For about seven months I lived a completely agility-free life. It wasn’t out of a loss of interest in the sport, lack of time or injury. It was because my dog Ruby was showing signs of stress while in the ring. And it wasn’t just in competition; even in class I could see her enthusiasm had waned. She was trotting from jump to jump. Not releasing off the start line. Weaving at a snail’s pace. It was painful to see and I knew I could not longer continue down the path I was on. Agility is a non-essential activity that I choose for my dog – she can live a perfectly happy, healthy life without it, so there was no way I was going to keep putting her in the ring. While I was disappointed that training and competing was on pause, taking a break from dog agility actually ended up being a really good thing for me and Ruby. Once I got past feeling mopey and sad, I was able to gain some clarity, resulting in an even better relationship with my dog.
Here are some things I learned from my agility break.
I can enjoy my dog without sports.
There is fun and joy and experience to be had outside of agility. When we are wrapped up in our training plans and trial schedules, it can be hard to remember that. I got hooked on agility fast and I think I had too much focus on progressing in the sport, instead of enjoying the process alongside my dog. Without classes and competitions, I spent time doing other things with Ruby. We learned some cool tricks and it’s always fun to see them learn new things. We spent a LOT of time outside on off-leash walks, soaking up the sun and just quietly enjoying each other’s presence in nature. Seeing Ruby freely running just for the fun of it became one of my very favorite things. We explored new trails with friends. She and I developed stupid little games to play with each other.
My training was Swiss cheese.
When I took a step back, I realized there were a lot of holes in my training. So many holes. How did I not notice all these holes earlier? It took a long break for me to recognize I had skipped over some important skills there are necessary to be successful in training and competition. I understand part of why Ruby was getting so stressed in the ring once I realized this. Lack of clarity erodes confidence. Some things I had just never even taught and other things were incomplete. At first, admittedly, I felt overwhelmed by all of it, but with time, I was able to come up with a plan for filling in all the holes and building back her confidence.
Trust my gut and keep an open mind.
I knew Ruby was stressed out long before I decided to quit, but I listened to very well-intentioned people around me who told me she was fine and not to worry. Just keep going and she’ll get it. I wish I had trusted my own gut and taken action sooner. Lesson learned. Out of that I was inspired to find solutions to the issues I was facing and I decided to dig a little deeper than the resources I was familiar with. And I’m so glad I did. I discovered concepts I had never heard of, and to be honest, some of them seemed weird, confusing and I wasn’t sure if they were right or necessary. But I kept an open mind while I learned and started implementing bits and pieces with Ruby. Those ideas have transformed my relationship with my dogs and I’m so thankful to have new voices in my dog training adventure.
Breaks Can Be Beneficial
If you’re facing an issue with your performance dog, consider if some time away from the sport could be beneficial. It doesn’t have to be forever. But a taking a break from dog agility can give you space to consider the issue and be creative in finding solutions. It can allow time to connect with your dog and enjoy them for the animal that they are.