I have stopped training agility skills with Ally. I don’t practice in the yard, I don’t work her on courses, or sequences. Ally and I haven’t done any real agility training since probably around March.
I am going to be very honest in this blog, and it may not sit well with some people, and I understand that. But I also firmly believe that I am not the only dog person who deals with this, and this blog is for you.
Ally is a difficult dog, I love her to death, at the same time she drives me insane. All you have to do is search back through this blog and my Youtube channel to listen to me talk about how hard she is and my constant struggles with her.
Her and I are oil and water, and in the early days of our relationship I thought very long and hard about placing her in a herding home, (she loves herding more than just about anything) a home I approved of never came up, and I am very glad for it.
I consulted with many people on what to do with her, from agility trainers to behavior specialists.
She has big feelings (most people would call her very reactive), she wants to micro manage everything, all the time, to the point that she will almost pass out exhausted, just from being in the house watching the other dogs lay around.
All her movements are fast, she can never just do something, she has to do it FAST and with full force. She gets frustrated very easy and expresses her frustrations with barking and squealing.
She is exhausting to live with, and lately I have been putting her in the bedroom so she will just sleep. She will just be awake ALL day just in case someone moves and she works herself into intense panting.
Training her is also hard, she does everything like a bull in a china shop, full force, ALL THE TIME. And she is frustrated almost immediately, a lot of it due to the fact her and I are oil and water.
I have done all the positive training techniques, took multiple classes to build on my knowledge of shaping and micro shaping for her.
But we still end with the same result.
Her and I both frustrated.
I had big goals for her, she is the niece of Try who was the most amazing dog to ever walk to the line with me. And I suppose that is where a lot of our issues started, too many goals, too small of a puppy.
I realized she was never going to be Try and changed my goals for her, but we still just didn’t click.
I took her to Starter Stakes at the NADAC Championships in WY in Sept of 2018. We didn’t place, but I was beyond proud of her, she did that distance work like she was born for it.
She qualified for Silver Stakes (the next level from Starter Stakes) for the NADAC Championships in Ohio for 2019.
And we crashed and burned. Epic Fail. Epic Embarrassment.
I couldn’t get her to do a jump 5 feet from me, let alone the Silver Stakes distance of 40-50. We walked off of two courses, we were frustrated, we cried, it was the worst event of my life.
I walked into it with a goal of just doing courses and trying to have one clean run, no podium goals, I knew this level would be hard for her. But I had no idea it would be such an epic failure.
So now it is June. And I am looking at the NADAC Champs in WY (if they are held) and trying to assess what I should do with her and what I should enter her in.
We can go in Starter Stakes, and that level of distance is her comfort zone.
So after some months off to lick my wounds after the 2019 Champs, I start training her in January.
With goals like:
(these are taken straight out of my training notes)
“Increase confidence on Switches from a distance”
“Build send away distance to 20 feet”
“Build discrimination distance to 20 feet”
And each training session, while we worked on those things, Ally and I always have tension between us. We are both annoyed with the other, but we love each other. We have a complicated relationship.
And because of this all my training sessions felt very frustrating, I would work my young dog Wall-E, less and less. Not wanting to carry that emotion over to him. So while trying to fix Ally, Wall-E was not getting the training he deserved.
So one day, while working on our send away goals, she is barking and annoyed, I am trying to tone her out and setting a target down.
I look at her, she sits; looks at me, and I just sit on the ground and say:
“lets be done.”
And so we stopped training. She has the skills, she knows Starter Stakes level distance, do I wish I could be in Super Stakes again, like I was with Try? Yes. All the time, it is my passion, I love it. But she is not that dog.
And I am probably not that trainer for her. Do I think she could do Superstakes? Maybe, with someone else. But not with me, her and I don’t mesh like that.
All training is doing for the two of us is building frustration. She isn’t learning with me, and that is my fault, I don’t have the skills for a dog like her, or maybe we are just oil and water.
So here is the “what I learned today” part of this post.
I know there are people out there like me, people who have dogs like Ally and while they love them and wouldn’t trade them for the world, they are frustrated.
So I stopped training her in agility.
She has been learning tricks (her new “flop” is adorable) and we have been working on her disc dog skills. (we can only do rollers, but we are masters at that now)
So I am not “done” in the sense I don’t do things with her. She is my best hiking dog, and we still train fun tricks, but I don’t want to continue to increase our frustration by training agility skills.
Ally and I do well in trials together, she hones in more and I think for her trials feel “real” where training is just pointless and annoying.
While our 2019 Championships was a failure, I was finally able to watch our videos the other day. And she didn’t have the skills for the distance I was asking, I thought the distance that was required was at the top of our limit, but it was not, it was over it. I would have never entered her if I had known that, and I will not forgive myself for a long time for that oversight, as her trainer, and handler, I should have known that.
So to the person who is reading this, who loves their dog, but is so frustrated.
Its okay. I wish someone would have told me years ago. Its okay.
Its okay to be annoyed.
Its okay to be frustrated.
Its okay to cry mad tears, sad tears, and frustrated tears.
What matters is where you go from here. How do you address it?
What is the main source of your frustration? Can you avoid it? Work around it?
I like competing with Ally, now that is not to say that I still don’t get frustrated, I do. But I know its not her fault. If something happens on course it is probably due to my handling that isn’t what she needs, or a skill she doesn’t have.
I know where her skills are, I know where her confidence is and I make sure I do not ask for more than what she can give me from this point on.
Does this mean I will never train her again. I don’t know. Maybe the lack of training and the increase of us just playing frisbee together will help us be able to train again.
But right now, I don’t care, she is seven years old. I want to have fun with my dog. I want to enjoy running agility with her, and I want to be less frustrated.
So here is to all the people who are afraid to admit their dog frustrates them, annoys them, but you love them more than anything and you just want to have a good time doing a sport you love.