When the Teacher Is the Student, Part I

Last week, I took Magnum to his first agility class. It was disastrous. An epic fail. Worthy of many, many cartons of ice cream.

In hindsight, my expectations were so sky high they were from another planet. Since he was familiar with the facility, and had prior group class experience, I had assumed we’d be ready for equipment and short sequences, like everybody else. We had practiced foundation behavior and obedience skills since he was 10 weeks old. How much more prepared could we possibly be?

Did I mention that Magnum is my first Border Collie? And he’s nine months old?

I spent the hour feeling like I had never trained a dog before in my life. It didn’t help that I arrived just as class started, with everyone on the move just as we came in. Magnum scanned the room, increasingly excited by all the motion. I put our stuff on a nearby table and debated whether I should bring a crate in for him. He tends to resource guard his crate, so until I got to know the group dynamic, I decided he’d be better off on leash with me.

We entered the ring to warm up with a few basics: set up, sit, down, heel, tunnel … whoa! What? I didn’t ask him to do tunnel! And now he’s clear across the room chasing after a dog! He was so quick; I half blinked and he was gone. Where was my good little boy?

I mean, literally, where was he!?!

Fortunately, Magnum’s recall proved solid and he was back with me just as fast. I sighed with relief as I held his collar and clipped on his leash. I could feel his heart pounding. His eyes were wide and more glazed over than the donut I had that morning. His tongue hung out the side of his mouth. He was done.

After 10 minutes, we were completely overwhelmed. How would we handle an entire hour? I wish I had brought in the crate just to give us both a break. It was impossible to help him settle. The moment a dog zoomed through the tunnel or raced over the Aframe, he morphed into a lunging, barking Tasmanian Devil at the end of my leash. Somehow, I had positioned us right in the path of the sequence, so even though we were to the side, dog after dog ran right for us. There was no room to maneuver, so I took him outside.

He headed right for the baby pool and sunk down in the cool water. He looked far more relaxed, even happy. I wanted to be happy, enjoying this milestone together on what I hoped would be a long agility journey. Instead, I felt flustered and frustrated.

Our rest was short lived. The instructor came out to potty her young puppy. She drew closer as we made small talk. I watched Magnum for any sign of the reactivity that he has demonstrated with some dogs. In a flash, he was out of the pool and standing tall, eyeballing the puppy. I mean, seriously? This little fluffball is a threat? Already tired, and now nervous, because the last thing I wanted was a puppy having a bad dog experience, I blanked out. Total mind melt!

Even though I’ve successfully managed my own reactive dog for many years and helped numerous students with their reactive dogs, I could not remember what to do. I allowed my own emotions and expectations to overwhelm my logic and ability to act thoughtfully. The leash grew taunt. I couldn’t remember how to loosen it or get us the hell outta there.

Of course, Magnum lost it. He lunged, growled and barked. I, in turn, had my own tantrum. I walked away, embarrassed and angry. From a distance, I could hear my instructor chuckle knowingly. “Come back in when you’re ready!” she said.

She wasn’t about to reinforce my bad behavior and let me give up. Damn.

4 thoughts on “When the Teacher Is the Student, Part I

  1. Thanks for sharing this Julia. It *is* good to know that even YOU can face this challenge. As you’ve told me many times, focus on the good milestones, and know that these setbacks can come at any time. A great reminder for me as we prepare to return to agility with Apex before too long.

  2. Shannon, you’re welcome! I debated sharing this story, as it’s very humbling. But it underscores exactly what you said – failure is simply a setback, a learning opportunity. Darby taught me so much about what it means to have a reactive dog. Apparently, Magnum has more to teach me. 🙂

  3. Yes, thanks for sharing your story! It gives so much insight into the REALITIES of dog training. And, helps to keep encouraging the rest of us.

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