Monday, August 23, 2010

Getting Unstuck

At the Control Unleashed Seminar. Photo by Robin Sallie.

I’ve been feeling kind of dejected lately. I know that’s silly- Maisy has made a ton of progress over the last year, and I am very proud of her. Still, behavior modification is slow work, and sometimes it’s a bit disheartening to realize you’ve been working on your dog’s issues for over a year and still aren’t where you want to be.

This is nothing new, of course. In the time since I’ve started this blog, I’ve gone through similar funks twice, once back in December, and once in February, when I actually contemplated retiring Maisy from dog sports. I chose not to at the time, but after our last trial, I began to think about retirement again.

These thoughts were fueled by a conversation I had with someone who, upon hearing how hard I have to work at managing Maisy at trials, wondered why I bothered at all. The truth is, I really enjoy trials, enough that I’m willing to put in the hard work of behavior modification. And while Maisy doesn’t care about the ribbons or the social aspects of trials, she does enjoy being with me- enough, I think, that she, too, is willing to participate in the hard work.

Despite our mutual willingness to work on our issues, I’ve continued to question whether or not it’s fair to subject her to the stress of both the training and the trials. She’s come far enough in training that’s she’s a perfectly pleasant pet, able to enjoy walks and family outings, and shouldn't that be enough?

So, for the last few weeks, I’ve been pondering the ethical implications of trialing with a reactive dog. I had been leaning towards taking a temporary break from competition while we continue to work on our issues, but I felt stuck. I had no idea what needed to happen before we could go back to trials, and I knew that unless I could figure that out, our temporary break would turn into a permanent one… something I didn’t want.

At about the same time that I was wrestling with all this, I learned about a Control Unleashed seminar that was happening in Omaha, Nebraska. While that’s a bit of a drive, these seminars are pretty rare, so I jumped on the opportunity. What’s more, there was a working spot available, so this past weekend, I took Maisy to the seminar, which was taught by Leslie’s friend and one of the authorized seminar presenters, Alexa Karaoulis.

There was a lot of review- remember, Maisy and I have been attending CU-style classes for over a year now- but it really reminded me how important a good foundation is, and there are definitely a few areas where I can shore things up for Maisy. I also saw different ways to teach familiar things (Alexa teaches Look at That differently than I taught it to Maisy), and I grew a deeper appreciation for positive training in general.

More importantly, though, I learned more about my dog and about her reactivity. My feelings of dejection are gone now, replaced by hope and enthusiasm. I still don't have all the answers, but I have a better understanding of what Maisy needs from me in order to succeed. I have some ideas on how to move forward, and I have complete faith that in the long run, this will only deepen our relationship further. And when it comes down to it, that's all that really matters anyway.

I can't wait to get started. And I can't wait to share it with you all.


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

good. I'm glad you had a great experience at the seminar and am super glad that you have renewed energy and confidence to work with Maisy!

Kristen said...

I want an enthusiasm- creating event!

So glad it went well and you're ready for more adventures.

Raegan said...

I slip into funks with Gatsby fairly often (our blog does not accurately reflect our life because I only post when I'm really, really depressed about something or really, really excited about something) and a new class or seminar always jolts me out of it and gets me excited about dog training again.

K said...

I totally understand where you're coming from. We are only human after all, I think it would be practically impossible to feel positive all the time. I have to say I would be tempted to pull out of competition too - I'm all for an easy life. But just think about all the stuff you are learning and think about all the situations you get to practice in. That is probably why Maisy is so good when she is in her 'pet' roll.
You are so lucky to be able to go to a CU seminar, we have nothing like that over here so I'm really looking forward to your follow up posts.

janaARIES said...

"..whether or not it’s fair to subject her to the stress of both the training and the trials.."

I've totally been there...I have been doing agility classes with Eva for close to 2 years now and she loves class, but I have this ongoing ? of whether or not I should trial with her. I took her to a just-for-fun match last year and even for that, she was stressed in the car and just exausted by the day - she did not seem to enjoy herself. So, I I doing this for her? or me? and what is really the point?

I am attending an agility seminar about preparing for/entering trials in September, hoping it will give me some clarity on the issue.

andrea said...


I believe the reality is we do dog sports for ourselves generally

even a dog that LOVES the sport of choice would probably be just as happy chasing a frisbee or playing in the yard or even doing the sport activity without the competitive environment

I wonder often about why I do what I do .. you are so not alone ...
glad the seminar helped - talk about good timing!!

Jules said...

Maizey will ley you know if she doesn't want to trial any longer. That is why my Schnauzer has a "no trial clause." He loves to work and loves classes, but he told me in no uncertain terms he doesn't enjoy trialing. I am glad the seminar appeared at the right moment for you!

Erin said...

And I can't wait to hear all you learned at the CU seminar. I would love the chance to go to a seminar, and would really love to be able to attend CU classes, but there is nothing like that in my area. I am waiting anxiously to glean all I can from you!

As for Maisy, I didn't see a dog that was stressed out in your last video. While she did have a moment, she recovered quickly and was having fun working for you. I think that is the important thing to remember.

Crystal said...

Thanks for all the comments. Some general responses:

Overall, trialing is about me. Maisy doesn't care about titles, ribbons, hanging out with friends, having goals/reasons to continue training, etc.

But Maisy does enjoy going to classes. She loves to train. Even though the seminar was stressful, she was happy and excited to return to the seminar location the second day. Even when things are stressful, she seems to be okay with it because we're together. Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing, but she's pretty clear when she doesn't want to go somewhere or do something. So we keep trialing.

That doesn't mean I don't worry about whether or not we should. Part of that is because I'm a worrier by nature, but I also think it's good to be aware that trials are about me, not her, and to be mindful of her feelings on the matter. :)

It's nice to hear that I'm not alone in questioning whether I ought to be trialing, and that I'm not alone in having blue periods. This is hard work, and until you've lived with a dog with issues, it's hard to understand. The internet is great because of the mutual support we can all offer one another.

I also recognize that I'm super lucky to have so many opportunities available. There aren't always classes, seminars, good trainers in every area, and so far, I've been very fortunate to have good mentors, educational experiences, and friends.

I'm so glad this seminar came along when it did. It totally revitalized me. It gave me a fresh perspective, and I know what we need to work on now. I'm really excited!! :)