Sunday, February 28, 2016

I Got This

I recently read a blog post that described how the author was changing their own perception of their agility performance by changing the specific words they use to describe it. Instead of saying their dog did something, they began referring to their team. "We blew our contacts", or "we popped out of the weaves". I really love this concept, and it really puts the focus on the dog-handler connection rather than just the dog. We're not competing in agility just yet, but I've begun doing a similar thing with my own reactive dogs and their many triggers.

two dogs on utility lead
Photo by Erin Koski
One of the most poignant things I ever read was a small note in one of Patricia McConnell's books, where she mentioned that she places herself between her dog and whatever it is that they fear. It's a way to let them know that they don't have to deal with it alone. To me, this feels like it cuts to the very core of my relationship with my dogs; in all things it is my job to protect them.

"Tension Travels Down the Leash"

We've all heard the same thing a million times. Keep the leash loose, but not so loose that your dog can get into trouble. Maintain a calm demeanor in the face of things you know will totally set off your poor pup.

But let's be realistic here. It's easy to act upbeat and positive when we encounter a trigger at a manageable distance. "Hooray, you saw a dog! You get cookies!" That's the kind of training we like, manageable and fun for everyone. But, unless you're very lucky, it doesn't always go that way.

How do you keep your cool when the situation is terrible and you already know your dog is going to have a meltdown. "Shit, we have to walk past that yard where the horrible dog sticks his head halfway under the fence and roars at us, can't get far enough away without walking in traffic, and here comes a kid on a skateboard! Ok, act happy."

"I Got This"

This is what I'm now saying to my dogs as we pass through a situation they clearly see as hellish. It has helped me take a mental step back and go, "wait a second, this is just a regular day on the sidewalk, we're all safe and there's nothing wrong". My focus shifts from my dog and their behavior to my own, and I stop reflexively tightening the leash to prepare for trouble.

Placing myself between my dog and that horrifying muddy boxer under the fence is still part of the drill, but I'm no longer staring down at my side and going "Stay on that side of my, dammit!" as my dog tries to dart around me. Instead, I'm striding confidently ahead because I know the slobbery mess can't get to us. We're safe. I don't need to reassure my dog that I will bravely protect them because this is no big deal. Nothing bad is going to happen to them, I'll make sure of it. I got this.

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