Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Success for the Non-Competitor

When I started agility, I went in with absolutely no idea what to expect out of myself or my dog. I stepped into class with a dog who was mellow and sweet and had a brilliant stay. A seriously brilliant stay. As in, I could walk a few hundred yards and she wouldn’t move a muscle. Of course, that translated to a dog who was sure that her goal in front of a jump was to stay and keep staying, no matter what I did. Proofing? We had it. We really had it.

What I didn’t have was an ace agility dog. Or even a dog with a lot of energy. It’s been four years since I started agility with that dog and I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I want to do with her in agility. Get a C-ATCH? Never. A MACH? Ha. That’s a good one.

After only going to one trial in the past year (one that was an unmitigated disaster, though she did have a really awesome stay!), I finally came to a conclusion: It’s not titles or ribbons. It’s not even trials. I’m not sure if we’ll ever go back to a trial at this point and if we do, it won’t be with the goal of getting big qualifying scores and titles. That’s for a lot of people. Most people in agility, I would wager. But it sure isn’t for me and my girl.

Success is fairly easy to define if you’re going to trials. Oh, it will be different for everyone. But there are certain measures of success. The big measures of success are the Q’s, the ribbons, the titles you can attach to your dog’s name. There are the smaller ones of course, the sorts of performance goals like hitting a solid 2on/2off on the A-Frame or being able to lead out past the second jump or getting that darned tunnel/dog walk discrimination that’s been tripping you up. Those used to be my goals, my measures of success. I still remember the thrill of the first time my dog took the A-Frame at a trial, the first time she did the teeter. She didn’t Q either time because something else went wrong, but I remember feeling that as a team we had been successful because we met those goals.

But that was then. This is now. And how do you define success when you’re not working toward the goal of getting a Q or a title? What is considered successful when you’re only going to classes?
At this point, I have really one measure of success for our classes. One and one only. Ready for my big measure of success? My big goal?

After every class I ask myself one question:

Did my dog have fun?

That’s it. That’s the measure of success for me. Did she look happy? Was she excited? Did she enjoy playing the game with me? Did she pounce on the ball o’ treats (aka Clean Run’s Lotus Ball) with great glee?

If she didn’t have fun, then why not? What can I do to change that? We certainly went through a time where every class seemed like a chore, where she was obviously not having fun. So I found I had to reward her more, had to get her more excited, had to relax and be more playful with her.

It really is that simple for me. If we walk out of class and we had fun together, it was successful. Maybe we weren't perfect (ok so we likely weren't), but that's not important. It really is all about having fun together and as long as we do, that's all that really matters.
This was written as part of the Dog Agility Blogger's Action Day's "success" theme. Please check out all the other amazing posts here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Been a long time

I'm not even sure if anyone follows this blog anymore. It's really been so long since I've updated over here.

One of my last posts was my Goals for 2013 post.

I had some pretty decent goals. Unfortunately, much of that went by the wayside very early on in the year. In mid-January, Dahlia was attacked at a play group by another dog. She's had dogs go after her before, but this time was different. This time she got injured. A minor one to be sure (she had one small, shallow puncture wound on her shoulder), but that was enough to make her nervous of other dogs being around, especially when she was working.

I took her to a trial late in January and she was so stressed out that she just shut down and refused to move off the start line. Twice. I ended up pulling her from the trial and went home to cry.

I decided not to go back to another trial until I could be at an outdoor one, so I decided that I would go back to Max 200 in April. It was a small trial with terrible weather (about 45 degrees and cold and windy) and so she did ok. I won't say she did great. She stayed with me. She at least took off from the start line even if she wasn't brilliant. Sometimes I had to babysit the obstacles. Sometimes she took off flying. It was really a hit or miss kind of thing. She ended up getting Q's in both Colors and Wildcard, which resulted in getting her first Level 2 title (CTL2-H).


I was incredibly proud of her.

But then we ran into more problems. She started to get so distracted in class she couldn't work all that well. We tried to work through that and I brought her to a trial in July. It was hot and humid and so she was lackadaisical to start with. She refused to do anything on the first run at all. I decided to try her for one more run. Between runs, a couple of dogs went for her. They were on long lines and didn't make contact with her so I thought nothing of it. I wet her down, got her excited, and she took off flying from the start. Over a jump, right into a tunnel. I was so pleased. But then the end of the tunnel faced directly where the two dogs were. She stopped and could not work with those two dogs staring at her from the other side of the ring (some 20-30 feet away).

We ended up going home in shame. The judge stopped to talk to us about it because she couldn't figure out what had happened. She was moving so well and then just...nothing.

She got worse in class at that point. I had a couple weeks of classes where she simply would not move. Every little thing distracted her. It was a struggle and I was ready to throw in the towel. My instructor suggested taking time off of trials (which ultimately had to happen anyway as I had no money for them) and focusing on getting her used to dealing with distractions. She said there are two types of dogs in agility: (1) Dogs who are distracted from the get go and who need to be worked with on that right from the start and (2) Dogs who go out to several trials, do well, and then suddenly realize there are distractions there and shut down. Dahlia is the latter. One of her dogs was too, so she sympathized.

I ended up taking Dahlia down to the park with one single jump and a ball that velcros closed to hide treats in it. One jump, ball o' treats. Another jump, ball o' treats. We did this until she could get excited and do it every time in a quiet place. We did a couple weeks of it where no one was around.

Then we upped the ante and moved it to a busier area of the park. And then nearer to the kids playing on the playground. Then nearer to where some dogs were. Eventually I added more than one jump and was able to keep her focus even with her Daddy laying just underneath the jump with a wide-angle lens, which enabled us to get photos of her that looked like this.


Working on distractions also enabled me to get this photo. I never could recall her over a jump while facing her with a camera before.


Isn't she gorgeous?

So that helped, but it still didn't quite get her where I wanted her to be. So my instructor suggested teaching her to bark since barking is naturally exciting to dogs. Perhaps I'll discuss how I went about doing that in another post. But suffice it to say, I taught my super quiet dog how to bark on command.

This has freed her in ways I never would have imagined. She's become a happier more focused dog in class. She now barks at us to play and even recently barked at me to tell me she really really had to go out because she wasn't feeling well. She is a changed dog and I didn't think that was possible.

So what will this year hold? I don't know. I'm not making any goals except to enjoy the experience with my dog. We'll try to get back to at least a trial or two, depending on the state of my finances. If she's not the same joyful dog she is in class, then it may ultimately not be worth it. I'll take her to class and have fun with her. If she turns out to be just a dog who enjoys class settings and fun matches, then so be it! I'll be ok with that in the end. Because just watching her on that video, just seeing how far she's come, that is the important thing.