I cried in the car on the way home from dog training class on Thursday.
It was the third week of level 3 obedience, and Maisy had been doing really well. The first week, I could tell that she was a bit uncertain, but she hung in there. She and I worked together, and though she had a few stressful moments, she managed to express that without going over-threshold. The second week was even better. Again, she had a few stressful moments, but was largely calm and relaxed- she was even able to watch dogs do restrained recalls!
Oh, but the third week.
When we got there, there were several things different. First, our regular instructor wasn't there. Second, the ring was set up slightly different (usually our instructor puts her dog in a crate behind a barrier; a slight difference, but we both noticed). Finally, a new dog was present, a large poodley-dog that I hadn't seen before.
Maisy doesn't like change. She was stressed from the beginning, so I did my best to keep her sub-threshold by playing Look At That, and rewarding calm behaviors heavily. She held in there okay, so I decided we could try the group heeling warm up.
It didn't go well. She pulled and lunged and barked and growled. I quickly realized that she needed a break, so I took her outside the ring to the other side of the opaque ring barriers. The first week, that was enough to help her remain calm, and while it helped on Thursday, it didn't help enough. She kept standing on her hind legs, trying to see over the barriers, and continued to bark and growl. I finally gave up on heeling entirely and just played Look At That ring barrier. In retrospect, I should have tried moving even further away.
We did eventually make it back in the ring, but it took almost half an hour for her to calm down enough to concentrate, and it was only once I made a box out of the ring barriers that she truly calmed down enough to work. She did wonderfully then, and after five or ten minutes of calm, contained behavior, I decided to leave class early so that we could end on a good note.
And then, I cried in the car.
I don't cry often with Maisy. She's a wonderful dog- reactive, yes, but she tries so hard for me, and she's made a lot of progress. But sometimes, I just find it so emotionally exhausting to work with her. Sometimes I wonder if I should just scrap my plans of doing obedience trials with her, and start fresh with a new dog.
But I don't want a new dog. I want Maisy.
Maisy is amazing. She's very cute. She's smart, but she's also very biddable. She wants please, or at least she wants to earn that piece of hot dog. She's enthusiastic and loves to train. She's playful and friendly and absolutely hilarious at times. She's also a cuddler, and I absolute adore the way she curls up next to me. She's up for anything, and she'll try anything for me. Simply put, I love her.
Even with reactivity, Maisy is a dog with a lot of potential. She already has titles, and she's never gone to a trial without placing in the ribbons at least once over the weekend. It will take longer than it might if she weren't reactive, but I know that she and I will go far together. Still, I mourn the potential she has that's been lost to her reactivity.
I mourn the normal dog that she'll never be. I want a dog that can go to class without freaking out. I want one that makes me look brilliant, not like the idiot who can't control her dog. More than that, though, I want Maisy to feel normal. It breaks my heart that she feels so stressed that she feels she needs to react like that in order to stay safe. And I hate that I put her in those situations to achieve goals that she doesn't care about. And I wonder if that's fair.
It's a heartbreaking thing, sometimes, to live with a reactive dog. Which is why I cried in the car last Thursday night.