Agility courses teach confidence, and other things I wasn’t expecting
After a winter hiatus, Grace and I are returning to agility classes today. The room is indoors so it has nothing to do with the seasons, but just that I’ve found renewed energy for us to get back to “work. Rachel, our trainer, remarked that Grace walks into the room with a big smile on her face. And I know I enjoy it at least as much as Grace does, seeing the progress she has made is just one of the benefits to me.
Our first try at agility was last spring. I had heard from numerous people how the process of learning and mastering the various pieces of equipment and obstacles gives dog confidence, as well as a good source of exercise and entertainment. Sounded like a win-win situation. Grace is agile, fast, and fit, so I knew she would be able to physically excel and she proved that accurate. It was the mental focus that provided her the greatest challenge and also the most rewarding outcomes. On our very first day, she was hyper-alert and distracted by every foreign noise and movement. After about 30 minutes, she became so exhausted that she hid UNDER the “Pause Table” (a square platform for a dog to get ON). It was all so new and she was overwhelmed. But with time and experience, she now loves being in that environment and I absolutely believe it has helped her become more confident in all situations.
I was surprised at how much work this was me! In fact, it was at one of our last sessions that cemented my belief that we can learn from our exchanges with animals to improve our human interactions. Rachel had us working on a jump series, where it was my job to show Grace which of the three jumps to go through and from what direction. The jumps were aligned in a straight line so that the intent was to create the shape of an S in our jumping series. Rachel watched the two of us, then gave me this sobering feedback: “Grace is watching your every move for direction and you are sending her mixed signals about which way you want her to go.” Wow. I’m always telling people to be clear when they communicate! And here I was, not doing a good job at it myself. Rachel gave me some helpful suggestions that made my voice and body provide more congruent signals for Grace and I immediately became aware of how the subtle changes made a big difference. Then I quickly started to think about situations in my human interactions where I could become more effective in my delivering my intended message.
And so once again, Grace gave me the opportunity to look in the mirror and improve upon things that help her–but also me. I can’t wait to get back to our jumps today. Wish me luck!