Monday, August 23, 2010
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.