If I knew Then What I Know Now…

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.

So far.

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.

Imagine that.

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.”

25 thoughts on “If I knew Then What I Know Now…

  1. Aw, thanks for the link (and don’t feel bad about not knowing about it, I only noticed ’cause Susan Garret did it and I compulsively check my email and got her newsletter). I also love that one of your problems seems to be “my dog is too awesome for me,” which I can relate. Like when I assume my dog won’t do a tunnel ’cause he didn’t one week earlier and then he does the tunnel just fine but because I overcompensated I wind up crashing him into the next obstacle. Sometimes I wonder why my dog puts up with me.


  2. I’m glad you’re over your early worries and are having fun!

    For some strange reason, when I read that sentence…”as soon as I stopped stressing about all our mistakes, my frustration disappeared…” I thought you were talking to ME. I’m having some capoeira frustrations myself at the moment. Sigh. I should try your method and just concentrate on having fun! Thanks for my Tuesday thought 🙂 x


  3. I can almost guarantee most dogs don’t give a darn whether they do weave poles properly or not – I am sure Shiva doesn’t sit in the corner and critique other dogs performance at agility class. She wants to make you happy – and if you are enjoying her company – whether she performs to others expectations or not – she is a happy dog.


  4. It tickles me when you write about how far you and Shiva have come – you girls should both be really proud of yourselves. You’ve done a great job training each other and I love to hear what a team you’ve become. It sounds like you couldn’t be more perfect for each other and I look forward to more in this series!


  5. I think you nailed it. Laughter is important to our mental health and frustration is not. My kids used to say if they can make mom laugh they can get by with anything. Fortunately they are great adults who are responsible citizens and make other people laugh. My dogs have caught on too.


  6. Hi Kristine, ha, ha. My brother Jetta is a very fast sheltie that does agility and has even won a few ribbons and had a Q or two. But mom took him to a trial yesterday and on one of his runs he kind of “lost it” and jumped over a jump from the wrong side, bit at mom and began barking loudly. Jetta’s bark can induce a migraine, it’s that loud and piercing. Mom was not impressed and he got zip as far as ribbons were concerned. Mom’s not too happy about being barked at or nipped at, especially the biting part. Thank goodness, he’s good looking. (ps. I think he had fun though :))


  7. You are very wise Kristine and you’ve embraced who Shiva is, I need to do that for Delilah, maybe my standards are just too high. 🙂 I can always count on you to help me see the light. I think you’ve had Shiva less than I’ve had Delilah but I think you are much farther along than I am.

    I think (from watching your videos) that you and Shiva seem to be having fun. I miss doing agility with Delilah because she always did make me laugh.

    Thanks and I will try and remember the lesson. 🙂


  8. Well, all I know is that some of your posts that have made me laugh the hardest have been about Shiva’s antics during Agility class. The one where she knocked to A-Frame or teeter down comes to mind. I love Shiva when she’s being bad!


  9. So glad you now have fun with Shiva. Life’s too short to not take every second and try and do something that makes you or others smile:)


  10. Love it, we used to love watching Bertie the poodle do an obedience round cos he was guaranteed to do something really crazy and crack up the audience. Then he got GOOD at obedience and his audience wafted away. You gotta laugh.


  11. Wow… your post comes so close to describing my Dog Gilda and me!
    Once the ultimate in frustration, Agility class has now become my weekly therapy! Once Gilda began paying some attention, I was able to stop being so crabby-pants and things have just improved from there.
    I too have flashes of thinking that maybe she would be a better Agility dog if she were with someone else. In the end though, I know we belong together. We are finding our way in the Agility world on our own terms and our own loooooong timeline!
    Thanks for an honest and heartwarming post. I can relate more than words can say!


  12. Thanks so much for your post. I am on my first agility dog. She is fast, furious, and high drive and I had no clue what I was getting myself into.
    My only goal at this point is to enjoy the journey and to be the best that we can be.
    I had a teacher comment that I had a Ferrari and I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift…you get the general idea.
    There are no regrets, no fault, and no blame. Just a heck of a lot of fun.


  13. that first pic of shiva w/the stick is sooooooo cute!!

    i sometimes think that desmond would enjoy agility classes but would be similarly distracted or he would get bored quickly. i’ve found that he does most things turned up to 111% and then gets exhausted before other dogs do. i’m not sure he has the stamina/attention span for it. then again, i wonder also if agility classes might actually HELP his attention span and subsequently/at the same time his leash reactivity.

    did you have an experience like that? or did you wait until after you “fixed” shiva’s reactivity to start agility? i know Bringing up Bella’s leslie takes bella to an agility class for reactive dogs, but we don’t seem to have any of those around here.


    • Heh, I like how you put “fixed” in quotation marks!

      To answer your question, we absolutely did not wait until Shiva’s reactivity was under control before starting agility. In fact, I attribute our participation in agility classes as one of the things that aided us in working on her many issues. We were not the only ones there with a reactive dog either, not by a long shot! Even in our more advanced classes several of the dogs still have these difficulties. I don’t know if it’s just the dogs in our area but there seem to be more dogs with issues in dog sports than “normal” dogs. Perhaps because their tired, stressed out owners are desperate for anything that will help?

      Agility has done amazing things for my relationship with Shiva. It brought us together as a team. I had no intention of ever competing at a trial when I started, we simply just wanted to find an outlet for her crazies. The classes not only helped tire her out but they taught me so much as a trainer, something I never expected. After all, it’s not so much the dog that needs help, but us foolish humans. 😛

      However, I also happen to have an awesome agility coach. She is also a behavorist and is the same trainer that came to our home back when I was about to give up. We started agility on her advice. If you’re not sure a class is right for Desmond, I encourage you to talk to the instructor before signing up. Let him/her know your concerns and ask if he/she thinks the classes would be appropriate. Even if the first place you check out isn’t willing to work with Desmond, keep looking! There is bound to be something out there for you both to enjoy together, whether it is agility or something else like Rally or disc dog. There are certainly tons of options! Maybe even canine freestyle!


      • thanks so much for your input. this is kind of what i’m thinking–that it might help him somehow. i actually start my externship with a trainer this weekend (and at some point, desmond will be coming with me to group classes to participate), and she’s worked with reactive dogs before, so i will have to chat with her about agility options and his reactivity in general. maybe if i get really lucky, she’ll be willing to work with me/him on his leash reactivity both as my mentor and as a behaviorist/trainer. 🙂


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