Blue ribbons and trophies aren’t the only ways to measure success. Especially if you have a fearful dog. Or a reactive dog. Or a dog who is easily aroused. Each dog is an individual and you should judge him based upon his previous accomplishments. Not the accomplishments of others.
I compete with Risa and I enjoy watching the other teams in the ring before and after our turn. I “ooo” and “ahh” over the beautiful performances. The teams whose bond shows clearly. They look like poetry in motion. They score high in their event and almost always place. They walk off with blue ribbons, titles, High in Trial, etc. I envy them somewhat. I see that perfect, focused attention along with the flawless execution and I want it. Everyone congratulates them for their accomplishments. They recognize the beauty and hard work that has gone into the performance.
If you don’t have an average dog, your successes are less apparent and harder for those with “normal” dogs to understand. You may tear up with joy the first time your dog completely ignores a dog walking 2 feet away. Your heart swells when your fearful dog allows a stranger to pet him for the first time without cringing or fleeing in terror. And, if you do get into the ring to compete, your goals are very different from those around you who haven’t had to struggle with behavioral issues on top of the behaviors required for the performance.
That doesn’t make your accomplishments any less than theirs. (One could argue that your accomplishments are actually greater since you’ve had to overcome so much just to step inside the ring.) Just different. It’s hard to not judge your dog against the others out there. Especially since that’s the point of trialing. 🙂 But the judge’s opinion is not the only one that matters. You know what you’ve been through. You know how hard it’s been. You know your dog’s history. The judge does not. The judge only sees what you show that day and that’s what you’re scored on. But the judge doesn’t go home with your dog. You do. Regardless of what happens in the ring, you know what you’ve overcome to get there. Even on the worst days, there is something to take home and be proud of. 😀
I judge our performances against what I know we can do. Not what others do. While I love bringing home rosettes, medals, and trophies; they are not the end all for me. Most of our rally runs have not been pretty. Sometimes I’m surprised she has her AKC Excellent title! 😉 But there have been beautiful moments in her runs. Even when we don’t score high, we’ve been complimented on our teamwork by spectators outside the ring. Several times I’ve been told how happy Risa looks out there working with me. Comments like these mean more to me than any blue ribbon for that is one of my goals: a happy partner. For me, the ends do not justify the means. Risa doesn’t NEED trophies or ribbons. She just wants to have fun with me. And that’s why we trial. Because we enjoy it.
Even outside of the ring, it’s important to celebrate your dog’s awesomeness. Especially when you’re first starting on a behavior modification program. They may be small victories at first but they are still important. You might feel silly getting excited about them. After all, the average dog owner doesn’t get excited when Fido looks to you after seeing a dog that’s 20 feet away. They don’t have to worry about what might happen if a child rushes up to their dog while they’re out. You do. And you know what your dog has overcome. So don’t be discouraged when you have a setback. They will happen. Look back. Assess. Figure out how to do better next time. Continue to train and overcome the obstacles. You’ll be a far stronger team for it.
Sometimes we need a failure to show us that we still need some fine-tuning on our training. Risa’s last showing in rally was not successful and showed me that I really need to step up and work on her focus. The craziness of a trial and the dogs so close to the ring were just more than she could handle. So I’ve stepped up our training so that we can do better next time.
“Failure is the tuition you pay for success.” – Walter Brunell