Agility used to be very simple. I had two border collies Murphy & Soda. I actively searched for Murphy as an obedience and agility prospect. Soda joined the family as a companion for Murphy. I had no idea what constituted a good performance dog. I just wanted a happy puppy from happy well adjusted parents. It never even occurred to me that either dog would not enjoy performance activities and I assumed right as both dogs loved obedience and agility and I loved doing it with them. Soda had some personal space issues with other dogs and didn't like dogs she didn't know getting into her space. Murphy had some breeds that he had no love for. But both dogs were happy and confident, loved the competition ring, gave it their all and agility was pure fun and adrenaline. Lining up with Soda in particular was like taking an F1 Ferrari out for a spin. Fast, fun and furious. Fast forward eleven/twelve years (how long since I retired both dogs) and right now it is unlikely I could be having less fun doing agility than what I am right now.
Poor Veto is doing it tough. As is the way of these things he has been getting worse with his ring confidence. You always hope that they will get better with more exposure but I have found it is rarely ever the case. His underlying anxiety caused by the proximity of other dogs prevents him from being able to relax and have focus on anything other than where other dogs are. I knew he was struggling at the trials I did with him in August because I could feel how much he was holding back in the ring. But the clincher came when I watched video of his runs from Geraldton and I could see just how worried he was. It was really distressing to watch him constantly looking back at the other dogs and I felt like the most awful person in the world putting him through that and not recognizing how stressed he was. The first thing I did after watching those runs was scratch him from all the upcoming trials I'd entered him in and he won't run again until I believe he is in a better place, assuming that I can get him there.
So what's next...I've been working through the Hidden Potential course with Cassie and there are quite a few exercises in there that are good for Veto to do. I've got a webinar coming up which is for Managing the Reactive Dog run by Amy Cook via Fenzi's Academy and then I'm hoping I can get a Gold spot for the course that starts with Amy in October. I had wanted to put him on Prozac to take the edge off his triggers while we work through it but when he had bloods done his ALT enzymes were elevated. So we have to get bloods redone before he can start to make sure they are normal. Fingers crossed that they are because I think the meds will be important to help us work through this. I want to believe. Will he ever feel comfortable at an agility trial? I really don't know. But I have to try. The only thing that is keeping me in agility at the moment is the joy I feel when I train him. At home where he knows he is safe we have so much fun. I can have the crappiest day but go home and train him and everything feels OK again. That seems like it is worth fighting for. But I won't compromise him again. If after all this he still can't cope with the dogs at trials then we will stop.
|Expanding the agility area|
Cassie and I have been busy working through the Hidden Potential course. The most interesting part has been teaching her a consent and opt out signal. I've often whinged that I never know what she is thinking but these games allow her to tell me just that. So far I've ascertained that she loves training at home, loves training at the club at night time but has opted out every time at trials during the day. Clearly she finds that environment so aversive that she doesn't want anything to do with it. Hard to watch but at least now I can honour and accept the way she feels and not push her when she feels that way. At this point I have accepted that trialling her is something that is unlikely to happen in the future. Any work we do now is all for me to learn to be better for my dogs. Even if I can't fix Cassie I don't want to waste the opportunity to grow. There is another Hidden Potential course being offered in February next year so if I can I'm going to try and get a gold spot. I would love to have the chance to actually work with Sarah Stremming for Cassie as I think Sarah is an amazing dog trainer and I love her thought process.