Despite her age, I’m still actively training Risa. I had some goals for her this year but, as time goes on, I am seriously rethinking them. We are certainly struggling with her abilities; there are some things she simply cannot do anymore. The biggest problem now, however, is age-related. Unlike last year, when I thought of her as “broken” rather than old, she is finally an old dog.
I’m thrilled it’s taken so long but saddened at the prospects for her future in competition (and otherwise). I am ready to let her retire when she tells me she is done. Or sooner if she’s incapable of making that decision (much like she is incapable of deciding that lure coursing is a bad idea with her back).
I recently listened to an outstanding podcast by Hannah Branigan regarding frustration in dog training. As she states, frustration is the first step towards extinction of behavior. When training behaviors, this is typically the last thing we want. I’ve noticed, however, that Risa is often frustrated during training sessions. In most cases, it’s not due to unintentional lack of clarity from me or that she doesn’t know the behavior. (Though there is fair argument for my training stupidity in her backups which has definitely created frustration for both parties. Wish I’d recognized this sooner!) I believe she’s losing her hearing which is causing her lack of understanding and frustration. She’s been so good at verbal cues without supportive hand or body movements but, as her hearing fails her, she is uncertain what I want her to do. This leads to frustration on her part. She tries her hardest but I’ve noticed more barking and leaving the session lately. Ris is not much of a barker though leaving to do her own thing has always been an issue (for various reasons). I recognize her quitting now is usually from frustration. It’s getting harder for me to indicate to her what I want her to perform.
For that reason alone, I know the end of her competitive career is drawing near. She’s also starting to act like an old lady and simply tell me “I’m going to do what I want.” As long as it’s safe, I’ve been letting her. Kyu still has to wait at the back door to be cued to exit to the yard. Risa just goes outside whenever the door is opened. I really don’t care.
As per usual, Risa challenges me in new ways. Forces me to think outside the box and become a better trainer. If we still want to play these games together, I need to think of ways to make my requests clearer. She still continues to teach.
Even when she retires, I’ll still continue to train with her. She enjoys it far too much to quit entirely.