Our Best Woman recently asked me how Obedience Training has been going. She always asks insightful questions so I stopped to think about my answer before replying.
Should I just say "good"?
Should I reply with the more honest "its got its ups and downs"?
Should I go into a long anecdote about our most recent triumph (passing into Class Two after only three weeks in Class One!) and contrast it with our latest challenge (learning to FOCUS on the class instead of on what Ishka is doing!!)?
I thought about my last conversation with the BW and Obedience Training, and her question on that occasion. She'd asked me why I'd chosen to work with Czar out of our four dogs, and we'd had a chat about all the pros and cons of that choice. It was a conversation that had made me re-examine the things that I'd feared about starting a relationship with Jamie and his dogs, and how far I'd come.
My answer was "Czar loves it." I explained how Czar is often a bit reserved at home. He is content to lounge by the door, while Ishka, Bolo and Frankie all jostle for positions close to J and I. Although I recognise that this reflects Czar's respect and confidence, (in contrast to the others who are all much more needy and anxious) I sometimes worry that he is miserable. I have really loved seeing him at Obedience, looking at me with alert ears and a furiously wagging tail. (Ok, some of that is about the treat in my hand, but I'm still pleased that he's happy!).
About twelve hours later, I was facing the screaming husky who, far from sitting at heel, was trying to drag me across an oval. I was really discouraged and upset. How did this go from the success of passing out of Class One early, to a point where we couldn't even participate in Class Two?
I think for myself, the biggest lesson in Obedience is about perspective.
In racing, you are always watching the dog. You can see what's going on with your team, and many of those around you. You communicate constantly with other racers on the track (ideally). Your times give you a ranking in the field and a solid piece of quantifiable data that you can track against your own PB. Spectators constantly photograph racers and you can see yourself and understand why someone is advising you to change your stride or your scooting technique.
At Obedience classes, everyone is very focussed on their own dog. Most of the time I have minimal idea what everyone else is doing. When a friend asked how I'd found the change of standard from Beginners to Class One, I found it hard to answer the question. I rarely get to see someone else perform a maneouvere, so I have no idea whether I'm doing it the same, better or worse, than anyone else.
Many instructors use an "invisible dog" to help us focus on our own footwork or hand signal rather than on the behaviour of the dog. Consequently, it takes several attempts to work my way through a task and feel that I've understood it well. My favourite instructors are the ones who aren't afraid to tell me directly to change something I'm doing. Often I will hear an instructor call out a reminder and I have no idea if I need to make an adjustment.
"Remember guys, look up, don't look down at the dog!" Ok, looking up.
"Remember everyone, keep your dog focussed!" Is he focussed? I'm still looking up. Glance down, I think he is, but is it enough?
"Ok guys, left about turn!" Ok, swapping lead in hands, talking to dog, keeping lead loose... what am I forgetting?
"Don't forget guys, you need to turn on your left foot." Which foot was it? Is he still focussed? Am I still looking up? Is the lead still loose? Which is my left hand again?
Having lost my ability to even tell my left from my right, my judgement veers between being very pleased with myself that we're doing well, to being totally discouraged and convinced I'm an utter failure. I've seen other friends battle with the same challenge. Why do we put ourselves through it? Because we want happy, sleepy dogs who have worked hard mentally, as well as physically. Because we look at people who have gone before us, who have amazing connections with their dogs. Because we aspire to improve ourselves. Because, if I'm brutally honest, we like the coloured ribbons that mark our achievements and milestones without ambiguity.
I guess for me at the moment, I hope for more patience in myself, more faith in my dog, and more trust in my own instincts.