The Beast Turns Three: All In

Phin turned three last week. I planned to have something written then, more timely, but between the mayhem in my mind and in real life right now, I’ll just have to be okay with it being belated.

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He really is who he IS now. And while he’s still perfect in every way (*wink*), we’ve been butting heads a bit lately. In small ways, never in agility ways, just more in living life in general. I have discovered that around the house I do more often than not have to ask him to do things more than once. “Down. Lie down. LIE DOWN.” And I don’t like that. But that’s not him, that’s me, and something I need to be more creative about. I am struggling a bit with going back and rewarding every little thing, he’s beyond that, but unless my negative punishment track works quickly, that will be what I will have to do. Random food rewards for compliance probably will solve that pretty quickly. I also have allowed the bad habit of “sometimes” playing toys in the house, and asking, half-assedly, for behaviors while not really paying attention. That’s eroded a lot of skills right there. But, now I’m aware and we’ll clean that up. Again, my fault and bad management skills, not his.

As he ages I have zero doubt he will be the alpha in the house, and it will be in the truest sense of the word–he won’t have to “work” for it. It just will happen. It already has mostly. In general he is VERY patient with the puppies we have had stay with us over the last few months, but he is not afraid to tell them in no uncertain terms to buzz off. I trust him to the nth degree around other dogs–he’s at the point now where I can leave him off leash in a stay while other dogs are flying around, no issues, no concerns. I always dreamed of having a dog that could do that.

As far as agility goes, he’s already met and exceeded  pretty much all of my expectations. Early this year he was still flying around like a maniac at times, and surely my handling wasn’t helping, but as of now it feels like we’ve just really started to find the groove. His only real issue at this point is just being so high at trials–many times our first day is a throwaway, only because he is SO GODDAMN EXCITED to be in the ring. But that’s okay, it’ll pass, and it’s not the worst problem to have. This dog LOVES to be watched. Loves it. Why and how a dog with stranger danger issues can be such an attention whore I dont know, but I swear he knows people are watching him, and the more there are the better. He feeds on it. So far, he handles pressure like a champ, and its pretty spectacular.

Our travels went very well, planes and automobiles. He handled it all in stride and be-bopped out of whatever box he’d been sequestered in, guns-a-blazing and ready to do agility. We got many, many wonderful days working with Daisy this year, and we are SO fortunate to have had her guidance. It has helped us immeasurably. Also had a blast working with Lisa Frick and especially Tereza Kralova, and proved we could do some pretty tricky stuff.

I feel like we’ve found our partnership. It’s always been there but its now solid. No questions from either of us. Now we just run. Happy birthday Phineas, my greatest gift.

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Set Your Goals _AND_ Enjoy the Moment

This quarter’s DAB Action Day subject is the “Mental Game”. You can read all of the posts here.

The attitude that “Mental Management” is a bunch of hooha seems pretty common. Who wants to sit around and get all touchy-feely, spending time just thinking about agility? We agility participants are DO-ers, living in DO-land (heh), and any methodologies reeking of “self-help” can be construed as only for those that need “helping”, a sure sign of weakness.

I have to admit that Silvia Trkman’s recent post that was recently circulated around the interwebs really rubbed me the wrong way. She declared in a roundabout way that setting goals only sets you up for disappointment. That if you truly love your dogs and playing agility with them that you will just go out there and train, purely for the sheer joy of it and not ever worry about the results. That she is so unfathomably successful precisely because she doesn’t care.

Apologies in advance, and this is nothing against ST personally, but I call bullshit. The whole blog post, that so many people—including other big names in dog sport glommed onto—was basically a red herring. What I find particularly irksome is that she insinuates that setting and working towards goals AND appreciating the moments you spend training and trialing your dogs are mutually exclusive.

While I think Silvia has a talent for making people feel good about agility, and I applaud her willingness to embrace everyone and see their strengths, I feel that she is really manipulating people’s emotions here. Can SHE, Silvia Trkman of phenomenal physical and dog training abilities jaunt through the Alps with her dogs, do some supersonic dog walks just for kicks, sprinkle some fairy dust, wiggle her nose, and then go on to win World Championships? Clearly she can, and she has. However, I believe that she is one in a million, with her innate talents and abilities. The other 99% of us need a bit more structure to even consider accomplishing a portion of what she has done.

She goes on to say, “I try to train better and to get better because I love to learn, to progress, to improve.”

So here’s my question;

If you have no “yardstick” to measure your goals by, how do you know you are improving?

If you are in this sport, and you are competing, that means you have a competitive nature. Period. This sport chews up and spits out those who do not have the grit and the balls to endure brutal failures and come back for more. The backyard warriors out there do exist, and I think that’s fabulous. But they are not going to regionals or Nationals or World Championships. You don’t end up on that stage by accident, regardless of how talented you are.

To tell people that goal setting is a waste of time, to me, seems a bit flippant.

Having goals does not mean you are obsessed with winning. Through my growing education of mental management and goal-setting, I’ve learned that “winning XYZ event” is not a productive objective. Giving yourself yardsticks by which to measure your progress is how you do eventually “win” those events by way of working on the things you can control.

Just writing down what you want to accomplish, setting some general timelines and how you will get there, then checking back on those plans and adjusting accordingly can do wonders. It has for me.

I can go into what I’ve accomplished this year and who was very responsible for helping me along the way, but thats for another post. I will say that goal setting works. And it actually has allowed me to enjoy my dogs and my training more, because I know my plan, I know where we’re going, and that even if we don’t check off the box that says “Done”, that we have spent time working towards something. The dogs don’t care, all they know is that we are playing/working together and are having a good time doing it.

One thing I am sure Silvia and I would agree on is that you must always, always, always be positive, and you must love what you are doing. There are competitors who we all know who get overcome by results and it absolutely leeches the fun out of the relationship with the dog. There IS a balance there, and for most of us, just a bit of structure can help us focus on what is most important, and that is enjoying the journey with your dog.