I know full well that my handling is an enormous part of what needs to be improved when it comes to our partnership. The fact that Molly wouldn't sit where I wanted her on the start line yesterday, followed by flying off the pinnacle of the A-frame does allow me to sigh and say "oh Molly." and blame it all on stress excitement and call it a day.
I don't decelerate properly - so we get off courses. I don't time front crosses properly - so Molly hurtles past me and I am left frantically calling her name. Those two issues are my issues. And neither thing is fair to my dog. But just as I take an issue of Molly's and dissect it mentally to find the real cause - I do this for my own issues.
It all comes down to trust. In the past, if I decelerated, Molly would pull off her line or just stop. Our foundation training was deficient in many ways - and full of frustration, confusion and little to no understanding of the things we were being asked to do. Teaching Molly to work at a distance away from me fell through the gaps. Only within the last few months have I trained a good Out command and the shaky beginnings of trust that when I say Out my dog will keep going and perform that obstacle while I move into position to cue her next move. I don't need to run straight to that obstacle with her, I don't need to "baby" her. Running to obstacles with her accomplishes nothing but pushing her off of her line and failing to cue her turn.
Front crosses are even harder for me. My mistrust of Molly is so deeply ingrained that I almost never start my front cross motion until after she lands from the prior obstacle - absolutely and positively too late. I am too busy watching and micromanaging and making certain that she performs Obstacle A before I move onto Obstacle B that I completely fail to give her the information that she needs to do her job.
It is for good reason that I don't trust Molly. Stress, excitement, energy, lack of focus and her love of people means that at any time she has chosen to sniff, zoom, run out obstacles, or lap jump. Where I have watched many other dogs in classes or trials at her "experience" level be able to run a straight and simple line of jumps, it's always Molly who jumps one and then runs out the rest and back jumps them. But, it's getting better. It is improving. But I have been training and running this dog for two years and old habits die hard.
Molly is getting better. She is listening better, showing better commitment, watching me. If I don't trust her, if I mishandle her, then in return she does not trust me. And that snowballs into erratic stress behaviors on her part and frustration on mine. But why is it that some days Molly seems to come right out of the gate running nice ... Or running wild? Some days she can ignore dogs and focus on me, she can forgive my mistakes and keep running nicely, she can hold her line, she can keep me - always - in her peripheral vision. Last Friday was one such day, even at a highly distracting venue. And then other days (like yesterday), before we even hit the start line - before I can even think of anything that I did to cause stress and confusion - she is a naughty mess.
How can I trust a dog that confuses me so much? Will it always be this way? Can I just give my trust over to Molly every time and hope I have the Good Dog? That is easier said than done, it really is. I am not capable of that kind of trust.
I chatted with somebody ringside some months ago who had the usual compliments of "She is so happy!" She told me that she used to do agility with her pitbull and followed that up with the remark, "He always had fun but I could really get anywhere with him. He was...well, like her! (Molly)". Wilt.
But. Onward and upward. One step forward, two steps back. We have so much to learn and I refuse to write her off. She certainly wouldn't do that to me.