At last weekend’s “Show and Go” agility event, there were lots of obvious things going on as I described in Part 1. There were also things that weren’t so obvious to me.
The whole point of this particular event is to expose the team (handler and dog) to a new environment. We were in a new place, outdoors (versus our typical indoor space), with different equipment. But to me, I saw the same types of equipment that Grace was used to: the A-Frame, the tire, the dog plank, tunnels and jumps. Everything Grace loves. Even though I had been warned that she would be distracted, as we waited for our turn, I thought to myself, “Grace is going to love this.” I visualized her getting excited to see the equipment and run in, take control as she has in our classes. Another dog that was in our most recent class, Riley, went ahead of Grace and she flew the course with ease. I was sure that Grace would have a similar experience.
What was I thinking?
Grace made it over the first jump, but I only know that because a good friend had joined us; Brenda is also a good photographer and captured that moment (thank you, Brenda, for all the pictures in this post!). Almost immediately upon our entry into the ring, I felt like everything fell apart and things became a blur to me. She jumped off the dog plank before she made it to the top. She ran around it looking confused, and after a few unsuccessful attempts to get her on the plank, I decided it was best to move on. She reluctantly moved in my direction, but stayed her distance. She was so distracted, anxiously staring around at the new setting and all the people. All I can remember is her tail between her legs, darting aimlessly. So I squatted down to her level and optimistically called her to me. She came. Thank goodness. I hugged her and encouraged her again; she was still nervous and we ran around the course, but I don’t think she hit another piece of equipment.
The judge kindly asked: “This is the first time in the ring?” Knowingly, she had witnessed this before. She said that despite how nervous Grace was, she was “doing exactly what you would want her to be doing at this stage,” which was to keep looking to me for direction.
As I left the ring, I was struck by how different my memory had been of the last 90 seconds. I saw Grace being consumed by all the distractions; I didn’t really see that she was looking at me for direction as the judge had seen. I saw her nervous, timid; I saw Grace as she was when I first got her. I didn’t see a dog doing “exactly what she was supposed to be doing.” Isn’t it amazing how our perceptions and reality can get skewed? I had narrowed my vision to see what I had optimistically expected, hoping that Grace would step in where she left off. When that didn’t happen, I saw the negative aspects of what was going on, and hadn’t realized all the “right” things were indeed occurring. I wondered how many times I’ve done that with humans.
We went back into the ring about an hour later as scheduled and the progress was palpable. I stayed very close to her, coaxing her with lots of praise and support through my voice and body language. She was definitely nervous, but she had the courage and confidence to go through the course by my side; this time there was no wild darting and running away in a desperate attempt to escape from the scene.
The day had accomplished exactly what it had intended to do. Grace was exposed to a new environment and after only 90 seconds in the ring, she had started to adjust. In a very short amount of time, Grace had already shown signs of being more secure. I don’t know how long it would take for her to feel “at home” there, but she had already made noticeable progress. Given Grace’s background, this was a huge step for her. That should have been obvious to me, but I guess I needed the new environment, too.