a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: On Expectations

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On Expectations

SUMMARY: Getting a dog who wasn't as successful as a previous dog
Originally posted in a Facebook comment on June 19, 2019

A friend asked (and I shortened this):
I was just wondering if people had a similar experience. I had/have an amazing agility dog who was/is getting older so I got a new puppy. [...] Unfortunately, my dreams that the pup [now 4 years old] and I would supersede the success of my first dog were unrealized and I let my disappointment rob dog and handler of the joy that should have been ours.

Has anyone else had an experience that the subsequent dog never met the greatness of the first dog? How did you handle the emotions?
Here's my first perspective:
As someone who lost an amazing companion (Boost) to cancer when she was barely 10 and *forever* one superQ away from her ADCH--something that we all *try* to do and some are more successful than others: Just have fun with him! Live every day for joy, whether your agility goals are being met yet or not! How you'd hate yourself if your last agility training or trialing experience with the dog was being upset about not doing well on course, whether at yourself or at the dog. I can think of many runs and many days that I wish I could have a do-over for, not to fix the run, but to fix my attitude. Seriously. Lots of people appear to be successful at it, but Sarah George Johnson in particular leaps out at me at this moment--she whoops and hollers and rewards every run as if they'd just won the world championship.

Here's my second perspective:
Remington, my first dog, was good... started out very good, deteriorated rapidly, and didn't get better again until I was able to truly own that preceding perspective for him (I just kept running full out whether he was off course or not and whether or not the error was fixable, and just whooped it up at the end). So, he ended up a pretty good but not great dog. 
My 2nd dog, Jake, was very good to excellent. My third dog, Tika, was super duper awesome. 
So it wasn't first-dog-itis when I got my 4th agility dog and we couldn't be consistently successful for the world. I tried to embrace the first perspective above, but she was SO fast and SO smart, and I really did expect that she would be even better than my 3rd dog. Damn expectations. I could've practiced more on our weaknesses, for sure, but I didn't always understand why things that worked fine in drills and practices fell apart on the course. 

I understood in many cases that it became my own level of stress--we started failing super-Qs that were gimmees for the skill set that we did have (e.g., "all I need to guarantee a super-Q today is for her to get to the #6 aframe--and she ALWAYS sends ahead to aframes and ALWAYS gets the contact" I mean, literally always... and then a refusal at the aframe. I KNEW how stressed I was by then and wasn't good at choking it down.). 
But I wish every day that I had her back in my life (fuck cancer) and wouldn't care about agility, I swear it. The irony for me was that, the more I cared about agility instead of simply loving running with my dog (which is why I started agility originally), the worse we did (both my 1st and 4th dogs). Jake and Tika dealt with it, but I was so seldom unhappy with them... I dunno which came first, success or happiness. 
So, your question, how did I handle these emotions? Answer: Badly. I try to atone for the times she knew I was unhappy (or people watching me on course knew I was on happy) by saying, See my first perspective above, please please please. Find a way to embrace it. I can't promise that it will improve your agility. But you'll be much happier and so will your dog.

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