The very first Dog Agility Blog Event was held on March 7 and I missed it because I didn’t even know such a thing existed. After reading this fantastic post on Mufaasa and Me I spent a little time huffing and puffing at being so out of the loop. When I finished my tantrum, I finally got my act together and signed up. Though more than fashionably late, this post is my attempt to join the ranks of some pretty wicked agility bloggers. I highly recommend checking out the other posts here.
Shiva is the very first dog I have ever trained and owned. In some ways, I think this gives me a boost. I got to make all of my mistakes quite early on and jumped into our agility training when positive reinforcement methods were becoming the norm. Because everything is still so new to me, I can take advantage of all the information now out in the world with a fresh mind. Though things could have turned out very differently for Shiva and I if I hadn’t contacted the trainer I did when I did, our relationship has only improved with each passing year. I’m no Ms. Perfect Trainer or anything (hahahahaha!) but I think I can be proud of the fact that I have no real regrets with Shiva.
On the other hand, I have been told many times that I would appreciate Shiva’s skills more if she was my fifth agility dog, rather than my first. She isn’t an easy dog for a handler who has trouble with basic dance moves. With a dog as fast and easily distracted as she is, timing is everything. I mean everything. As I am no athlete, it’s a struggle for me to keep up while thinking eight moves ahead. I have a feeling in the future I will be kicking myself for not getting how awesome Shiva truly is. We have probably missed out on multiple opportunities for which Shiva was ready and I wasn’t.
What can you do?
The biggest lesson I have learned in the two and a half years we’ve been training is how to laugh. I used to get so frustrated when things weren’t going right. It would not only take all the fun out of agility, but it would often cause Shiva to be even crazier. The more upset I got with her zooming around the field, the more she would zoom around the field.
Back then agility was all work, all the time. Neither of us really absorbed much. I felt we had to keep at it because we’d make this commitment, but I spent more time trying not to cry than I did learning anything. It wasn’t fun. In fact, I actually dreaded attending our classes and workshops. When I think about it now, it amazes me I even kept at it. The only reason I did was because Shiva seemed to be having a such a good time. Shiva knew the point of it all even if I didn’t.
About a year ago I knew if we were ever going to be successful, I was going to have to change my definition of the word. Perfection is a ridiculous standard for anyone, let alone a newbie to the sport. In dog training, when something isn’t working after several repetitions, either the technique is wrong or the criteria is too high. The methods worked – I’d seen proof of that – so I changed my criteria. Instead of expecting Shiva to jump over every bar and weave around every pole, all I expected her to do was make me laugh.
I decided every training session, class, and workshop would be a success if Shiva made me and our fellow classmates smile. That’s it. That’s all she had to do. She could steal treat bags, jump on tables, and destroy tire jumps, and as long as someone giggled at her antics, I’d be satisfied.
And you know what?
We both started to have fun! As soon as I stopped stressing about all our mistakes, my frustration disappeared and Shiva started acknowledging my presence. It was as if she was no longer embarrassed to be around the crazy woman who didn’t know how to relax.
Over the last year our connection has improved quadruple-fold. She stays with me on course (well, mostly) and follows my cues. Heck, she is even tugging in public, something I never thought would happen. We still make mistakes but we rebound from them now without falling off the edge of the earth.
So I guess all of this is to say, if I knew then what I know now, I would have had a lot more fun. I feel very lucky to have figured this out so early and before we started trialing. Before I perform my very first lead-out with Shiva at the start-line, I know exactly what I am going to say to her:
“Let’s crack ’em up, Sheevs.”