First, I’d like to say Happy 2nd Birthday to little miss Shock. She’s the inspiration behind this post, and all the rambling that is may be the home to.
Shock was a well kept secret for everyone around me. I wanted another dog, just like Smack, so that I could have a second chance at all the things I didn’t do, or did wrong at the time. I knew in my head that the two dogs would of course *not* be the same, but my heart was hopeful. When only three puppies were born, and none were tri-colored, I was a little disappointed (shallow, I know…. but I *love* tris.) However, it didn’t keep me from falling in love with the face of one of these rodent pups. Little did I know, I was falling in love with a girl.
That one on the left. Recognize that white smudge on the nose? Yep, that’s Shocky at 4 weeks old with her two brothers. I was dead set on bringing that puppy home, all the while have inner conflict with myself about bringing home a girl. I was terrified. I’ve always had boys, and I love my boys. So care-free and loving; dorky and ready for anything. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, and by the time Cynosport 2011 rolled around, I was more than ready to bring her home.
When I got to the barn, in Bowling Green, Kentucky the pups were 7 weeks old. I went to their stall, shaking with excitement to love on them all and small their puppy breath. It was as if Shock knew I was coming for her. Before I could even open the stall door, she was climbing onto a bale of hay to welcome me. She was just perfect. Wild and into everything, bossing her two brothers around, and pushing for more love from me.
I left the barn that day and headed to Cynosport, Smack’s first nationals, and bought everything pink I could find 🙂 I picked the little one up late Sunday night on my way home, and started fantasizing about her future.
Shock was the most perfect puppy. Confident, crazy tug drive, loved her crate, slept through the night, tackled challenge after challenge with finesse. I was floored by her greatness. She charmed everyone she met and quickly became the “star puppy” in my house.
Then, something changed. Everyone said it was a phase, but I was alarmed. She was cautious, more nervous, anxious, and no longer possessed that desire to take on challenges. I went over my notes again and again, watched my videos and racked my brain for any experience that might have caused this change, and I found nothing. Absolutely nothing. My puppy just changed.
I was devastated at first. For a moment, I thought she was going to be a scaredy-cat and never be able to get over it and make it in agility. Which is FINE, my dogs are pets first, but still, it made my heart ache. Then, I decided it WAS just a phase, and that she would get over it. So, I discontinued any obstacle related agility training and only focused on tricks, socialization, and letting Shock just be.
Many months went by, and nothing really changed. She mastered all tricks, she never showed signs of stress at dog shows. She would watch other dogs run intently and play with me ringside and offer all sorts of behaviors with no problem, but still showed huge signs of fear and anxiety around equipment.
Shock got along with everyone, but was constantly over thinking things. I remember some of her initial jump training, and couldn’t figure out why the dog that learned Spider Monkey in three sessions couldn’t get passed her anxiety to offer walking over a low bar. Again, I was stumped, but continued on my theory that she would eventually outgrow it, and be just fine. Those fantasies of her future were less and less realistic, and my only goal was that she turned out to be socially functional, and that she could still be happy despite her anxious nature.
A year goes by. Shock is approaching 15 months, and I can’t even get her to learn tunnel. She’s too anxious to do anything but stare at me when I ask her to just look at the obstacle. She was happy to do shadow handling and circle around cones, so I continued to make this the most exciting I could for her, and limited the activity to less than two minutes at a time, so that I was only rewarding her for *not* thinking so much.
In November, 2012, I took a trip to WI to Ann Braue’s place for a Silas Boogk seminar with just Smack. I received a call from home learning that Shock was finally in season. I had been waiting impatiently for her to come in for the first time, and of course, it was while I was away.
When I got home, it was as if a new dog had appeared and replaced my sweet little Shock. Still sweet, and yes, still little, but her disposition was definitely different. She was perkier, less anxious, and just different. I immediately took advantage and took Shock to the field and wa-la! She was jumping full height (22″) in 2 sessions. She was eager to offer obstacle behavior. She was dragging me to the agility field. She was exactly what I had envisioned her. But why did it take 15 months, and why did her heat cycle affect her behavior so much?
If anyone has any good information on this, I am VERY interested in reading about it.
Things started looking up for Shock and her agility training. That breakthrough while she was in season got us over the hump, but I soon learned that we weren’t out of the woods yet. I was able to progress with her training, but glimmers of that over cautious, anxious young girl still poked through when learning something new. So, I knew that her training would need to go slow, and I would need to take advantage of those heat cycles (that don’t come often!). She was coming together. Her jumping skills were proving to be beyond amazing and I was excited by the sparks of brilliance she showed me week after week.
Her first trial experience was in March of this year, and I was blown away by her attitude. It was only Jumpers in USDAA, as other obstacles were not finished, but I just had to know. I had to know if she could handle the extra pressure of a trial, and that really put the pressure on me. Not to handle perfectly, but to handle her perfectly. I had to make choices that were best for her, and in return, she really showed me that she could handle it, and wanted to run. She got better and better each time I put her in the ring.
I moved to Washington in April. She continued to show promise in the ring. Shock had just started her weave pole training, and I was beginning to question my choice of a running dogwalk with her. She just wasn’t running. She always hit yellow, but I could see her over thinking each and every rep, making sure she got it right. I used toys, I revved her up, I rewarded not so great hits to encourage her to most faster, but it just wasn’t there. It wasn’t until Graham reminded me that I needed to do what she needed not what I wanted to get the job done. So, I let her chase me. I hadn’t added my motion because I was being a “good dog trainer” and making the behavior as independent as I could, but that wasn’t working. So, we lowered the dog walk, and Graham did some training while I was away judging and wa-la! My little girl 4 striding across that dogwalk.
Next, the weaves. This was the most frustrating part of her training, and I’m sure the ride isn’t over. While her confidence was growing and growing and her ring experiences were getting better and better, she could not understand the weaves. Again, Graham was very helpful with taking time to train her when I was just too frustrated, or needed new ideas. The biggest savior with the poles was a very much appreciated heat cycle (only her second one!) that again provided me with a dog that was happy and carefree; a dog that didn’t over think things, but just did them and got the job done. So, I didn’t waste a minute. Shock was out weaving poles every chance I had, for every meal she was given, and every time I went outside, she had to weave, and boy did THAT pay off! I’m encouraged that her heat cycles seem to occur every 9 months, and will continue to take advantage of those few weeks where Shock is just different. Her latest training session
I’m excited by the challenge she adds to my training day, and I am enjoying her more and more each day. She’s so very different from Smack, and I’m starting to believe that it’s a good thing. She’s making me better, and we’re learning together. A few lessons Shock has taught me in just two short years:
1) Always go with your gut/listen to your heart/first instinct when choosing a puppy.
2) Don’t spay/neuter your dog early if you don’t have to.
3) If you think you’re sold on one gender over the other, give the opposite a try; you might surprise yourself.
4) Never give up on something you feel is right for you. If I had given up on Shock, I would have never been able to experience the exhilarating feelings of being her teammate on course.
Happy Birthday, Little Miss ShockStar! Here’s to many, many more years of learning, growing, and loving life together!
In honor of Shock’s birthday, here are links to assignments from my two online classes, Skills that Kill and Running Contact Support Group. These are things I’ve been working with Shock lately, and have found them perfect for her personality, and challenged my handling skills for her 🙂
I’d love to see videos posted of these sequences, so please share your results and questions!