Thursday, January 5, 2012

Our Competition Future

You may have noticed that there was a distinct lack of performance-related items in my 2012 goals, especially in terms of titles and trials. This was no accident. Despite the fact that Maisy was a total rockstar at her first obedience trial last month, I'm still not sure what her competition future holds. Most notably, I'm not convinced that trialling is in her best interests.

The truth is, Maisy was stressed at the trial last month. She was less stressed than I've seen her in the past, which is great, but she was still stressed. She scratched herself in the ring. She mildly snarked at another dog in the crating area. She could not relax in her car crate, despite the many, many hours of practice we've put in over the past year. Once we got home, she jumped at every little sound, which broke my heart. I haven't seen her like that in a long time.

I love looking at this face in the ring.
Her score and performance were admirable in and of themselves, but once you know the back story? They become amazing! In fact, one of Maisy's greatest skills is her ability to work through stress. She might be freaking out, but she will still do her best for me. Although it would be easy to ignore her distress and put her through her paces, I just don't feel that's fair. I know there are people who disagree with me, or who think I'm worrying needlessly, or accuse me of being overprotective, but I am not willing to put my dog's comfort and happiness on the line simply for the glory of a ribbon or a title.

With all that said, I'm also not willing to give up on a promising performance career just yet. In retrospect, the trial was poorly timed. It came the day after Christmas, a holiday which is tense and stressful around my house, and Maisy is exquisitely sensitive to the moods of her people. Since my husband and I had a hard time keeping our own stress from boiling over, I am quite sure that at least some of her behavior at the trial was a result of what had happened in the days leading up to it.

More than that, even though she was stressed, she truly seemed to enjoy some aspects of the trial. The video is proof that she was pretty happy to be playing the obedience game, and she liked visiting with all the people that were there. Most importantly, we were together. Maisy is my dog, through and through, and she wants to be where I am.

So we will try again. We will enter another trial, and I will keep a close eye on her stress levels, both during and after the trial. We will do one day only, and only one run. If she's feeling okay, we'll do another trial, and another. But if she's not? Well, I will have to think long and hard about whether or not we should keep competing.

Because here's the thing: I believe that Maisy can work through her stress because of the relationship we have. Maybe it's purely reinforcement history, or maybe it's because she trusts me. I don't know. Whatever the reason, it's clear that Maisy is willing to face her fears and keep working simply because I ask her to.

And if she's willing to do that- if she's willing to look a panic attack in the face and say, “Excuse me, but my mom wants me to heel right now,”- well, I had better live up to my end of the bargain. Hopefully I can find a way to do that while still competing with her. But if I can't? I'll give it all up in a heartbeat, because I want to be someone worthy of her trust.


Eliz said...

You are awesome and more importantly an awesome team.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

This is the hardest part of trialing and where I am currently struggling with the toller. It is so hard to know what the next step is. Thankfully my dog is fine in the general environment, but I am still left questioning if simply getting more positive run through/ trial experience to work on classical conditioning is the answer or if we should just be a practice only dog. And it always seems to be 2 steps forward, X number of steps back.

lorac said...

You might consider taking her to a trial but not entering. Going through all the motions. That way you can keep the time short and you'll have more time and energy to focus on her. Lots of people just starting agility competition do that and also will do an abbreviated run. Go in the ring, do a few obstacles, leave and party, party, party.

No reason that you couldn't do that in obedience. Go in the ring, do a teeny bit and leave. (I have an elite agility dog and we even do that sometimes.)

Best wishes.

Crystal Thompson said...

lorac, we did a bit of that last year, and she did great (hanging out without being entered, I mean).

I suspect part of the problem is my own ring nerves- Maisy is a very sensitive dog who picks up on my moods easily. A blessing and a curse, truly.

My first step is to try another trial without the stress of Christmas. But I like your idea as a backup plan- doing 1 or 2 rally signs, partying, and leaving. We'll definitely use that if need be. :)

Tegan said...

Kudos for you for recognising your dog and what your dog wants to do. Too many people engage in any of the myriad of dog sports with little or no interest in what their dog WANTS to do. Plenty of dogs can cope with dog sports, but do we really want to put our dogs through coping?

I hope Maisy does amazing at her next trial and you get to fulfil the champion dream. If she doesn't, I'm so glad Maisy has a mum that respects her.

And then you should get a puppy.

Crystal Thompson said...

Tegan- Ah, the puppy thing. We've thought about a second dog through the years, but

1. My husband is strongly opposed, and
2. I really want to do things with MAISY more so than I want to specific things. If she can't go to trials, fine. We'll hike more- we both like that. I want to be with HER, not another dog.

Debbie Jacobs said...

I remind people to be sure to lower their expectations if they need to but never stop dreaming!

tundrah said...

Great thoughts Crystal. I agree that too many people neglect their dog's clear signals and/or best interests in pursuit of their own goals. However... have been able to create a phenomenal relationship with Maisy and as you said, she does work through challenges for you. So, another way to look at it is that you are helping her expand her ability to handle things that formerly would have sent her over the edge, while obviously still keeping an eye on where that fine line is.

And, just from personal experience I have to tell you that getting a puppy may be a blessing for the older, sensitive dog. My first agility dog suddenly seems like a new guy, as the weight of being the "Only Performance Dog" has been lifted off his shoulders and shared by the young dog. He really has a new lease on life and seems to enjoy trials more now than he ever did before... Just something to think about.


Joanna said...

I really like the idea of entering a trial but leaving the ring early. If I did that, I would still be super nervous because everyone would still be watching me and then wondering what the hell I'm up to. So it would give me a chance to deal with those nerves without the pressure of actually qualifying, and my dog would learn that even when I'm really nervous, I'm still going to make it be a good time for him. Your mileage may vary, of course. :)

I really hope that you and Maisy are able to continue happily trialing, and I know that you will only do that if it really will be a happy experience.

Crystal Thompson said...

Joanna, I don't think I've ever left the ring early, but I have given cookies continuously (which is an NQ). I think Maisy prefers that, actually! LOL

I am not too worried about doing either, as I trial almost exclusively at events being hosted by my "breed" club, and I often know most of the competitors, too. They all know I have a crazy dog, so no one blinks an eye at what I do anymore. :)

Joanna said...

Ah, that's lucky!

Dawn said...

take magic in. he may not be as sensitive. He may not work eaither, but if you can work through your ring nerves with another dog, maybe you wont have as many with Maisy?

Crystal Thompson said...

Dawn, it's funny you say that. Sara and I were talking about me taking Dobby in the rally ring. But Magic would be fun, too!