Scaling Back My Dreams

I probably shouldn’t be writing about this right now when it is sitting so heavily on my brain. I didn’t start this blog to have a place to dump my emotional crap. However, I do need to talk about it somewhere. It’s the only way I know to work out my thoughts. Maybe I will hit the publish button and maybe I won’t. But I  need to get it out.

This may come across as melodramatic, but I feel as if Shiva and I have taken a massive step back in our training today. So massive that I wonder if I was crazy to ever think we could attain the goals I have set. For awhile, I had thought we were climbing out of the hole. It seemed like we were making so much progress together. Our goals seemed within very close reach. Everyone around us seemed to believe the same.

Now I just don’t know.

Perhaps I am just letting myself get down over nothing. Quite likely I will feel different in a few days. I am not writing about this because I am asking anyone to make me feel better. There is nothing anyone can say that will do that anyway.

In agility class Shiva has an enemy. This enemy is in the form of a very sweet spaniel mix named Mia. The two disliked each other on sight. Actually, that’s not true. Mia disliked Shiva on sight. We have been taking classes with Mia since late November 2009. She was the only other dog in our very first agility class that is still around. Back then both Shiva and Mia were reactive around other dogs. Mia possibly even more so. Both dogs have come a long, long way in the past year and a half. Shiva, obviously, has a sky-rocketing level of confidence that makes her think every dog in the world wants to play with her. Mia, on the other hand, has slowly allowed other dogs to come closer.

But not too close.

When we first started classes, each dog was in a separate corner of the room. It helped to prevent many nasty confrontations. Many. But not all. Shiva and Mia have definitely had their scary moments. Especially when Shiva was off-leash and decided staying with me was boring. I am happy to say, most of them were not caused by my dog. Sometimes Shiva could provoke a snarky reaction just by walking past poor Mia. Regardless, I only mention this strategic positioning to illustrate how far the dogs have come.

Mia and Shiva now sit beside each other along the back wall. Pretty awesome, right? They sit beside each other and haven’t had an altercation for months! Of course, we still never, ever let the two dogs interact. That would just be insane. But the two can hang out now, side-by-side, in relative peace.

Until today.

Class was going well enough. Shiva was running around like an idiot yet was also managing to do some real work. I was feeling good. The two of us were up working on some threadles (the dog is supposed to take the jump in front of them, then come straight back to the handler, take the next jump, come back, and so on). As I say, things we going well. Then all of a sudden, Shiva decides she is bored and takes off back to where her spot is set up. This isn’t unusual, unfortunately. I call her back and she starts to come but at the last second decides to see what Mia is doing.

Total meltdown.

I don’t blame Mia for one second. Shiva is pushy. She is fast and completely lacks social skills. Instead of approaching other dogs nicely, she tends to rush at them head-first. It’s annoying, no doubt, and something we are working on. Some dogs don’t care. Unfortunately, Mia really, really doesn’t like wacko dogs.

No one got hurt. There was a lot of noise, some mouthing, but the dogs did eventually break it off themselves. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that big of a deal. The two have fought a lot worse in the past. Less than thirty seconds later we were all able to move on.

Well, most of us were. I have still yet to fully get over it.

The whole short episode was enough to make me question my abilities as a trainer. I know, I know, I know. I shouldn’t let one bad day get me down. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if my dream of competing in a real-live trial is impossible. Not because of Shiva, but because of me. Today, I felt like a failure. For the first time in a little while, I am now wondering if I even know what I am doing. If I am the right person for the job.

As I say, I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to stop going to classes. But perhaps it is time to re-evaluate. Honestly, I just don’t know what I think is best for us anymore. Maybe I just need to sleep on it.

29 thoughts on “Scaling Back My Dreams

  1. Every time I take Our Best Friend to the dog park, I pray he doesn’t bloody another dog or get bloodied himself. Every. Single. Time. So far, he’s only been in one fight, which he both instigated and lost. The other dog drew blood, but not seriously, and OBF didn’t even hold a grudge. (The other dog did though!)

    The people I hang out with there have known OBF from the beginning, and they keep encouraging me to bring him, watching him progress and telling me, over and over, that only constant reinforcement of positive experiences with other dogs will turn him into the dog I want him to be. You absolutely cannot let ONE incident in six months derail your confidence. Shiva is still a very young dog (isn’t she?), and as she ages and matures, all this will become less of an issue. And it why is it all her fault, anyway? Mia has issues, and until HER owner deals with her reactivity, she bears part of the blame.


  2. I’m really sorry you had such a bad day. But the really noisy fights are usually the ones you don’t need to worry about. The silent ones are terrifying.

    Dogs are going to be dogs. There is always the chance for any dog to get in a fight no matter how well trained or socialized. And not all dogs have to like every dog out there. In both of my dog’s agility classes there are several dogs who do NOT like dogs in their face. It’s not that big of a deal. For the most part all dogs are crated when not working, with a few just on leash. If a dog decides to run away from their handler, everyone should be trained to get get between their dog and the approaching one. Sometimes people are caught off guard so the occasional scuffle is bound to happen. Most situations aren’t with aggressive dogs, they’re with a bouncy obnoxious-love everyone type of dog and a normal leave me alone type of dog and of course a scuffle ensues.

    If you think you need a break from agility to focus on other stuff then fine. But don’t let a little scuffle be that decider. Maybe you break things down more for Shiva so you can reward her choice to stick with you more often. Maybe you decide to just practice recalls and attention. Training is hard and nobody has perfect dogs.


  3. I totally understand where you’re coming from. Riley is extremely picky about what dogs she gets along with and had a run in with another (also a little reactive) dog the last time we went to class. I felt like all the work I (actually we) had put into trying to solve this problem had gone right down the drain. I was so disappointed in myself as a handler! I’ve come to accept that Riley may not ever have impeccable social skills with other dogs and I will probably always have to pay careful attention to her and take necessary precautions with her. That being said (and that was a hard one for me to stomach), Riley seems to remind me every day that she’s still a great dog and a great companion.

    When I got Riley, I had high hopes of competing in agility with her. Then came the hip dysplasia diagnosis…I was crushed. Turns out, she makes a great therapy dog instead. It wasn’t what I had dreamed of, but it makes her happy and makes me happy.

    I may just be senselessly rambling on here (I tend to do that…sorry!), but (and not to be a party pooper here) what if Shiva never gets to the point where she can compete in a trial? She’ll still be a great dog and will still mean just as much to you! You yourself have talked about how much you both have grown from the time you got her up to now. You can’t forget about that. So she had a run in with another dog–it happens, even with the best trainers! Riley’s trainer owns a very reactive dog that only gets along with about 2 other dogs. She has to keep that dog separate from her other dogs at home. She competes with that very same reactive dog in agility and the dog has earned quite a few titles. So see, there is hope!

    Don’t give up! I know a setback is disappointing and frustrating, but it happens. Take her back to class and if the agility thing doesn’t work out, just remember that it’s your dream, not hers. She’ll just be happy being around you and doing things with you–whether that be pet therapy, rally, obedience, dock diving, or just going on long hikes with you!

    Okay, sorry that was so loooong and I hope it all made sense and helps out. Keep your chin up…you have proven yourself as a good trainer, especially when you compare the difference in Shiva from when you first got her until now! 🙂


  4. You and Shiva are way more advanced than Zoe and I, so I probably shouldn’t offer up and advice. We’ve been going to a basic obedience class for 2 months now. My main focus is to help Zoe overcome some of her fear and anxiety in public places, and around new people and dogs. I really didn’t know what to expect when we joined because it has been a long time since I had a dog in obedience classes, but I figured it was worth a shot. On my first trip to the school for orientation, without dogs, the instructors talked to us for a good hour about what to expect. One point that stuck with me, was to always remember they are dogs. You can’t always predict how they might react or behave, but you’re doing a good thing by working with them. Over the past two months, I’ve found it particularly interesting to watch the various dogs and owners. Every dog at Zoe’s school has specific challenges. Zoe is the most shy, but others are overly happy and playful, while others are just plain unruly. The man next to us today was struggling with his Giant Schnauzer, but said, “It’s ok. We’ll keep trying. That’s why we’re here.” Believe me, there have been days when I’ve left Zoe’s school feeling discouraged, but then she surprises me the next time. Shiva is a smart girl. Maybe she just had a bad day. Here’s hoping next time is much better. Hang in there!!


  5. This is what I think:
    The important things in life are those you need to work for.

    We don’t ever read books or watch movies about people who had wonderment and accomplishment handed to them. We watch and marvel at the ones who had to work for it. We applaud the ones who got knocked over, but more importantly got up.

    Part of the learning process is learning how to recover from complete and utter defeat. My guess is you will have much worse set backs than this… and you will be all the better and stronger for it.

    The only way to know how to break up a fight is to break up a fight. The only way to know how to pump yourself up when you’re feeling like sh*t is to pump yourself when you’re feeling like sh*t.

    What happened today is an important part of the learning and growing and kicking ass process. It is up to you what you do with that lesson (my guess is you’re feeling stronger already).

    (this is all meant in the *nicest* way possible. hugs to you. if you want to tell me to stuff it, feel free 🙂 … ALSO I sent you your mini screwdriver today so if what I wrote above doesn’t help, fixing things in miniature should)


  6. Everybody who has a dog has felt this at some point, regardless of what the challenge is. The fact is, while none of us are perfect, dogs aren’t perfect either. There can be a perfect fit between dog and owner, but that still doesn’t make either one perfect. Sometimes we need to hit a bump in the road to shake us up and make us try something different. You seem to really enjoy agility, and so does Shiva. Don’t write it off because of one bad incident! Hugs to you and Shiva! I’m sorry you had such a scary experience!


  7. Kristine I’m so sorry about the fight. I know how scary and terrifying and emotional they can be, even if there’s no serious damage done. These days a simple snark almost causes me to have a heart attack.

    I think you’re right to assess whether agility is right for you and Shiva, but for the right reasons. I think if you both enjoy the sport, make progress, and have fun, you should keep at it. This may not be what you want to hear, but Shiva was being rude, not reactive or aggressive, which should be quite comforting, especially since she has a history of reactivity. You may want to get together with Mia’s owners and Mia and try doing some extracurricular sessions with the two of them – teach them how to interact and make all of their positive interactions super rewarding. It may really help Mia’s reactions when Shiva acts like Shiva.

    And I think I’ve probably recommended it before, but the book “Control Unleashed” is just screaming for you. I think the “Give Me a Break” game was damn near written for Shiva. And Mia could probably use some “Look At That.”


  8. Dogs will be dogs… You’ve done amazing work with shiva (and she with you) There’s going to be more of these (and others) blips along the way. But, the blips have nothing to do with your goals, really. Dogs will be dogs.


  9. I understand how you feel. I feel like a dog mom failure at least once a day. All I can do is relate to how to you feel. I have been there. It is hard when your success gets shoved back. I experienced it again tonight. All I felt like was a worthless dog mom, even with all of the great strides that have been made. It didn’t matter. It hurt. I was angry. The only thing I can say is take your time with it and it will work itself out. It may not seem like right now, but it will. 🙂


  10. Big hugs!!

    We’ve all been there about one issue or another. I think it comes with having a dog.

    You’ve done great work with Shiva. You know this. Don’t let one day’s frustration get you down too long!


  11. By now you’ll know you did the best thing by publishing this blog post:) There is a wealth of experience and information out there and you’ve got access to it all on the internet.

    Our dogs would be boring if they were perfect. At least you know Shiva and Mia don’t like each other and even though they’ve come a long way they will probably never be friends. It’s not the end of the world. We don’t like every person we meet either.

    Frankie has a few dogs he doesn’t like and whenever we meet a new dog I’m always alert to the possibility that things might not go well. So I do know what you’re going through, I’ve been there too. And I’m still there, lol.

    Hopefully, by the time you’ve read through all the comments you’ll see that you’ve got plenty of company, and it’s just another challenge along life’s highway.

    Someone mentioned the possibility of getting together with Mia’s owner and working towards a more peaceful existence between the two girls. I think that’s an excellent idea as it’s not just Shiva who is the problem here.


  12. Kristine, right now I have two adoptable dogs who do not like each other, Hoss and Cane. Both are big – Cane is old and very furry (Husky mix), Hoss is young and smooth (Redbone Coonhound). Like you, every day I need to feel from where these two are coming, monitor who goes in/out first and watch for the scuffles, which still happen. Laura, Lance and Vito are right – the deadly fights are silent (I lost 3 dogs in one day in a silent fight I didn’t know was happening till my fav dog was dead); the noisy ones are much better. YOU have come a long way. Shiva is still working things out in her dog brain; she needs you to hang in there for her. Think where you will be 5 years from now considering the progress you both have already made and the difference you have made in her life – and she in yours. This will happen again. Keep it noisy, talk with your instructor re: Mia and the seating arrangement (I didn’t like hearing she and Shiva were together). Bad days happen – this you know. You are doing good. Just earlier today I finally looked at the video of Shiv getting her dog bowl – what a hoot. Thanks for sharing the good and the bad with us. We are here for you as I know you would be there for any of us.


  13. I’m so sorry Shiva got into a fight. I know how scary that can be. If you remember, I blogged about Georgia’s “bloodbath” some months back with a Before That, Good Friend Sammy. That’s right, they were FRIENDS. Not even enemies like Shiva and Mia. Sammy’s housemate, Tara, was Georgia’s VERY BEST friend. Inseparable, meeting up every single day. After the fight, their friendship ended despite the best efforts of us humans. Because Sammy was Tara’s friend too.

    We live with our dogs, they’re family. But there’ll always be things we don’t understand about them. The signals they might pick up from each other that we don’t see. Children in a playground don’t all like each other, why should dogs? Curiously, I just posted a comment on Kenzo’s blog about this.

    The long and short of it is, there’ll be dogs that Shiva gets along with and there’ll be dogs she won’t. If a fight ensues, chances are, we’ll be too slow to pick up the signals BEFORE. In which case, I refer you back to Kenzo’s “what to do in a dogfight” post. It helps to be prepared in some way.

    Shiva has come such a long way [as have you! :p] If agility is your thing, please don’t scale back on your dreams just because of this 1 “enemy” and 1 fight.


  14. We’ve all had some kind of set back that has totally bummed us out, so keep trying. Think of this not as a failure but as another part of the learning experience. If you work at training Shiva, things will come along in time.


  15. This is progress too, please do not despair. Shiva has just given you some more clues that need to be figured out. In the end your relationship will only be stronger.

    What was Mia doing that made Shiva react? Why does Shiva get bored? Is it time? The excercise? etc. And is it boredom? Or focus? Make your own list of questions and investigate. Test possible answers in daily walks and new classes. Finding the answers can take a while but adressing them will give you the most awesome breakthroughs you can imagine.


  16. Oh, feelings of failure must be in the air this weekend. I’ve been struggling myself with the idea, “what the heck am I doing? I have no CLUE what to do to help my dog.” I’m seriously toying with the idea of eliminating agility from Oreo’s life, because of all the stress it can cause him.

    Then, I went back and watched some old videos. Realized how well he has done and how far he has come. I’m definitely going to make adjustments in our life, but what, I’m not sure yet. A lot less trialing to start.

    I hope you feel better this morning. Shiva is a great dog, and you are a great trainer. When we can’t completely control our dog’s environment, stumbles will occur. We have to pick ourselves up, regroup, and move on.

    Easier said than done. We’re human after all.


  17. It sounds like it was all noise. It’s the dogs way of having a heated discussion or an argument. When blood is drawn, that’s a fight.

    I really wouldn’t put yourself down as a bad trainer/handler. Shiva isn’t a bad dog either. It just shows that a bit more work is needed ont he recall.


    • Good point… Bella is very noisy when interacting with other dogs sometimes. It can sound like a fight, but it’s usually just a lot of sound with no actual altercation. And it sounds like the dogs broke it off themselves, so that’s good too. Hang in there, Kristine!


  18. Even dogs can off days – and Mia is a bit of an instigator – she likes to stick her nose on what belongs to Shiva. So – give Shiva a bit of slack – and give yourself some as well. In the 9 months between when I met Shiva and then came back again for a visit – I can honestly say – she is a different dog. She is affectionate where she used to cower in her cage – she is relaxed when there is someone new in the house – and her interaction with the dogs at class was amazing compared to her reaction when she saw a dog last May. Trials – time will tell – but I watched the Westminster show a couple of weeks ago – and saw a dog lift its leg on the judge – at Westminster – so Shiva being cranky with a dog who likes to push the limits – is very minor in the grand scheme.


  19. Sleep on it. You seem like SUCH a competent dog trainer, do dedicated to Shiva and her training. So much more so than most would ever be.

    You two sound like you have some a LONG way and you will continue to make amazing progress with Shiva, I know it.

    It’s ok to have a bad day with our dogs, we all have them. But know when it gets hard you can vent to us here and continue on. We have faith in you two!


  20. When I got down like you sound today, My mom would always tell me that the night is always darkest, just before dawn. From what I have read, Shiva has come so very far. Shiva is learning – and so are you and together, you’ll find your way. And just when you think everything is going great? You’ll have a day where it all falls apart. At our agility class this morning, Kolchak went to pieces as there is a new pup – a GSD. He’s *terrified* of GSDs (and anything that looks like one). Yesterday, I’d have said we were ready for a big meet, today, I’m not even sure I should take this little jerk out in public! But tomorrow is a new day – hopefully, a better day!


  21. Sounds like you’re getting a lot of good advice here. I say don’t give up. I understand what you are going through a bit as Luna can be what I call “picky” about who she will play and tollerate. Since living here and me forcing her to chill out and trust ME more about what dogs are around her she has gotten much better. But we had our bad days at the dog park too, partly I don’t blame her as a lot of the dogs she did not agree with were obnoxious and hyper and all in her face when she was showing obvious signs of not even wanting them to approach her. I agree with some others in that you should not beat yourself up about this. The other dog owner needs to take more responsibility and put herself between the other dogs approaching as the pack leader that she should be. I often will do this with luna, when we are walking and a dog approaches and the owner doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem. It’s my responsibility to protect her and be the greeter of all strangers (4 legged or 2), that’s one of my jobs as a pack leader. So it’s not your fault, seems shiva is a tuff girl in that she takes a bit to get a message from a dog, but honestly that’s the case with quite a few dogs these days. And you sometimes have to just let them figure it out, but being in a class or more public setting we are often not free to let dogs do that. And we expect them to be on their best behavior no matter what dogs are around them.

    One thing i always try to remember is… my dog is not going to like every dog she meets and that’s OK… just like some people don’t like others, why should we put the pressure on our dogs of liking all other dogs. but I think people should teach their dogs to when in doubt of another dog look to them and have the humans worry about it. It’s also very common for same sex dogs to have more issues than opposites. When dogs run up on us, I am honestly always happy to see that it’s a boy, and kudos if he is intact still because chances are Luna will like him even more. 😉

    I applaud you for sticking to it this long. You have seen progress so why quit now? Dogs will always still be dogs, and it’s a bummer so many can’t speak dog as well as they need to (but people don’t understand dog body language as well as they should either)

    Just my opinions…


  22. I had to come back and read this post first after reading today’s post. I had no idea something had happened this past weekend. I am so sorry Kristine.

    I think you are being too hard on yourself and Shiva. If I had to guess, you are a bit of a perfectionist, like me. We tend to want things to go as planned. It makes it al the harder when they don’t and often we then blame ourselves.

    Let me let you in on a secret. My dogs aren’t perfect either. Jasper herds Daisy all of the time and often grabs her ear or the side of her face in his jaws. I have been trying to stop him from doing this for over a year now with little success. He will stop for a while, but then he breaks rank and starts up again. It is a huge frustration for me because it looks like I have no control over my dog (and I don’t in some cases).
    Jasper also has this idea that he’s a big dog and can take on anybody if he has to do so. Not so. A Yorkie took him on and he nearly lost an eye. I have to continuously watch him with other dogs, especially the ones who get in his face. He hates that.

    The reality is that no dog and no human is perfect. We all regress at times or make mistakes. I don’t think this should deter you. I think perhaps the lessen here is Shit Happens and you CAN make it past it.


  23. So sorry, Kristine! However, as others have said, don’t let one bad class or one setback deter you. If you really want to compete in agility, and Shiva has the aptitude and desire, there’s probably no reason you can’t eventually do that. On the other hand, keep in mind that unless the trialing and the titles are important to you, Shiva would probably be just as happy going to class a couple of times a week. The reason we don’t trial is because I didn’t want to – I don’t like being out in front of people – it’s just not my thing. But I love our classes, (we need to get back to them – it’s been about three months) and so do the dogs. With the schedule I keep, going to class once or twice a week for an hour is about all I can really commit to, but the dogs absolutely love it, and so do I. That’s enough for me, but it might not be for you. Whatever you decide, remember that the journey is just as important as the destination …

    Hang in there!


  24. I’m so sorry to hear about the fight and all of the stress it has caused you. I can understand it’s hard not to let that get you down. 😦 However, that being said… you have done amazing work with Shiva, and don’t let one setback convince you to give up your goals. We’ve all been there – it’s not always easy, and sometimes it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, but you are. You’ve done wonders with Shiva, and I’m sure you’ll continue to make progress! 🙂 (And as others have said, not all dogs are going to get along… people don’t, after all. The only thing you can do is to figure out how to manage the situation so that the risk is reduced in the future.) Anyway, big hugs… hope your week gets better!


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