Tagg's a terrible sheep dog.
At least thats how I felt Sunday. We had a great day on sheep last Wednesday, and then Sunday was godawful. Everything went wrong. She ran straight into the sheep, she wouldn't down, she created chaos and helter-skelter sheep craziness. It was bad.
Online all these puppies her age are perfect: beautiful outruns, nice rate. Their owners aren't waving sticks as they crash through them and make an unholy sheepastrophe. She must not be that good.
She's been herding for one month. She's days shy of her first birthday. And I'm thinking maybe she'd make a good flyball dog, or disc.
Of course this is madness! Of course one crappy run does not mean her entire future is in shambles. But that's how it feels, especially with social media breathing down our necks with perfect puppies and dogs executing perfect everything!
It's hard sometimes to remember that training isn't linear. Tagg's next training session won't necessarily be better than her last, and next week we may have endless struggles. Next month may not look better than this month. But it's all ok. It's all part of the journey. The rocky, messy, tripping and needing bandaids journey that is dog training.
Tagg is a lovely dog. But she is a pup. And just as I figure one thing out, there's a hole somewhere else that causes all of our progress to seemingly spill onto the floor! This is why we take time. This is why we build a solid foundation. This is why we don't move on until our foundations are unshakable, until our bucket is layers and layers thick.
So how do we move forward from an utter car wreck of a training session? How do we recover and climb back onto our feet and carry on?
Here are six tricks I use to save me from my feelings of hopeless doom:
1) Remember social media isn't real. No one looks perfect every day. No one has amazing travel experiences every day. No puppy is perfect (except mine!). Social media is curated. people don't share the absolute shambles of a training session for fear that the trolls will eat them alive, or if they're professionals, people will think they're incompetent. Social media is scary! People lurk everywhere with the sole purpose of tearing other people down. Because of this, people, especially when it comes to animals, are rightfully cautious.
2) It's just one day! Whether your dog is 8 weeks, 8 months, or 8 years old, it's just one day! Look at everything that has come before! Look how far you've traveled. Take a breath, put your negative thoughts into your pocket and walk on. There's always tomorrow.
3) Video tape your sessions! Yes! The crazed mania sheep chasing spectacular is caught on film! This is great news! Because even though right afterward, I couldn't even look at the video, it was still there. I didn't need to visit that wreck right away. I knew what it looked like. But did I? Really? I remembered certain moments, and I remembered a crazed blur of galloping hooves and frothy dog spittle, but did I really know what went down? Where the holes were? Why everything went the way it did? No. Not really. I certainly had ideas, but until I pulled on my boots and poured myself a drink and forced myself to watch it a few days later, I really didn't know. You can't fix what you don't know!
4) Don't jump right back in. You need to give yourself time to process a really hideous training session. You need to let the emotional aspect drain away until you are left with zen realization that things will get better. If you jump back in when emotions are raw with an"I will fix this!" mentality you're going to make things worse. No dog needs to work every day. If it takes two days for you to settle down and let the emotions drift away, then so be it. Watch the video when you're ready. Watch it until, instead of feeling upset, frustrated and hopeless, you begin to look at it clinically. You begin to say, 'here's where I could have done this, or that'.
5) Have a plan, then back it down two notches!! Build on what you learned in the video, but realize as you set out to fix your training wrongs for all time and forever more, that your dog moved on literally seconds after the session. Your gungho approach may solve the problem you saw in the video, but it may make a whole new set for the dog you train two days later. Just because you're ready to fight last week's battles doesn't mean you'll face last week's dog!
6) Take time, slow down, enjoy the process. This isn't a race. No matter if your dog is a sport dog or your favorite hiking buddy, the time you take building a foundation that can withstand all the travails that come is worth far more than having a great looking dog with a zillion cool tricks that collapses into a mess at the first wrong turn or steep hill. Remember the journey? Think of beautiful winding country trails with birds calling overhead and the grass waving ever so gently. Think of cool evenings under a sky flecked with a million stars. You'll never be here again. I'll never get another chance to start Tagg's training off right. We'll never be here in this place together like this again. Don't rush. Breathe in the scents, put on your bandaids, and lets see where this road takes us.
Oh, and Tagg's next time out with the sheep? The sun broke through the clouds, and the butterflies flitted, and she was everything I knew she could be and more! Everything was magical and wonderful, and it felt like a moment frozen in time.
Here's a link to the Youtube Video from last Sunday.