a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Do I Give It Up?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Do I Give It Up?

 SUMMARY: Is Boost fixable, and should I even try?
(photo by S. Hitzeman)

Boost seems like all the agility dog raw material that anyone could hope for. She loves the game. Loves working with me. And smart! And a great start-line stay!
(photo by Sarah Hitzeman)

Loves running. Running flat out, can't be beaten.
(photo by Sarah Hitzeman)

Blazingly fast weave poles (during the periods when she's going in correctly and exiting correctly).

(photo by Sarah Hitzeman)

Pretty darned fast contacts, and an often spectacular teeter.
 (photo by Top Flight)
Capable of earning high or nearly high points in, say, Gamblers, out of 40 or 50 or 60 22" dogs including some of the top ones in the country or even the world (when she's not running past obstacles instead of taking them, or doing the "what, THIS tunnel?" dance).

She knocks bars, a lot. Even more than Tika ever did, and I thought Tika was quite the bar knocker. She has runouts and refusals constantly, and now even when she's clean I see hesitation at many obstacles as if she's *thinking* about not taking it or going past it. She hates coming in to me on serpentines. These are all things that Tika never had problems with. (Tika had other challenges, of course, but they were more clearly behavioral than performance, if I can make that distinction.)
(photo by Top Flight)

I have to fill in some background for an interesting conversation I had this weekend.

I have an agility friend who has had mixed luck with her Border Collies. Her first one turned out well; not super-fast, but plenty fast enough to place fairly regularly and to be a pretty reliable Qer. He has had some heat-related issues, but it's manageable. He's now ten, I think, and of course you start thinking about retiring a dog at that point.

Her second dog, about Boost's age, is an amazingly driven, super-fast Border Collie. She screams with excitement when waiting to run or when running. She can cover the ground like she's on jet fuel. Her littermate was a world team dog. But there's something amiss with this dog. When she does jumps, she does the dread stutter step, and knocks bars half the time. They've done every test that anyone can think of and they can't identify anything. But: When you hold up a toy, she focuses intently on--a point a couple feet above and to the side of where the toy is. She clearly sees the world differently than one would expect. An astonishingly driven dog who wants to do agility and can't. (Or probably could if it weren't for getting over jumps.)

So I was (yeah, as usual) moaning about how frustrating it is to do run after run with Boost and she just doesn't seem to get the idea that it's about taking obstacles, not about running. Or maybe she does get it and doesn't like it. I dunno. Or maybe I haven't trained enough, or on the right kinds of exercises. I *know* that I'm not a dedicated trainer. I *know* that there are things I could work on more, and I work on only some. But that strategy worked for Remington (mostly) and Jake and Tika. But my perfect agility dog--well, would she have been a world team dog with a different handler? Or would even a world team handler have thrown up their hands and let her go?
(photo by Sarah Hitzeman)

So my friend said: at some point, one has to face it -- We have our older, reliable, not top-of-the-line but close, dogs who Q and are getting older. We have our expensive, driven, excited dogs who want to do agility and can't. And sometimes that's just the way it is; it's no reflection on us as handlers or trainers, and we just have to accept that and decide how we want to handle the fact that they can't and never will be "successful" agility dogs.
Then, in rapid succession this week, people posted links to these blog posts, which of course now you have to read because they feed right into that topic. (Fortunately, both are shorter than my post already is.)

This blog post by Susan Garrett, and this blog post by Suzanne Clothier.

So. Do I quit agility with Boost and take up herding? Quit agility entirely? Keep paying money to compete and just accept that I'm doing it for fun and it's just a pricey way to have fun? Really throw myself into training and give it, say, 6 months of a very carefully planned out, assisted training regimen and see whether I make progress? Or am I trying to fit a round peg into a square hole? And how will I ever know?

[Feeling: Discouraged, confused, and a bit lost.]
 (photo by Taj MuttHall)


  1. Eesh, this is the second post I've seen referencing that Suzanne Clothier article. I think you need to read her with a huge grain of salt, she's got such a contempt for humanity. She knows just how to prey on a dog owner's worst neuroses and insecurities and push everybody's buttons. There may be good reasons for carrying on or giving up but I wouldn't let her influence you either way.

    I know people who have given up and carried on and both endings turning out well so I'd say it's a hugely personal decision. I will say if success in the form of ribbons/titles/placements etc. is where you're deriving a lot of your joy from the sport and your dog isn't able to give you that in a high enough dose to make you happy then carrying on might lead to a lot of frustration. I know people like this (and I'm not saying you are) and they try hard to change, to find some other enjoyment from the sport but it's very hard for them if they don't get a certain amount of success.

    I was ready to give up with Cody and got some really good encouragement from people who also had difficult dogs and I'm glad I didn't give up on him but I was willing to put up with a low Q rate and the idea that he may have an off day or weekend and be a total loon because there were other things that were more important to me than the ribbons.

  2. I actually read sort of the same thing from both articles--that the dog is what the dog is and there are more important things than ribbons. And I agree with that. Intellectually. But, yeah, I WANT ribbons and I want successes! And small successes like, yay, she got all her contacts and her weaves perfectly that round, go only so far.

    But at the same time she's a wonderful dog for me and I love her dearly. I think I will most likely keep trying, but I don't know how hard, and I don't know how much I'll regret not trying harder. Trying to be cheerful and upbeat about it all, but sometimes I wonder.

  3. I can tell you're pondering this because it comes up no infrequently. She's having fun...but you're frustrated. Hard to know what to do. If you have just as much fun (and she does too) doing the hiking with the dog thing..well...maybe do more of that. And some agility because you both have fun there too. Such a difficult decision, but it doesn't have to be all or nothing.

  4. Yeah, it does come up a lot, doesn't it! Waffling waffling waffling--

  5. I admit I don't know you, only having found your blog because I also have an agility dog named Tika, but I have found in my training that things tend to ebb and flow. For a while I had big-time weave problems and worked them, worked them, worked them, but that only seemed to make it worse. The problems went away when I stopped obsessing so much and let her figure it out in her own time. I guess what I'm saying is that there are times when you can train and train and train and it seems like you get nowhere, like you're fighting a headwind, and other times when you hardly work at all and the dog still seems to figure things out or make improvements. Maybe you are just going through a particularly bad ebb period with Boost.

  6. Amanda, thanks, I agree that at times it seems like that. My first agility dog, Remington, did much better at trials if we hadn't done much training or trialing recently, for example.

    But with Boost, this particularly bad ebb period has lasted about 3 years so far. :-)

  7. Have you ever tried a different approach to what you train?

  8. Yes, actually. And when I really focus on doing what we came up with as first steps, it seems to give a bit of improvement. So maybe the real answer is back to the part about not training enough on the right kinds of things. I should also stop complaining about things that maybe I could fix if I worked hard enough at it. (And really I don't work very hard at all, most of the time.)

  9. Just catching up on commenting and wanted to say I was surprised to hear you mention the Clothier article in reference to Boost. When I read her article a while ago I was thinking about it in terms of the unhappy competition dogs we all see from time to time, whether it's agility, obedience, or whatnot. The dogs who would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else. (Sadly, I recognize Lucy as one of these dogs in the agility ring sometimes.)

    I don't get the impression that that's Boost at all -- she seems to love and enjoy every second of her time in the ring.

    So, I'd say it's completely up to you and what you want out of your and Boost's time in the agility ring.

  10. Yeah, OK, I can see that reading. I just read it as any dog that has a challenge that seems overwhelming.

    And--of course it's completely up to me! I hate when that happens. ;-)