I have already told this embarrassing story in some of my classes (and this was previously published in my newsletter). Last week, I drove out to NJ for an agility run-through with Hank. A run-through is sort of a practice trial. You walk the course like you would at a trial, but you are allowed to use rewards and train in the ring. It was a beautiful day and I was looking forward to working on Hank’s distraction issues.
When it was our turn in the ring, Hank was already over-the-top distracted. I walked him around the field so that he could check out everything that was going on. In the ring, I kept everything very easy for him. The jumps were lower than usual, I only asked for one obstacle at a time and freely rewarded him with steak. Unfortunately, after 3 obstacles he couldn’t bear it any longer and jumped the 4 1/2 foot ring fence, ran across the field, jumped another 4 1/2 foot fence into a pen of sheep and proceeded to chase the sheep.
I was mortified. No one around me could believe that it happened. They never thought he would jump the fence, even though I warned them he might.
Not only was I mortified, but I was also angry with Hank. Immediately I considered retiring him from agility. When I was able to think about it more rationally I realized retiring him was not the answer. I love agility and for me to continue to do it (and continue to improve as a handler) he needs to do it with me. So what if I have to adjust my expectations? I will not be able to compete outdoors with Hank. This dog will not get me to Nationals. But Hank will prepare me for my next dog. And maybe that dog will take me to Nationals.
Does this mean that I am not going to work on his behavior around sheep? Heck no! Instead, I am adding sheep to my list of training goals. Even with adjusted expectations I am still going to work hard so that Hank can be the best he can be. Setbacks happen in dog training as in any other aspect of life. But it’s how we handle them that matters and our dogs are worth the extra effort.