So for anyone whose been here before (all three of you) you might have noticed some big changes. When I first started this blog it was just me and Mufaasa, which made the title “Mufaasa and Me” seem like the best bet (also, alliteration is awesome). But since then Raafael has entered my life, I’m hoping in a year or two to add a new dog, to move into a more “agility friendly” home, and it felt like a a change in plans was in order.
Life has been very busy as of late, which hasn’t let me work on this blog as much as I want to. I’ve got a nice sized list of topics I’d like to tackle, and at least two more jump DIY plans I want to put together, and a teeter DIY plan I still need to write-up. And I finally feel like Raafi is at a stage in his understanding of his running contacts that I can do a formal write-up of the methods I used, the methods I abandoned, the things I wish I’d tried, and how I plan to go from here. He’s been working so well lately and running him is becoming one of the biggest joys in my life. The more I trust his talent and dedication to “getting it right”, the better we do. Let me tell you, doing it that way is far more fun than micromanaging him to try to prevent anything from going wrong so he won’t get stressed about “not being right,” especially since that tactic can’t work all the time (if at all). Here’s a video of our last crowning achievement wherein Baby Dog finally earned his ADC (Agility Dog of Canada) title, moving us into Advanced standard, and, more importantly, meaning I won’t have to run a single starters course again until I get my next dog. This was his first run at a new venue, and I trusted his skills at everything (including that lovely swing off the dogwalk) except I chickened out on doing the grab into the weave poles that I’d planned, and you can see him reacting with some mega avoidance behaviours that almost cost us the Q. That dog has a magnificent ability to go from hot to cold if even a little bit of the “wrong” pressure is applied. But I’m getting better at being the right handler for him.
At the very least Raafi’s doing better than his brother. Our last trial basically smacked me in the face with something I was sort of hoping wasn’t true but plainly is, which is that agility is making Mu’s reactivity worse. He’s started growling at dogs outside of the ring and actually went after another dog, which is something he’s never done off leash before. And while I could keep going and just manage him more strictly, I have to ask myself, “If he is stressed out enough that he’s feeling the need to defend himself in the ring, then is he even having fun doing agility anymore?” And the only answer I can come up with is “no”. Aside from a very few exceptions his focus has gone down in the competition ring, his runs have been getting worse, and it’s just not fun for either of us right now. I was toying with the idea of pulling him for a bit, but I’ve had so many people remark that I’m “giving up on him” that I put it off. Even when he’d post run after run where he’d blow me off after a few jumps and I’d decide to hell with everyone else and get ready to pull him from competition, he’d throw out a super nice run and I’d trick myself into thinking that things were going to get better.
However, we’ve now had an incident that I can’t ignore, and something has to be done. So we’re taking an indefinite agility siesta before something worse happens. I’ll still practice at home and bring him to trials to do some counter conditioning, but otherwise I don’t know what the future holds for us. One of the reasons I started this blog was to chart our progress, and when I look back over the past two years I don’t see a dog who is getting better, not in his reactivity at trials for sure (though out and about at home it’s better than ever), and not even in his performance. I’ve had other trainers watch him, I’ve gone back to foundations more times than I can count, and I’m no closer to figuring out how to get some consistency out of him than when I first started. So that weird place I talked about being in with this dog last year? Yeah, it didn’t get better. So taking “success” out of the equation didn’t really do anything, and nothing else I’ve tried has kept things from getting worse. I really just want a break from worrying about him, it’s making me hate being around him, and I don’t want to feel like that anymore.
And you know what? I don’t need to compete with this dog to enjoy my time with him. I could keep competing with strict management protocols in place, but the thought of that is exhausting. And management won’t solve our problems, just put them off. And you can’t manage for every situation that could come along. And really, I’m the one who wants to compete; Mu couldn’t give two shits. All Mu wants from the world is for someone to throw a ball or a frisbee for him to catch. I still get a kick out of the look of pure joy on his face when I cock back the Chuck-it. He’s super fun to trick train as he loves throwing out new behaviours (which is part of what makes locking down his agility behaviours so difficult, I expect). He’s a goof ball, a cuddler, the original Hooligan. When Raafi is having a fit because some little piece of the world is out of order, Mu is standing stoically by, being the Dudester, possibly plotting how he’s going to steal his next meal, and doing his thing. And the more I think about it that way the better I feel about hanging out with him.
So, there you have it. One dog who is so concerned with doing the “right” thing that it stresses him out. And another dog who needs an owner to pay more attention to what he wants from the world, instead of what she would like him to be (it should be noted that I wrote that entry in 2012, which should tell you how good I am at taking my own damn advice). Yup, as usual dog training is more like evolution than a journey. You have no idea where you’re going, you’re going to run into a bunch of dead ends on your way, and, fortunately, there’s always room to try again and get better.