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).