances.” – Julia Sorel

    Regarding your question: Does it take more courage to push yourself even if you know you will probably fail, or does it take more courage to disregard pressure and move at a slower speed?

    Having done both I say the first is harder than the second. I tried moving slower first and ended up having to get some courage to push myself knowing I could fail. It’s not easy, but I’m glad I’m pushing now.


  4. Another comment from somebody who doesn’t know anything about agility: is the yardstick by which you should measure your decision be the one with the ‘courage’ scale drawn on it? I agree, being courageous is admirable and everything, but it can’t be The Only Goal, right?
    I agree with some of what the others have said- you have to be in tune with how Shiva is feeling. Exposing her to a little bit of uncertainty and nervousness is good, but if agility is going to be rewarding in the long term, it has to be a positive experience for her on balance. When she messes up, goes zooming around, and doesn’t listen, is it stressful and negative for her, or just you? If it’s bad for both of you, then the right choice is clear. If it’s positive, on balance, for her, but stressful for you, then you should think about refocusing your question-asking on yourself. What is it worth? What is the purpose?

    follow our foster: loveandaleash.wordpress.com


  5. I don’t like to fail, but I can cope with it. Maisy can’t. I don’t want her to practice out-of-control behaviors, so I go slower with her. People often don’t understand why I do that, and I find that it takes a lot of courage to resist social/peer pressure and go at a speed that’s right for Maisy.


  6. Hi, Kristine.

    Here’s my 2-cents: Raise your bar of expectations slowly, but raise the bar. I love this article from Psychology Today: “Why Letting Yourself Make Mistakes Means Making More of Them”. (http://bit.ly/fQ02yH)

    Slow & steady wins the race!


  7. This is an interesting post and I enjoyed reading the comments too.
    I had planned to do agility with Eva while she was a tiny puppy but it ended up we can’t do it because she was diagnosed to have hip dysplasia when she was seven months old. So a proper agility course is out but we sometimes do have a little fun at home. We lower the bar to the ground and run across it, we use the children tunnel for Eva because she is small so she can use it, we just play and fool around.
    I can’t give any solid advice on your questions but I hope you find out what you really like and enjoy while you’re together with Shiva.


  8. One of my favorite quotes is by Mary Ane Radmacher – she says “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” I think the question you need to answer is if you are ready for the big time – not Shiva. Shiva trusts you – and if you go and are overwhelmed she will know and so she will be overwhelmed. If you go and give the course your best try – Shiva will do her best to follow your lead. Dogs don’t know they have failed unless we let them know by our actions they have failed. If Shiva or any dog recognized failure they wouldn’t keep trying to do get into garbage after they have been defeated at the task many times.


  9. I think you should go. If you don’t feel like running Shiva – don’t run her. But if you go and she wants to run – do it! If you don’t go at all then you might always wonder ‘what if we had gone’. At least that’s what I would wonder.
    Of course, I don’t have any experince and I don’t know what I’m talking about, so maybe you don’t want to listen to me! LOL! 🙂


  10. Just go and do it and have fun. Training animals is a very personal thing for a lot of people. If the animal “fails”, they feel that everyone is judging them and their skills as a trainer. Dogs aren’t machines and every dog learns at their own pace, regardless of what the trainer does. So get out there, try your best with Shiva, and most of all HAVE FUN!


  11. There is a lot of really great advice here!

    I really agree with the point that whatever you are ready for that will be the best for Shiva- you will make the very best decision for the both of you, no question!

    (I’m another one with no agility experience… just thought I should be that out there :))

    I was wondering- If you decide not to participate would you still be able to go and watch? Sometimes I find it helpful to just be in the spaces that intimidate me- it helps to take the edge off.

    Either way, you will do great!


  12. I don’t have experience of agility either. I would assume that as long as your dog enjoys it, that’s all that really matters.

    I am sure you will got to the big meet at the weekend and do well, even if you don’t actually win a rosette.


  13. I think you should go, but maybe not do the course – just take in the environment, and work with Shiva on that level.

    Yes, it takes courage to try something you may fail at. But if you get there and the anxiety builds in the both of you, failure will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which, while you may learn something from, could also be a set back within the bigger picture.

    It does take a lot of courage to step back and admit “we’re not there yet”, and that pushing too far too fast can mean two steps back in the long run. I’m a big proponent of taking baby steps, and achieving (near) perfection at each step before moving on.

    Patience is key. Especially with our dogs.

    But what do I know; I have no agility titles to back up this advice. But this is my philosophy when it comes to obedience.


  14. Riley usually ends up surprising me…I doubt her and she proves me wrong. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready…but don’t miss out on something that you might end up enjoying because you’re afraid.

    Elyse and Riley


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  16. Kolchak ALWAYS surprises me at these agility trials that I don’t think we are ready for – he’s ALWAYS ready to try, and it’s usually me that isn’t ready. We went and watched three or four major trials before we ever entered (call ahead to get permission as many trials don’t allow “spectator dogs”). After each one, both he and I were more relaxed in that environment, and at one, after noticing me looking longingly at the run, one of the organizers actually baby stepped us through the run and how she would have attacked it, which was a wonderful learning experience. If it was me, we’d go at least to watch and talk to other handlers and just experience it all.


  17. You’ve already received some excellent advice from others on here. I’d go and let her get used to the location. If she’s feeling it, move ahead. If not, let her have a positive experience by being there to get more comfortable. you’ll both have more fun that way.


  18. Hi Kristine,

    I think it’s of those things that calls for “knowing thy dog.” If you know Shiva gets overwhelmed and can’t cope in new environments, maybe visit the new space a few times without competing and just hang out, letting her get used to it? I know several agility competitors who have a routine they go through with their dogs that gets them both ready – something like that should be crucial for you two. Certainly raise your criteria, but only when Shiva’s ready for it. If she’s still falling apart sometimes in a known environment, it may be too much to ask her to compete in an unknown one. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go to experience it, with or without Shiva.


  19. A lot of times, my dogs really rise to the occasion when I test them in a way that I’m uncertain about. What I would do is go with the idea that you’re going to enter a few things and take Shiva and see what happens. If it’s not happening in the ring, scratch it and hang out for the day. You can use it as a learning experience and Shiva can get used to the sights and sounds with no pressure. If she’s having an on day, they you can really get in there and have fun with it as a more active participant.


  20. No matter what I’m doing with my dog it usually helps if I don’t take it too seriously… Otherwise I get nervous, and he gets nervous and it doesn’t end well.


  21. I think that sometimes our dogs surprise us with their capabilities. I was so sure that Miss M was going to be nervous for her CGC test that I realized later it was actually my fault, because I was acting nervous and doing everything differently, that she failed. When we tried it the second time, and I put more trust in her, she did amazing and passed. I find this with my students also, sometimes I think that they’re going to fail me and I do so much to overcompensate, that when I actually step back and give them room, I’m surprised how well they do.


  22. While I agree with a lot of what has been posted, I am going to approach this from the perspective of an owner with a fearful dog.

    When you say that Shiva was overwhelmed, was that coming from fear? Or was it just too much stimulation? Everything I do with Mayzie, I do with the thought of, How is this going to affect our relationship? Is it going to build trust or erode it? Is this a necessary step for Mayzie or am I doing it because I think I “should” or because I want her to be a certain way?

    This is not to say that I never push Mayzie. I think with her, part of her success has come from pushing her a tiny little bit in situations that I KNOW she can handle. And I’m always aware of her reactions and how she’s feeling. If it’s apparent that she’s becoming overwhelmed, we’re out of there. She knows that about me, I think, and therefore is willing to follow me into potentially scary situations. She knows that ultimately, it is her choice whether we stay and I will respond to her wishes.

    Like others have suggested, you might just take her to the venue and see how she does. Do something fun with her while you’re there or feed her lots of yummy treats. If she (or you) starts becoming overwhelmed or frightened, then get the heck out. Above all, don’t force the situation. Just let it develop organically and see what happens.

    Also, I just want to put something out there that has been the hardest thing for me to learn with Mayzie. Just because your trainer or someone else you respect says “you should do this or that,” ultimately you know your dog best and she only has you to advocate for her. It’s okay to say, “no, this isn’t right for my dog right now. Sorry.” Of course, I know that you already know that. I just wanted to remind you that it’s okay – and yes, even courageous – to take that path.

    Good luck!


  23. I don’t have any personal experience to draw from on this; I do think, though, that your gut would tell you which direction to go. There’s no one who knows Shiva better than you!


  24. I agree with everything that is said. I think it has to come from you and be your decision. If you are not ready, you’re not ready. If Shiva’s not ready, then Shiva’s not ready. You are a team and it will take both of you do it. I have found from my experience that if I’m not ready, then it doesn’t matter if my dog is or not. I have back out of several things because I’m not comfortable with it, and when I’m ready then the dogs sense that I’m ready and they are right there. And it works vice versa.

    Personally I think it is harder to take things slow. Having two dog packs are a great example of that, but there is a ton of trust involved in merging the two that isn’t there yet. Just taking bits and pieces instead of diving in, I believe is safer for all parties. Just an example.

    I like the idea of taking her and not competing. Get a better feel of her reaction and mood. It was my first thought.

    I trust you’ll make the right decision for both of you. Saying no now doesn’t mean saying no forever.


  25. I think it takes more courage to disregard pressure and move at a slower speed. That is something I have never been able to do. I find it very hard to admit that I can’t do something. I find it easier to try and fail (odd, huh). I also have a difficult saying no. This combined with my belief I can “do everything” ends up sometimes making me crazy…..


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