Agility: The Attitude Adjustment
Well it's been a long haul over the past few months. Juno and haven't been able to Q since last year! It was always something. I take my eyes off of her for a split second, didn't support her on a jump, missed contacts, knocked bars, the list goes on and on.
Even when we did have a clean run we didn't Q! There was the judge who called her beautiful running a frame, (video evidence shows that Juno goes to the bottom like a champion) then there is the other judge who called her one step to the side a refusal. -IN THE POURING RAIN mind you. Under those conditions we should have gotten a gold for the Olympic swim team! I was splashing through puddles it was so wet, and her step was to gain footing. I would have pulled her but it started pouring during our run. (great timing)
Then the ultimate frustration: She stopped listening and started ignoring me. She was taking jumps, A-Frames and tunnels even though I'd be yelling HERE! HERE! NOO! HERE!
So, my frustration mounted and I was getting more upset with every run. Every run made my nerves more tense for the next run. Then it all came to a head. I had a really bad run with One off-course after another and we weren’t even half way through. I just stopped leaving the field feling defeated.
I drove home and thought “this is stupid! I've become a grump! No wonder she doesn't want to play!” I realized poor Jujube didn't enjoy agility any more. The following week I saw some photos of us at that trial. She was yawning at the start line, then in the next image she was looking away. The classic signs of stress in a dog. I felt terrible.
I decided that I had lost all perspective. I became the person I disliked. You’ve seen them, those people who get so down from a bad run that their whole body slumps in disappointment. The dog reads it and the handler is too self absorbed in their defeat to see that their dog needs them. The dog needs to know they did well, despite the mistake, because in reality, the dog did the best it could. I was literally ashamed of myself.
What was even worse, is that it was a lesson that I already knew and it seems I had forgotten it. I can’t tell you how many times with my first dog Phebe, it was drilled into my head to never give up on my dog. “Don’t you do that to that dog! She doesn’t deserve that!” Being the first dog I ever had, I didn’t understand what my instructor meant. I wasn’t mad at Phebe, I was mad at myself. “Don’t you give up on that dog!” would be yelled at me after every mistake until one day I figured it out. (I’m a slow learner)
Phebe did her best and my body language didn’t say “Great job!” it said “I’m miserable” which meant whatever she did made me miserable. It meant she somehow failed. I finally got the message and began to say things in a fun, happy up-beat manner no matter what happened. I learned that every time she tried to read my very confused handling, she was doing an amazing job. (Let’s just say I’m not a natural at Agility)
I lay in bed that night and said “forget it. Forget about the stupid Q! What happened to you? You used to understand that it was all for fun! - No more! From now on we let Juno know she’s the best dog on the planet.” The next day at a trial I said "let's go have fun!" I threw the Q out the window and kept a great attitude.
Lo and behold, she improved greatly. I was able to call her off a tunnel trap, (impossible feat the day earlier) she got her contacts and all 12 of the weave poles. I praised her all along the way and not only did she improved, but so did my mood. We didn't Q but I didn’t care. When we were off I kept it upbeat. Even when she took a triple backwards I laughed and was very impressed with her jumping skills. I re-learned a very valuable lesson.
Then came this weekend. We were going to a trial and I told Juno it was all about fun! The little stinker not only Q'd but was so fast I don't even know if I managed to praise her! She got her contacts and paid close attention and so did I. I was shocked. She FINALLY Q'd! I was so happy I was walking on air. Not because of the Q, but because we had both improved. She even came in first, but I didn’t care. I was thrilled that I had my teammate back.
The jumpers course later that day was very hard. It had tight turns, difficult angles and a few spots where I thought, ok… I have no idea how this spot will go. I did my best walking it and again I told myself we need to keep it fun. I was more concerned that I remembered to keep it upbeat if we went off-course that I wasn't particularly concerned about the myriad of traps. We stepped to the line and I said “Let’s go have fun Juno!” and off we went!
I think I managed one "good girl" because it was all so fast. I was practically silent for most of it especially with the blind crosses because she was so in sync and I was just trying to keep up. I was totally lost at one point because the jumps were so close, but she took the correct jump, which showed me where I was. Because of my delay she was heading towards the wrong jump and I yelled HERE! Instead of ignoring me, she switched on a dime and we finished with another Q for her Excellent JWW title! She even finished with another first but more importantly, I learned a valuable lesson.
I realized I had somehow forgotten what I thought was already well-learned. Every run has to be fun for me and my dog and a positive experience or it's not worth doing agility. The Q is simply gravy. I was so happy to have my teammate back that I was walking on air. I’m not sure how Juno felt about it, but I think she had much more fun than she was having before.
My little Juju had her ju-ju back!