Hi, I’m Shelley, a small time dog trainer from the UK, and I’m honoured to be allowed to write for this blog, so many thanks to Kevin! I wasn’t sure where to start, but decided in the end that for my first post I’d look at something very personal to me, so am writing from the heart.
Let me set the background to this story a bit. I’ve been involved in dog training, and agility in particular, since I was pretty young. But by the start of the ‘noughties’ I’d fallen out of that world as my collie at the time had gotten old and I wasn’t able to have another. After years of waiting, in 2007 I finally decided the time was right to get a pup, and had a vision of this bouncing, handsome Collie dog who was going to come with me everywhere, and who was going to do agility, a bit of flyball, some obedience, and maybe even a bit of showing. I spent a while investigating breeders and lines, and in the end decided on a pup. Enter Fantastic Mr. Finn, my gorgeous new bundle of joy and hope.
In April of this year I had to make the very hard decision to retire Mr. Finn from his competitive agility career, all before the age of 4 years old. Since adolescence he has been a bit ‘reactive’ and easily stressed, but his anxiety levels have been steadily becoming worse and worse, and he is now finding life increasingly hard to cope with, and it seems despite LOVING agility, the competitive agility environment is just too much for him to deal with.
So my plans for summers full of shows have gone, my aspirations for my handsome boy have crumbled away, and he has had to pretty much retire from life for now. Deciding that ‘enough is enough’ was one of the hardest and most upsetting decisions I’ve had to make.
So what do you do when it becomes obvious your performance partner isn’t up to the task? When that puppy that was full of promise is not suited to the goals you have chosen for it? When the dog you bought for a specific purpose such as agility, obedience, flyball, showing or any other sport isn’t suitable for that purpose (be it physically, temperamentally, or motivationally)? Well, this is where you have to start asking yourself some hard questions and make some hard decisions. And this is where I know this becomes a highly charged topic for others as well, because it can be hard to know what the ‘right’ thing to do is, and opinions differ on what the ‘right’ thing is.
Personally, I think the first thing we need to realise is that not every dog is cut out for the competition environment or group classes, just as not all of us are cut out for the pressures of performing on the stage or coping with people in our personal space, and we need to respect our dogs for who they are and what their limits are. Finn is not able to cope with the stresses of the competition environment, and I need to respect that. This does not mean that I’ve ‘given up’ on him or ‘discarded’ him to the reject pile, but I have chosen not to push him past what is fair, kind or reasonable to expect, and I feel this is the right thing to do by him. At the end of the day, competitive agility is my goal, not his; dogs don’t care about winning rosettes and trophies, only people do. If Finn loves agility but can’t cope with the shows or classes, then he can still do what he loves in our field but without having a mental meltdown about it, and this is obviously the best option for him. I have to put my goals aside and focus on what he needs to make his life as stress-free as possible. It can, however, be incredibly hard to let go of your own ambitions. And if I’m perfectly honest I know I should have retired him much sooner, but I just wasn’t strong enough to let go of my own ambitions and put his needs first.
So what does the future hold for Mr Finn? Hopefully a more stress-free life! Quiet walks, calm and private training sessions in our field, naps on the sofa, and lots of love from his Mummy. Time to start putting his needs ahead of my own desires. Not easy to do, and I’m hoping I can be strong enough to be the Mummy he deserves. If I’m not looking out for his best interests, who is?!