stress (general musings on)

I’ve been wanting to write one of these agility action blog day things for a long time but feel like I never have anything particularly insightful, or funny, or helpful or informative to say. Plus I can never come up with a good enough heading.

Well, my friends, today is no different!

I suppose I feel that my own lived-experiences are somehow less important and therefore less valid, but then I guess maybe people who dole out advice are just doing so based on lived-experiences, but they have more confidence.

So here we go, with confidence. What are my lived experiences of stress when it comes to agility? There are lots, and they have changed over the last several years (a good thing, I suppose, or I wouldn’t be learning or growing and I would be doing my dogs a disservice).

8 years ago when Mallei and I were at the top of our game, I stressed a lot about our placings, about getting into Top Dog, about getting our last passes for his Agility Champion title. Every run when going for those last points or last passes was win or loose, live or die. Every knocked bar or wrong obstacle was a black mark against the entire day. And at this time in my agility career, none of those things were my fault, but his.

It was hard then, buying my little Aussie puppy from working lines, all ready to train and play and work, to find that she didn’t really like playing or training all that much. That she didn’t run fast around cones like dogs on the internet. And the more I trained her to try and make her like running fast around cones, the less she liked running fast around cones. It took me a long time to let go of my expectations for Lumen. It took me speaking to Silvia in person, in Slovenia. It took realizing that she would never be the dog I had wanted, but she would be different. It took her enjoying competing way more than she enjoys training. It took us stepping up to the line of our first competition with me holding one goal in mind: run fast, have fun. And we did.

I think stress is tied up in expectation, particularly when those expectations aren’t met.

Because I wanted to take some pressure (stress) off Lumen, and because I still wanted a dog that could go fast around cones like dogs on the internet, I got Loki. And almost instantly he was the dog I had wanted from Lu. He played hard, ran hard, learnt fast, loved work, loved food, loved toys. He was (IS! I don’t know why he’s ended up in past tense) so easy. Because he was so easy there was never any stress. I knew always that he would do well. There was no rush; I trained him things when it felt like the right time, knowing that if he didn’t understand then that was ok, eventually he would. But most of the time he did understand. First time asking him to do a threadle-tunnel? No worries! Initial teaching of backside bars? A breeze. Blind tunnel entrances? Too easy. Much of the first 12 months of our life together went along this way until we came to running contacts.

Anybody that has been following my blog will know the ever-ongoing saga of our running contact training. I think in a way, because Loki has always been so, so easy, if something comes up that he struggles with (keeping bars up on a pinwheel, or hitting hard weave entries, or doing a running dogwalk), I experience the stress of that in a physical way. Literally. I’ve become more aware of it now – maybe it was always there with Lumen, a heavy presence. But with Loki, because it comes and goes depending on what problems present themselves, I can feel it. When something “goes wrong” it hits my stomach like a stone, a physical heavy weight of unease, and settles there with a darkness that, if I’m not careful, becomes obsession. I know many people do have physical reactions to long-term stress, but this is almost instantaneous. If we do a training session where he constantly knocks bars in a setup, I walk away with a heaviness in my stomach that wasn’t there before and ponder over how I can fix this new problem.

So where to from here? How to manage stress as it comes up? Because I know at some point there will come a time for Loki and I where I want to go further, to do more, to be at the top of our game. How can I manage the problems we face so they don’t become debilitating obsessions? Because I know me – I like solving problems. I’ll never just “let go” and “be ok”, or even just go back to basics and build skills more gradually. I’m not good at gradual. I’ll want to be better, to fix things, to make them good. I want good dogwalk hits most of the time (and I’m ok with sometimes getting average hits). I want to know that if bars get knocked, it’s my handling that caused it and I can fix that. Eventually I will want to compete well and to win, and somehow I need to keep my mind on the same goal as I had with Lumen that day almost exactly a year ago: “Run fast, have fun.”

For now, I’ve begun writing down thoughts and training notes in a weekly planner (which also alleviates some daily stress because I can see what’s coming up throughout the week). It was a place to put training plans, but my plans never stick because my training is constantly adapting to the feedback I get via Loki’s performance. So I put down ideas of what we could train, of adaptations I could make to setups to help him succeed or to challenge him more. I write down what went wrong and what worked well. I take note of successes and try and replicate them. I don’t film my training as much as I used to – therefore, I don’t have to try and be ‘upload perfect’. I do yoga some mornings to give myself space to breathe and think, and to spend some time not being with the dogs or having those thoughts in my head. I feel that stone sink and I breathe and tell myself it’s ok, I’ll train it, and he will be fine. Because he always is.
And that’s where we are. Still no great insights, no helpful tips, nothing new nor earth shattering. Just a rambly post about a lived experience which maybe, if you’re reading along thinking “thank God, I’m not the only one!” will make you feel a bit better. So go hug your dog, know it’ll all be how it will be & go for a hike. I find hiking great for the soul (well… until Lumen runs off to chase kangaroos. But that’s another story).

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30 Days of Mallei

Day 18:

I think moving stress is catching up with Mal. Either that or he’s sick. I’m not sure which, actually. For one, he hasn’t been putting on weight despite getting fed a cup and a half of puppy food a day, plus some peanut butter and other things (bones etc), for two, the ‘cough’ that bothers him occasionally at night or just randomly wakes him up, has been particularly loud and troublesome lately – moreso than I’ve seen before. Then today he vomitted up chunks of the bone he ate in bile, and on our walk he was really slow and sad, and when I gave him a kong with frozen meat the other night he didn’t eat it, and I gave him one tonight with peanut butter and he didn’t eat that either. He seems to still be happy to eat his dinner so he still has an appetite… maybe his heart just isn’t in working out how to eat a kong right now. Poor old guy.

Here’s a picture of him looking worried about the thought of tackling his kong. I don’t know whether to take him to the vet. They already think I’m paranoid, I reckon.

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worries out loud

You know that feeling that I often get, where I feel anxious but don’t know why? Maybe because there’s lots of things weighing on me in the back of my mind and so they just feel like a general worry, ‘in general’? Maybe if I write them down, they’ll be actually visible, and therefore less worrisome.

  1. Dogwalk. Like, holy hell, what if her dogwalk is ruined right now? Surely I can’t ruin it from one session where I made her do turns. What if we never get turns?! We’ll get turns, I just need to figure out how to train it. It can’t be ruined. It was one session. She is usually unfaultable. It will be ok.
  2. Stupid f–ing calf muscle injury flared up this morning. I hate being injured. Oh, the angries.
  3. Work is annoying me. Prep/1 is annoying me. Ugh, they’re so young. And also, what am I going to do next year? Do I change schools and have to deal with change? Do I stay at my school and deal with a long commute?! And why am I even thinking about it? It’s not even halfway through term 2! (Is it? Maybe it’s halfway through. I don’t know what week it is)
  4. I have to cook for myself and the house is a mess and I’m tired. And Lumen is annoying.
  5. Lumen is annoying, seriously, this deserves its own dot-point. I swear to god her chasing behaviour has gotten worse lately. She’s not even chasing anything any more, she just runs off as if she is. Things get worse before they get better… right?
  6. I feel like I have a lot of ‘stuff’ I need to do for the play class, and we’re onto making play work and work play and making her actually do stuff for rewards, and this is the bit she’s not so good at, so I feel sort of… intimidated… by the idea of this lesson and I know me, and I know that that means I won’t do anything at all… hiding is safer than trying. So I need to try. but that also means I need some equipment and time… neither of which is particularly easy right now.
  7. Oh! And Lu has decided that ‘cik’ actually means a rear-cross ‘tok’. Which I can work with, sometimes, but sometimes I just need you to turn to the right
  8. What if they put a cloth tunnel in the course this weekend? Ugh.

 

Ok Now i’m just grasping at straws so maybe that’s all there is.

And hey, that’s not too bad, actually. See…. I knew there was a reason I wanted to make a list. Hopefully I’ll feel better after Saturday when she proves she can still do a running dogwalk without leaping off.

Hopefully.

hot, bothered

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been feeling so ‘on edge’ about our training this morning.

It’s not the normal feeling like: “oh, we’re never going to get this, everything is terrible, I might as well quit”, it’s more like… being unsettled.

We did a couple of little sequences, and they weren’t great but it was actually really nice to just see some holes and work on fixing them. Like, kept knocking a particular bar? Reward when she didn’t. Wouldn’t come to hand at a particular part? Work on call to hand. Can’t start a serpentine from the inside? That’s ok, too. We’ll work on it. You can see in the video. It wasn’t awesome, she wasn’t that fast even, but it was all ok.

Even our RC was ok this morning. We did lots of ‘trundling’ back and forth. Not full speed, not chasing anything, just me, running along side her going at whatever speed and rewarding when she runs all the way down the plank without jumping off. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. Treat rewards mostly. Then some runs after the ball from about 3/4 up the down-ramp. A few nice hits, though nothing particularly awesome yet.

MAKE IT MOVE!!! And then bark at it when it does because it’s scary when it moves. (NB: this is not the actual horse).

And then… the horse. A new horse has been put in the paddock directly next to where I train- there’s only wooden railing fences separating them. She did most of the first part of training without worrying about the horse but then decided she needed to run over and bark at it. And then she did it again, and one more time. She’s not trying to hurt the horse, she wants to make it move, and part of it I think is fear- she’s constantly having to see where the horse is and what it’s doing. I took her over to the fence and rewarded her for calm behaviour around the horse, I got her to do tricks near the horse, but she still ran over to bark at the horse. So, this is doing my head a bit. And she’s unpredictable- it’s not like the horse is running around when she goes over there, it’s just standing there. And I also know that it’s VERY self rewarding, especially when she makes the horse move.

So what do I do? I can’t have her on lead whenever we’re there or I might as well give up on training. I can keep desensitising her to the horse but that doesn’t help if she wants to run off and yell at it. I could put her on lead and in her crate after she chases the horse, but won’t that just teach her that coming back to me = going in the crate? Do I crate her for even just getting distracted by/looking at the horse, and bring Mal out to play instead? Maybe I do that Maybe looking at the horse = no more fun. Or maybe she’ll just get over the horse – she’s just being weird because it’s the first time we’ve trained with it there.

 

So… I think the horse + the last couple of days of HEAT have addled my brain and are making me feel very ‘blah’, in an unsettling, nonspecific kind of way.