This post is part of the quarterly Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day! Check out the awesomeness here.
Squeeee puppies! Every puppy is a blank slate, the chance to “start over” and fix all those things that were wrong with the last go around, whether it was nature or nurture that stuck the stick in our previous “future perfect agility dog’s” spokes.
In our headlong rush to create the ideal agility specimen, sometimes we forget that they are just puppies. Little balls of fur and brain matter that we should be nurturing, feeding, growing. And yet, those super stars of tomorrow find themselves flung at 30 mph down a flyball lane or slamming into a 2on2off off a set of stairs. Four months old. Four. Months. Old. Sixteen weeks on this earth and they are already performing for us.
A four month old should be learning the game of tug, that clicker equals awesomeness, how to bring the ball back or hold a sit, how to take cookies nicely, that car rides are fun. How to navigate the world interacting with dogs, people and environments. That the world, and in particular MY person, is a never-ending-game of FUN.
Oh yeah, and that oft-overlooked skill known as “recall”. Just because your dog is on leash or in a contained environment for the majority of its life doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to learn to come when called. I don’t want to hear it at the dog is 14 months old and bounding the opposite direction, wonderment, or even better, anger at why he isn’t coming back.
What about Leave It? 100 games of Its Yer Choice have no real life application if the dog doesn’t have a verbal cue for “dear god don’t eat that dead bird!”….
This race to get the dog into the ring, into the competition, into the titles… why? Your dog got his MACH at 2? ADCH at 3? That’s great. But is he still running and sound at 5? At 7? At 10?
I’ll admit, I rushed. I was so thrilled and tempted by the fact that my second agility dog was dying to work that I pushed it too. But I backed off, whether due to actual decision making or just financial limitations, I was forced to pace ourselves somewhat. My dogs are hardly super stars in the knocking out titles department, Phin has been blown by at a standstill by some friends’ dogs. And I’m not going to say I don’t grit my teeth and squelch something that very much feels like jealousy when goading results of similarly aged dogs are posted on facebook. But, I quickly get over it. Really. My dogs are sound—physically AND mentally—and I will bend over backwards to make it stay that way. Admittedly, a big part of that is luck, but another part is that I refuse to push too hard. I won’t do it. I want these silly dogs to be competing at age 10, if they so choose. Happily and effortlessly.
There is a lot of pressure in this sphere of competitive agility. Like I’ve written before, you don’t survive this sport if you are not driven and gritty. But you also have to gnash your teeth and bear down to maintain that balance. It is sooo easy to get sucked into the “but has your dog learned this yet?” game. At the end of the day, they are simply dogs, who are so generous as to play these ridiculous games with us. We owe it to them to take OUR time, to be ginger with their bodies and their minds. They lay it all out for us, why shouldn’t we do the same for them?
Take a deep breath. Plan, think, slow down. This dog will be with you, universe willing, for more than a decade. Hopefully well longer. Treat them gently and thoughtfully. The titles and Nationals and try outs and ribbons will still be there. Promise. Enjoy what you have NOW, and let them tell you when they are ready. You’ll know.