Fear is a powerful thing. I learned at a very young age that fear kept me safe. I used it often to avoid conflicts or injury. This is a valid use of fear. The trick is, there is a healthy amount of fear, but there is also a shadow side. There is a fear of life that keeps us from living. The unhealthy fear can leave us with so much indecision we stop moving, freezing in our tracks. It is the unhealthy fear that can leave us filled with regrets.
My whole life, I have held myself back. Sure I was not good enough. <= My whole life, I buried this. My whole life, I have felt like I was hiding from the world. I think *I* was also hiding deep down, where I buried everything. Maybe those things go hand and hand, the more you bury things, the deeper you hide.
The only reason I can write these blogs is because I believe I am writing them to myself, anything else would seem too scary to me. I have never been very good at expressing myself because I either didn’t do it or I didn’t received any information validating right or wrong. That left me entangled in a long battle with fear and anxiety.
Therefore, I wonder sometimes in reading my blog and not really knowing me, you might think I may be a bit overstepping. Please know, that is not my intent. Always remember, I am not a dog behavior expert. I am as humble as they come, I really won’t even take credit for anything good we do together. I will find a way to make you believe you did it all. This is the spot where I would normally run and hide.
I don’t want to hide anymore.
Taking these last steps with Jedi has been the most difficult part of this journey. It is this final piece, walking through the fear in an attempt to come out on the other side.
I was having such a difficult time with this step, until one of my students competed in her first trial just a couple weeks. She did great, came in second place. She was signed up to compete three days in a row. The second trial did not go so well.
She was just about in the ring when an owner and her big dog had a party right in front of her. The dog was jumping on the owner and spinning around. It happened right outside of the ring entrance. With so much energy and excitement only feet from them, my student’s very drivey dog became overexcited.
Competing, just you and your dog can be very intimidating. Especially during your first few trials. She was already nervous and now she found herself frantically trying to calm her dog as she stepped into the ring. Eek!
She was unable to hold it together and couldn’t reconnect her team. She didn’t qualify. I had been checking on her via Messenger. I saw she posted something on Facebook about not qualifying. I sent her a message, reminding her I would be at the trial the last day as we had planned. I told her we would work on things before she went into the ring.
A few hours later, she messaged me she wasn’t going. I was devastated for her. I had been In her shoes; I had hit the bottom myself. I don’t simply love Rally, so therefore I teach it. I teach it, because it set me on a life-changing journey with Kiska, my akita girl, my first obedience dog. Yes, akita owners and obedience perfectionists, laugh if you will, but we learned so much together. She changed my life.
I have mentioned in previous blogs, she wasn’t excited to be an obedience dog. She could really care less about doing that type of work. We somehow forged a working bond.
If you ask me now what the glue in our relationship was, I can tell you clear as day. I was nervous about her running away from me, because of that she wouldn’t leave my side. The true definition of a loyal akita. Not a healthy relationship.
That’s the truth. Our brains run these quiet patterns that we barely hear. The only way to find them is to keep trying until it finally comes to the surface loud enough for you to catch it.
I also believe this state of mind in a person matched with a dog that has major insecurities and a few bad experiences can unknowingly add to the cultivation of a reactive dog. Good grief…let’s all chew on that.
Lucky for me, Kiska is truly one of those once in a lifetime dogs. She has taught me a great deal, all while maintaining her composure. She came equipped with a nicely balanced temperament. Yes, we had our issues, but not a ton of behavior issues. We knew we had an Akita and we were on her from the second we got her. Rules, rules and more rules.
She taught me life is not about being perfect and it must also contain fun. At our worst, we competing in a Rally Excellent trial. There are currently three levels: Novice, Advanced and Excellent. The second sign on the course, was figure-8 with distractions. I had never trained with toys on the ground, only with distractions in a bowl. Kiska knew, if the toy or food was in a bowl then “Leave it”.
It as a huge controversy, toys on the ground, call 911! We scanned the rules before the competition, so sure this could not be allowed! Well, yes it can, nothing in the rules stated otherwise. Another lesson => life moves about and can put unanticipated obstacles right in your path. My best advice, get over that ASAP!
I didn’t have that nugget in my arsenal at the time and I knew we would fail, BAD STATE OF MIND CONTRIBUTES TO FAILURE. <= If you ever feel like this, find people who can help you move past it. Especially with dog training, dogs don’t connect to you through words. They know your secrets.
We stopped at the first sign. I sat my dog, leaving her behind and I took two steps forward. What you are supposed to do next, was pause and call your dog to heel. Then you continue forward as your dog briskly and happily rejoins you in heel position.
I called her to heel. She hesitated, I looked back for her and there she was standing, staring frozen with a silly little look in her eye. Then she moved past me. She went right for the pink stuffed elephant lying on the ground. She had struck gold, found a new toy!
Excellent level typically leads off the competition and usually has the largest crowd, as people are either competing or getting ready to. Kiska pranced around the ring with delight, after finding something to motivate her enough to leave my side.
She is a beautiful dog. She pranced like a princess, in the highlight of her life. She was a sight to behold. I am glad I looked long enough to have this memory burned into my mind. Can you imagine my reaction at the time though?
There I was the most under confidence, fearful person, wondering what I was even doing here, wondering how it was possible that my dog would stay with me and not run away. How did I even think I could compete in something like this? There it was, the worst had happened. I imploded. After what seemed like an eternity, somehow at just the right moment, she came back to me. I leashed her up and we exited the ring.
Yes, the worst obedience trial thing that could happen to me had happened. My dog ran away from me. I tried and I failed, because I didn’t deserve to be there. That was my belief system. Why did I even think I could be successful?
My husband was there and he told me it was a thing of beauty watching her prance. Pictures do not do her justice. The audience clapped, cheered and squealed as she danced with such grace and enthusiasm. My husband told me not to be to hard on myself, she was after all, a dog. He tried to console me, but I was broken.
I just didn’t see it that right away. I therefore, I tragically made Rally suck for both Kiska and myself. It took me a bit, but I realized, if this wasn’t fun we shouldn’t be doing it.
Yes my husband may have also mentioned this, before I realized it for myself (he is a type A, very confident person. He usually figures this stuff out before I do). This is the message I want my students to hold above all. Working with your dog should be fun and rewarding. Obedience work isn’t life and death. I see competitors all of the time, bring anger and frustration into the ring. That isn’t fair to the dog…ever.
I told her my story. I understood how hard it was to put yourself back into that position, where your world could collapse. I also told her I took so long before I attempted to finish Kiska’s Excellent title. She injured her good leg; she never fully recovered to a point where I could ask her to take a jump.
I don’t regret that we never finished, because I found the gifts she had given me, but didn’t want my student to have any regrets. I told her I was letting her off the hook. The only thing I said to push her was by passing along what the dog school owner had said to me “Put on your big girl pants and at least try”.
I didn’t expect my student to go, but she messaged back saying she would. I was ecstatic, my entire body lit up in goose bumps. I arrived early and we worked her dog. Being able to spend one on one time with her had really made a difference.
As we worked, she saw her dog start to tune into her. She was amazed and that gave her confidence. She provided the right information to her dog and suddenly became a warrior. Overcoming her fear, in a gallant display of bravery.
Low and behold, she came in first place! I couldn’t be more proud. So honored to have been able to watch it unfold, knowing how insurmountable it can be to face down your fear.
She motivated me. I have no dog to compete with right now. But, I did have a challenge that I have been avoiding. I decided it was time to take Jedi, whose dog reactivity threshold was about a football field away, walking past a dog.
I had been working on calm structured walking and state of mind with him. I wanted a controlled environment for our first time adding in a dog. My friend agreed to meet me after hours at the dog school. She brought along one reactive dog and one non-dog reactive dog.
I worked Jedi and got him into a good state of mind. I asked my friend to just walk past a distant doorway once with her non-reactive dog. That was the plan and she did just that. I was with Jedi working one full ring away from the doorway. He didn’t bat an eye. I thought he must have missed seeing the dog.
I moved closer and had her try again. Jedi respectfully remained in heel position as we worked our way around the ring. Soon we found ourselves about 15 feet away from the door, with wire crates in between us, my friend working her dog on the other side through the door way. Jedi took a couple peeks, but remained in heel position and stayed connected with me. This was the closest we had been to a dog like this in about two years.
I decided to try to work them both inside the ring, but I walked past the doorway where my friend had her dog reactive dog kenneled. We had forgotten to close the door. Again, Jedi didn’t bat an eye when her dog Skittles exploded just inside the room a few feet from us. Jedi, the steadfast trooper I always knew he could be, just calmly walked back to his kennel quietly by my side. I decided to give him the rest of the night off.
I couldn’t believe it. I mean absolute shock, but at the same time I knew we could do it. I don’t remember another time in my life, where I believed in myself more than that moment. It was the most peculiar feeling, knowing you could, but now quite sure how you were going to do it. This time, I believed I could keep Jedi with me, I knew he believed he could trust me.
I had no treats, because they cause Jedi’s arousal level to skyrocket. Even though, everything I read says science proves pure positive is the answer to reactivity and anything else will ruin my dog (who was already ruined). Even though my vet behaviorist told me on two separate visits, my classical conditioning technique and timing were impeccable. Even though she told me the answer was to just let him live the rest of his life at home, hidden from all of his fears. To be clear, I am not saying those methods won’t work for your dog. Just know that this wasn’t working for my particular dog.
I also want anyone who might be skipping around this blog to understand what I changed, because it is not about waiting for a reaction and then correcting your dog. That is not the answer. Part of the answer is about being proactive, instead of reactive.
I did a lot of foundation work before I attempted walking him around another dog. I learned we both had to change our state of mind and I had to make sure Jedi never gets to the point of over arousal, in which case he will react. Please read my blog “Every Step We Take” to understand what I changed for us.
I kept an open mind and I did something different, with the right tools in place to give me the confidence that if things started to slide out of control, I could give a super fair, well timed correction in a way Jedi understood. I am also now armed with the knowledge of how to work with Jedi’s drives. We did it and I believe we will do it again and again and again.
I love my dogs, it sucks to be stuck in our fears. That is why I am working us both through it, so we can release it. I want to move forward from this awful place we have been trapped in for so long.
With this new reality, I turn to Jedi. Who during a deep fear period in his development stage was attacked, twice. Jedi, who probably doesn’t remember this event, but together, we kept it alive. I am sorry for my part in this. I release you, from all responsibility of thinking it was your job to keep us safe. I release all of the pressure you believed was yours to bare alone. I give you my best, I only ask for yours.
Thank you Nancy for your act of bravery which inspired me to be courageous. When she posted her accomplishment on Facebook, I wrote this => Webster called and they just changed the definition of Perseverance to “Nancy”.
She helped push me and finally, I saw some success. Jedi and I lived to tell about it. What’s on the other side is grand! We have a ways to go, but this time…this time I know it is going to work. I have never, ever been so sure of myself. However, if I do fail, I do so daring greatly.
As life is about struggle, may we all strive to have Webster add our name to the definition of Perseverance!!
P.S. Really Jedi, the middle of a strawberry patch looks like a good place to take a load off? Now I find myself wondering what is going to happen to the blueberry bushes we just planted? We have a dog named Kiska Bear.