I am having a hard time setting "goals" for my dogs this year. I don't know if the newness of going to dog trials is wearing off (I started with Ein in August 2012 in AKC Rally.) I certainly have no end of passion and love for training and showing my dogs. When I think about goals for the new year all I can think is that I want to hike and play agility in 2015.
Obviously: I want Molly to earn her C-ATCH. I am pretty sure that a C-ATCH is well within reach for Perri this year as well. I most humbly would like somebody to get the hell out of Open in AKC! :)
Far more important to me is to see a continuation of our progress from this year. Looking back, I can see that my inexperience shook Molly's ring confidence considerably. I feel so much shame. A lack of proper weave or contact training, poor handling combined with "screaming call offs" took plenty of Molly's edge off in the ring. She slowed down, she lost her joy - we even NQd for being overtime more than a few times, even when we had not had any major bobbles beyond a refusal or two. Molly was yawning on the start line and sneezing in the ring. Biting my tongue and not micromanaging has been my personal goal for the year and right along with my goals for my dogs, and I feel that I have gotten somewhere. If I would cause an off course I would try my hardest to just keep running with Molly and not correct it. No point in correcting it - I handled that off course, Molly was only doing what I was telling her to do - and "fixing" it taught her nothing but to not trust me. I tried to get quieter in the ring - I still have a ways to go! We took August off of agility trials and did a lot of hiking and swimming (and lure coursing!) We trained the weave poles, for real. It is still a work in progress but has been majorly knocked out as a horrible ring stressor for us. Autumn trials were not a perfect string of Qs and excellent handler behavior - but Molly's ring enthusiasm shot up. I remember somebody commenting to me at a November trial, "I have never seen Molly move so fast, ever!" It utterly shocked me because the Molly I know is so fast it makes my head spin - yet I had done something to that Molly and subdued her. I heard somebody talking ringside at another trial one time, "Once you lose the speed in your dog, you can never get it back." My heart dropped and I allowed myself to agonize that I had done this irreparable damage to my dog. But I believe in Molly, and I believe in myself and we are a team. I don't know what dog those people might have been talking about, but it might not have had the huge resilient heart of a pitbull beating in its chest. And it probably did not love puffed cheese balls as much as a pitbull. It is a sad thing to feel that I tore my own dog's confidence down, but it would be even sadder to allow it to be a permanent condition. Nothing is permanent. There are no absolute statements. Molly's speed is returning without a doubt and so is her confidence, and I have nothing but excitement to see the team that we can be together in 2015.
And Perri. Wow. I confess: I quit agility classes with Perri. I do not know why, but Perri goes completely flat during agility classes. I gave it a full year of trying. I ended our runs when she would disengage. I tried every trick in the book, every toy, every treat and food to engage and motivate her. Nothing. I have talked to many people and almost all of those people agree: they have never seen a dog who is horrible in class and successful at trials. In fact, the only reason that I ever entered Perri in that Memorial Day agility trial was because I thought it might boost her confidence. I had a dog that I did not even know I had. Perri does things in trials that she would never do in class. Tunnel sends. Distance work. Happy weave poles. 24" tires. "Big Dog" AKC Pause table. Perri never looks like she is excited to get into the ring at ringside. She eats treats, we do tricks and she wide-eyes the other 20 or 24" dogs with concern. We don't do a start line stay or she disengages. I run her right off the start line and she is like a little agility machine and I have no idea why or how it happened. Perri would have been crushed by my inexperience had she been my first agility competition dog. Molly took that hit for our team and rose from the ashes. Perri reaps the benefits of me (sort of ) knowing what I am doing. It worked out perfectly.
Perri has blossomed. She loves heeling. She isn't half as "spooky" as she used to be. She will hike with me solo without crouching the entire time and leaping away from fallen logs and other hikers. She is a stellar therapy dog and has done over 60 visits this year. I cannot place title letters on my goals for us, though I love those goals as well. Being amazed by Perri has been my favorite thing about this year. She is so eccentric, so funny and so unexpected. I do not understand her, still. She is just a standard poodle and that is all there is to understand.
Ein. This year has been my most difficult year with Ein. The hip dysplasia and the spondylosis. The end of our long rambling hikes together. The fear of paralysis or DM. I have gone from devastated to empowered in regards to Ein. It feels really sad to me to launch off to trials or hikes with the girl dogs and leave Ein behind. To write out what I will love to accomplish with them while he sleeps under my desk. Ein will be 10 this year. His pain and stiffness is well controlled and he is moving great. Quality over quantity in everything. Ein can still hike, but he doesn't need to do 12 miles. Ein can still show in Rally, but he doesn't need to be entered in a ton of classes. Ein loves to walk with me, to show with me, to train with me. He pants and grins and turns himself inside out with joy, no matter what we are doing together. It makes me burst with love. It can be tough to remember to keep everything that Ein loves in small doses so that his body can tolerate what his mind loves to do but I am becoming a master at that.
I am looking forwards to this year and I just want to be a good friend to my dogs. I want to be a handler that they can trust. I want to walk in the woods with them and breathe that sweet mountain air and get sprayed with lake water that they shake from their coats after a long swim in the heat of summer. I want to make moments that I can be proud of, and to continue enjoying this good life that we have.