Monday, May 21, 2012

What do you have that you did not receive?

Well, another miss.

It was a gorgeous morning.  I had only entered Standard (we would have had a steeplechase round, too, if he'd qualified for finals) on Sunday.  It was the second class of the day, so I had a leisurely morning and didn't leave until 8.  We got up there in good time, and then I had about 20 minutes to take Jonah to the pond, let him run around, do his business and get some good tugging in.  He was happy and excited and I was really optimistic.

The course wasn't bad.  The first obstacle was a chute that opened into a box of jumps:  one straight ahead and one on each side (we were to take the one on the right, although quite a few dogs went straight for an off-course).  Then the teeter, a line of jumps that pretty much dictated a RC, a tight turn to the A-frame, turn after the A-frame to a tunnel with an alluring jump straight ahead, and then a tight little loop with weaves and a funky tunnel entrance (basically the dog was looking at the back side of a curved tunnel and had to go duck into the left end of it).  Then calling the dog back towards the back side of the tunnel, big uphill double (the ring was definitely not flat!), table, dogwalk facing right out the out gate, and a hard turn to the last jump.  So, some potential tricky spots, but nothing especially difficult.  I was feeling good about our chances.  It was so beautiful out, it was hard not to feel good.

On Saturday I kept getting him to the ring too early and so this time I waited longer.  With 5 dogs left, I got him out of the car, which was right by the ring.  We went to the pond and were splashing around when Laura called to us, saying they were yelling for us at the gate.  I panicked, and we raced over, only to find that, of course, there were still 4 dogs left.  Grr.  Now we were waiting there, black dog in the hot sun, and once again I had to entertain Jonah and keep him focused and excited for a few dogs.  The gate steward just seemed stressed and wanted the next 6 dogs all squished under the shade tent at the start, but no way was I going to put him there--he would be stressed about the other dogs and sitting still is the last thing he needs before a run.  We were supposed to go in when the dog before us got to the table.  Three obstacles before the table she starts yelling "Jonah?  Jonah!"  "We're right here," I say.  "You need to be on the line," she remarks.  "They're not at the table yet," I respond.  "Well, I haven't known where you are," she quips.  "Sorry," I mutter, knowing well that I'd been 15 yards away for the last 4 dogs, when I would much rather have stayed happily at the pond for another minute or so.  Feeling pressured, we went in while the dog before us was at the table.  There was a bar down, which took them a while to put up.

Jonah was great about keeping his energy up despite the wait.  He was bouncing and leaping and barking and playing and he reeeally wanted to go in that chute.  We got the 'go' and we were off!  Flying through the chute, nailed the turn.  Woo!  The teeter slowed him down a hair, but he was still doing great.  Down the jump line.  Happy dog.  Lovely RC, tight turn to the A-frame.  Not our cleanest down on the A-frame...he kind of added a step and broke out of a clean 2 hit performance, but clearly in the yellow.  Tunnel, with me racing for a BC, jump.  Nailed the weave entry.  Weave-weave-weave-weave...stop.  Another pole 10 pop out.  Well, there goes our last shot for a Q on the weekend.  Yarg.  Oh well, no reason to get upset.  He was stressed, looking outside the ring, and it took him a minute to come back and restart.  I clapped and stayed right with him, encouraging him, and he got through it this time.  Thankfully.  Then jump, he ducked beautifully into the tunnel, powered uphill over the spread, and then...ran past the table.  Looking at the people sitting outside the ring.  "Jonah, table," I tell him.  He hopps up.  Then he looks at the people again.  Ears down.  Won't make eye contact with me.  "Sit," I say.  He sits.  I must say "down" 10 times, and he's just stressed.  Doesn't acknowledge me.

Well, we already aren't going to qualify, and there's no point of making a bad experience out of me yelling at him, so off we go.  I sigh, and try to put my excited self back on.  "Ready?" I ask.  Then, "Run!  Run!  Run!"  And he flies across the dogwalk for a beautiful jackpot.  He would have run right out of the gate, but I called him and he soared over the last jump.  Well, at least it was a great finish!

We went out and had our party.  It took a little extra effort on my part to be super excited, but I know I need to make the ring a happy place, and partying after a run will help with that.  We went for a nice long romp and Jonah had some more good pond time.  What a happy dog.

On my ride home, I was having trouble with the weekend.  It was really frustrating!  We put in so much work, and he runs great in practice.  We don't have trouble with weave poles, with the table...with anything in particular.  I don't know how to practice handling him when he's stressed.  I don't know if I'm forcing him to do what he doesn't want to do.  I don't know how to make trialing fun.  But sometimes he's amazing.  It's not like he is always stressed in the ring.

I really love agility for the philosophy of "It's always the handler's fault."  This time, though, I was having a hard time convincing myself of that.  Is it really my fault that he randomly gets stressed sometimes in the ring?  I want it to be, because that assumes I can fix it.  But I have NO IDEA how to fix it.  Believe me, I'd happily put in the work if I knew what to do.

Then last night I was waiting for Dave to come to bed and I just flipped my Bible open to a random page.  I was tired, and didn't feel like reading much, but my eyes caught on one line, "What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (1 Cor 4:7).  I don't mean to get all religious on this blog, but the verse was just what I needed.  In general, I'm really proud of Jonah's agility.  He's fast, he's smart, and he's quite well trained.  But there's no reason I deserve that.  Yes, I've put in many hours of training, but so do lots of people who don't have dogs as polished as mine.  I generally like to think that's because I'm 'good at it,' but really why should that be the case?  If I have 'skill,' it's a gift.  I certainly didn't do enough careful research of breeding to select the perfect canine companion like so many competitors do...we got really lucky with getting such an athletic, smart, trainable dog.  Or maybe not lucky.  Maybe it's a gift.

Anyway, I want to remember how much just getting to play agility is a gift.  Most people around the world, if they're able to have dogs, would never dream of the luxury of going to weekly (or more) classes and competing on the weekends.  I don't pay for my own trial fees--Dave does.  We don't pay rent but have a beautiful 2+ acre yard with a fenced run and an agility area.  We have wonderful trainers around us.  We have great friends.  What gifts!  So can I really complain because we missed some Qs?  In the future, when I go into the ring I want to remind myself of that verse and try to get past the whole Q standard.  My job really is to make Jonah have the most fun possible.  But when he gets stressed, it's OK.  I don't have to blame him or myself or anything at all.  It's life, and maybe someday I'll even get to appreciate it as a gift, too.

(end preachy post.  sorry.)

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