The Long Game

We’ve all done it. Entered trials hoping our dogs will be ready by then. It gives us a goal to shoot for. Now don’t get me wrong. I love goals. I’m a huge fan of goals. I set goals throughout the year in all aspects of my life. If I didn’t have goals, I’d spend the majority of my life watching Netflix. I set goals for my dogs. I choose certain events and often enter my dogs in trials with the expectation that we will be ready to go when the date comes. Except that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the date approaches and deep down I know, I just know, that my dog is not ready. Now comes the hard part. Because after all, I’ve entered the trial! And that means I must go. Right??  Well, that really depends on the outcome you want. I know, from experience, that my dog will not perform better at the trial than at home.  Quite frankly, if my dog gives me the SAME performance in the ring as he does at home, I will have hit the jackpot. Because that is incredibly hard to achieve. Realistically, the performance will degrade a bit. If my dog is not consistently and confidently performing the behaviors at home, he will not perform them in the ring. We can wish and hope and pray and cross our fingers…but I guarantee you, it won’t happen. (I’ve tried!) Now, let’s be clear. I understand that my dogs will fail. That’s just part of the process.  I understand that my dogs will make mistakes. And I understand that my dogs won’t always perform as well as I would have liked. And I’m perfectly fine with all of it. But what I don’t want to do is put my dog in a situation where they don’t have the skills to handle the pressure of the ring. Because that’s not fair to the dog. Our dogs will go in the ring because we ask them to. They will perform to the very best of their ability. Because we ask them to. They will perform in accordance with how we trained them. If we know our training is not complete, and we ask them to go in the ring anyway…that’s just not fair. When a dog struggles in the ring they get worried, stressed, confused, anxious…and it’s often difficult for us to give them the support they need in that moment. And the truth of the matter is that this scenario is avoidable. You can pull from the trial. Yup, I said it. Pull from the trial. Don’t go. Why is that so hard? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it’s disappointment. I’ve set a goal and I didn’t achieve it. I really wanted to compete, and now I can’t. But all of that is self-driven. I set the goal. I want to go. The reasons may be different for you. But at the end of the day, the reasons have to do with what WE want. And not what the dog is capable of. Dogs are going to progress at their own pace. Regardless of what we want. Often having a trial looming in the foreseeable future muddies our training. We suddenly feel pressure. Mistakes take on a whole different meaning. Oh no! What if my dog does that in the ring?? We start to panic. We may inadvertently push our dogs in training. Training isn’t as much fun… there is a sense of urgency now. Sometimes we push our dogs a bit too hard. Sometimes we cut corners. I’ve learned that at the end of the day, the dog will be ready when they are ready. And I can’t predict when that will be. Generally, I wait until I feel my dog is fully prepared, THEN I enter a trial. Which doesn’t mean I still don’t get it wrong. Last fall I predicted that Zesty would be ready to compete in a few months and I entered some trials. As the date approached, I realized I was wrong. He wasn’t ready. I pulled my entries. And when I took a step back and looked at things objectively, I was really happy I did. Zesty tries super hard. Zesty trusts me. Zesty is pretty precocious. He’s also sensitive and emotionally immature. Zesty works because he loves interacting with me. Zesty’s well-being is my responsibility. If I wait, he will have a better experience in the ring. He will be happier. I will be happier. He will gain confidence that will spill into future runs. It’s hard to look at the big picture. Especially with a sport that requires many years of training before a dog is ready to compete. But more often than not, the long game will better serve your dog.

Many of us sign up for trials as a way to stay motivated. It’s a goal to work towards and that’s a good thing. Unless it’s not. Sometimes having an imminent goal creates pressure. We start pushing for results. When our dogs make mistakes we panic a little…oh no, they’d better not do that in the ring! We inadvertently put pressure on them in training. We might be tempted to skip some steps because the trial is around the corner and we are running out of time. Training isn’t quite as fun. It’s more serious because we need to be ready by a certain date. Sometimes we know, deep down, that the dog just isn’t ready. But we’ve entered the trial. Now we have a choice. We can pull from the trial. But interestingly this is not as easy as it seems. Most people don’t pull.  It’ as if they now MUST go. Because they’ve entered. They know some pieces are not in place, but they hope that maybe, just maybe, the dog will pull it off.  Except they never do. If the dog isn’t doing it in training, they won’t do it in the ring. If the dog is struggling with something in training, they will struggle in the ring. If the dog is worried

I’ve done this. Many, many times. Sometimes it’s because I think by dog will be ready by then. Or I want them to be ready by then.