Wednesday, May 4, 2016

More Than Just a Dog Sport

Of course, now that Tessa and I have finished her C-ATCH (YAY!!), I am in a very reflective state of mind!  I have been thinking back and just enjoying all of the memories of what it took for Tessa and I to reach our goal together.

The one thing that stands out the most for me is that - with one notable exception - I have never worked this hard for this long and put so much of my heart, mind, and soul into something with one of my dogs as I have with Tessa on this.

The exception - Speedy.  Really everything about Speedy.  Helping him learn to be comfortable in the world.  Helping him learn to enjoy training contexts with other dogs and people.  Working with him to be able to do live competition.  And - probably one of the most difficult challenges that he and I dealt with - helping him learn to control his stimulation levels so he would not be overstimulated by his own movement in Freestyle.

I put as much of myself into my work with Speedy, and accomplishing everything that he and I did was intensely amazing and satisfying.  I am who I am today because of Speedy and our experiences together.

I do believe, though, that after all of this, I will say the exact same thing about Tessa.

Both dogs started out with a great deal to overcome, and in the end both of them transformed from fearful dogs into bright, shining, confident dogs - in life, and in dog sports.

But . . . this was different, too.

Tessa and I set out right from the beginning with a clear goal.  And I knew that she was 100% with me from a very early point in our work together.

And, of course, Tessa and I were mastering a game.  Speedy and I were changing brain chemistry.

The thing is, Agility was never just a game for Tessa, and it was never just a dog sport.  Back when Tessa and I first started her Agility, that training really was the first place where I really saw Tessa experience real joy.  Something about jumping over things, walking across things, learning to tip a teeter, learning to weave, etc. tapped into something at the very heart of Tessa that nothing else in life seemed to be able to at that point.

And when Tessa and I started trailing, the most astonishing thing to me was that in the competition Agility ring, she always glowed with happiness and fun, which was something that I did not often see outside of that context.  Right from her very first Agility trial, it seemed that in that context Tessa transformed into the dog that she always should have been, and the dog that she always had the right to be.

At the same time, Tessa was helping me out in a significant way.  I was mourning the loss of my first Agility partner, Maddie.  Every time Tessa and I went to a trial, I felt like crying most of the time.  And Tessa was never phased by that in the least.  She accepted me where I was at and still put her whole heart into her Agility runs.

And while I might have felt like crying in the crating area, or while we were walking, or when I picked up ribbons, in the ring, my mind and heart were always right there with Tessa.

So, she found her confidence and her joy, and I found the way to move forward.  We did that together and we became . . . us!

One moment that stands out in my mind was the day we were driving home from the first CPE trial where we had run in Level 1.  The trial that was held at our home training center.  We had qualified in 4 out of the 5 runs that day, and it had just been an amazing experience.

I looked at Tessa on the way home and I said, "we're C-ATCH bound!"  And she looked back at me with happy eyes.

That was it.

Going from Level 1 to C-ATCH, we would have to earn 120 Q's.  We were in it for the long haul, and it was the perfect goal for the team of Kristine and Tessa.

I have never been a cut-throat title chaser.  Had something happened along the way that would have indicated that this was not a good goal for Tessa, I would have changed something.

But that never happened.  We ran into challenges along the way, but they were Agility challenges.  The kind of things you can train to overcome.  And coming off of my work with Speedy and Dean, whose issues were always grounded in problems with brain chemistry, the difficulties that Tessa and I faced together were really just worthy challenges that we both loved to dig in and work through together.

So, Tessa and I dove in and chased this title together.  And I am pleased to say that we did this with mutual respect, with mutual enjoyment, and completely in synch with one another every step of the way.  I was never upset with her or disappointed in her for mistakes on course, although I have to say - relatively speaking, she made very few!  I would take myself to task for handling errors, but Tessa had all of my appreciation and respect for every effort she made on the course.

Honestly, I would want to have exactly that kind of relationship, and that same approach to competition, with every single one of my performance dogs!

With Tessa, each level was never really a goal in and of itself.  Each level was a step that we needed to complete in order to move closer to where we were going.

Tessa really put herself out there.  She ran, she jumped, she teetered and weaved and tunneled over and over and over!  She found more speed when we needed it.  She ran in the heat and sat around in the cold!  She waited through long days, ran when she was tired, and she put her heart into every single run.  That tail waggled and that girl preened without fail as we came to the finish together!  And she did all of that with her whole heart and with great joy.

I gave up weekends, and drove, and went to new places, and sat around waiting, and ran and ran and ran.  I learned new handling.  I learned how to train Tessa better.  I worked with instructors, and took classes, and went to seminars, and took online classes.  I learned how have Tessa work fitness exercises.  And I did all of that with my whole heart and with great joy.

Tessa and I did all that together and in the end it really was the perfect journey! 

We reached our goal.  And the feeling is beyond amazing!

I love the giant ribbon and the bar that I got to decorate and that our friends are signing.  I love being able to write C-ATCH Tessa!! 

But most of all I love the memories of this entire thing.  I love to remember where Tessa started, and what tiny little steps she had to take at the very beginning.  I love that the real Tessa has left the Agility ring and is present now in our everyday lives.  I love to remember all of the learning that Tessa and I have done together.  I love to think of those shining eyes and that waggling tail.  I love to remember all of the time that she and I spent together walking, hanging around, and running and running and running and running and running!

Agility has been an incredible gift to Tessa - it really is one of her favorite things in life.  And it is absolutely exhilarating to run week in and week out with a dog who doesn't do it just because I ask her to, but because she genuinely loves it!

I will be honored to continue to enjoy the game with her, hopefully for a very long time to come!

Now we will enjoy it strictly for its own sake, although that has always been a big part of it for us anyway!  And that is a really cool place to be!

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