Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Finding Solid Ground

I had a brilliant short weave session with the Paps Saturday evening that left me feeling so much better after my disappointment with Mia in the morning. We spent the better part of an hour running around just playing fetch and chased away the bitter aftertaste the morning had left in my mouth.

As the day drew to a close, I felt recharged. I had successfully moved on, I was ready to face the new day.

I had the whole crew with me this past Sunday morning and I was ready to bring it.

Knight had the best opening speed at a trial so far for jumpers! Usually it takes him a few jumps to settle into his full run, not this time! He was kicking and nearly screaming to go as soon as I stepped into the ring.
He's really starting to feel at home out there, he's showing some sass and getting a little bossy. I absolutely love it! 

He listened to me like a very good boy in standard, but I sent him right past a jump we were supposed to take. I could see a flicker of doubt pass over his eyes when he came bounding straight to me, completely ignoring the jump 10 inches away. All I had to do was shift my shoulders to the left a tiny smidge, or I could of given him a vocal cue and he would of taken it without hesitation. I did neither of these things, he did exactly what I asked and he finished that course like a boss. Bad bad Handler, but such a good little man! 

Then my amazing Lilly-girl brought home QQ #5. I don't know exactly when it happened, but all of the sudden I know what dog I'm handling when I step out on the course. You know, that feeling where each time you step out on the course everything just clicks into place. You have this unshakable sense of confidence that your dog will be exactly where you tell her to be. You don't have to worry about them wandering off to say hello to people, she's always right there, exactly where she should be. 

It is so wonderful. I made adjustments to my handling after my stupid mistake with Knight-man and Lilly ate up the course. It's been a long journey to get here, but it has been worth every single second. I'm so proud.

And then came Mia. With my other dogs running so well it was much easier to keep a positive attitude about our runs throughout the day. I allowed myself to be disappointed yesterday, today we were moving on. Our footing was a little shaky, but I have faith that we are on our way to finding some solid ground. 

Mia was my first run of the day. As I knelt down next to the warm up jump to chat with Mia a fellow handler approached me. "I just wanted to let you know that I really loved watching your runs yesterday." I was lost for words, I might of mumbled a "thank you" in response, I'm quite certain my face reflected one of disbelief. She paused for a second, and then elaborated, "It was just so nice to see you keep things fun for her, you kept it positive the whole time. My daughter is having some similar problems with her dog in standard and you set a wonderful example for her." 

That was just the encouragement I needed. As a trainer and a handler, I know I'm doing the right thing with Mia. When she runs she does not make mistakes, my enthusiasm does not waver, and she has consistently gained confidence by the end of our run. Even though I know I'm doing the best I possibly can for her, I still get that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that people are judging me because my dog is slow and stressed. I don't like that feeling. It makes me feel like I'm suddenly worth less in the eyes of my peers. Rationally I know that is a silly thought because who the hell cares what other people think? I am doing what is best for my dog so one day she will be able to shine her brightest. We aren't pretty now, but I know we will be. 

Needless to say, I was so thrilled to hear that someone recognized what I was doing for Mia's problems and took the time to let me know it was awesome. That made my day. Right before our turn in the standard ring another handler whom I have never spoken to before came up and gave me a similar comment. "You are doing such a great job with her! You just keep on going if she makes mistakes and pretend that nothing went wrong. Lots of experienced handlers don't even do that!" 

It was in that moment that I was so grateful for every single bad day I've ever had while trialing. Between Lilly and Knight I had a million tricks up my sleeve to get Mia up and happy. We still NQ'd our standard run, but we had a much stronger start that just kept getting faster and faster as the run went on. I walked out of the ring legitimately proud of all that we had accomplished that weekend. Sure, we still have a long way to go before she's breaking 5 yps again, but she was visibly happier and bouncing back from moments of doubt so much faster than she had been on Saturday morning. 

We're not always the prettiest, but no one can doubt the amount of fun we're having out there. I'm so grateful for every day I get to spend with these spectacular dogs. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pause. Reflect. And Move On.

Sometimes, you are going to have a bad day. A day where your one step forward suddenly feels like a somersault down three flights of stairs.  All the progress you've managed to make suddenly evaporates, and you feel like you're about five  squares behind square one. Today was one of those days.

For the past few trials Mia has been a little off. She's started to stress down instead of up, dragging her feet around the ring, and she worries constantly about the people milling around the ring. I decided that I'd try entering Mia in one day where it's just her so I could give her my full attention.

Our runs were far from spectacular. That's not to say they didn't have their highlights. I've been through enough ring stress problems with Lilly that I can always get my dogs running by the end of the course. So Mia finished strong in a lovely full extension stride that I got to cheer on and heavily reinforce.

But I'm only human. I get frustrated. I KNOW how fantastically she can run at trials and I want that all the time. Why are we back to green dog problems? Why does the presence of the judge, who has always been in the ring while you trial you goofball, suddenly very worrisome to you? Getting Mia to run used to be the easiest thing. She was my drop and go dog, always on full speed ahead. To see your young dog go from consistently hitting 5 yps to walking the first half of the course is heart breaking.

As I left the ring after our second run (mind you, this is after our happy cheer time for running), I was ready to just go home. I kept thinking about how I used to have to put in a real effort to keep up with Mia, now I'm dragging her around. My crazy little show off is now a puddle of stress for a good portion of her time in the ring. As I walked around on the grounds my frustration grew and grew. Maybe she doesn't like this anymore. Maybe she hates trialing.

And then I stopped. I flopped down on the ground, just off the side of the path, and looked at my dog. Mia squiggled her way up into my arms and stretched out her paws as I scratched her back. She was so happy to just be here,with me, on this beautiful September morning. And suddenly, all the frustration from the morning melted away. These new ring problems aren't breaking us down, they're making us stronger.

Today, I'll stop and let myself feel a little disappointed. Mia is not running as well as she did in the spring. And you know what? That is fine. Because four years ago, Lilly ran like this all of the time. How about two years ago? Remember all that slow stuff with Knight? Things like this happen. I worked through it with them, I'll get through it with Mia.

Tomorrow, I'm moving on. With Mia, it doesn't matter where we've been. This is where we are now. And that is okay. It's all about the journey, right?

We are not perfect. Yes, we have hit a rough spot in our running career. Is that going to stop us? Hell no.