Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tickets Travels - The Beginning ...

For some time before Ticket started trialling she would come along to trials with us so she got used to the environment. She was comfortable and quite happy, so long as nobody tried to get near her, and we would sneak in a little training on the practice jumps when nobody else was warming up. She seemed to enjoy herself and still as keen as ever to jump and play.

One of our biggest problems was trying to convince people NOT to try and make friends with her and to ignore her. For some reason, when you say to someone, “oh, she’s a little nervous, just ignore her” they insist on trying to befriend, feed, pat, talk to and get closer to her … this is the worst thing anyone could do to win her trust. Any efforts to interact with her were quite unsettling for her and she would reject them without hesitation, usually making them try harder and making her more desperate to get away.

I guess we’re lucky that our community of triallers is fairly small. Most of them know who Ticket is now and don’t even bother to acknowledge her when she is with me. She now accepts being amongst them, occasionally making the approach to interact, very very briefly (like a quick sniff).

The first hurdle was getting Ticket on course. We decided to enter a few trials to give her the experience and see just how she was going to cope or react to the situation. Getting to the ring often meant walking through lots of people and dogs, and very scary for Ticket if one of those people happened to walk directly towards her … you could see her thinking “they’re coming to get me” and she’d bolt off the other way. I always tried to reassure her that everything was OK but it made no difference – she was in her own little “zone”. We struggled with this and I hated it but I thought if we just keep on doing it she will get used to it.

Once we got to the ring we had to deal with the “steward monsters” to get to the start line … well … here in WA the steward normally approaches you once you’ve positioned your dog on the start line and collects the lead from you. Do you think I could convince her that the steward was not going to hurt her? Absolutely not! Ticket’s zone was unbreakable … I would hold her collar after removing the lead (otherwise she would run away) and as the steward approached you could feel her whole body tense and the horror look in her eyes would make anyone think that she had been badly beaten by someone at some stage in her life (even though we knew she hadn't).

Sometimes I was able to partly regain her focus and gather her up again, maybe get her into a down stay in order to get some focus off the start line.

Ticket is very fast and I was continually on the back foot. By trying to be with her and support her at the start line I was then way behind her once she took off. If I tried to get a head start on her and lead out she would break her stay, usually after glancing behind at the people outside the ring and justifying it with the fact that there were monsters out there (that’s also were the steward came from you know!)

This went on for some six months or longer … I became incredibly frustrated and almost decided to ‘give it up’, feeling a little like I was a failure and also disappointed that I wasn’t able to focus this dog and use her natural ability to it’s fullest. I could see the potential in her and I guess that’s what kept me going, as well as the fact that I personally hate to be beaten by something that seems so simple.

We continued to train and I regularly took her to the local Agility Club, trying to expose her to the point where hopefully she would be overwhelmed by it all and forget her fears … this was not to be. Ticket had practiced this behavior for some time now and was getting very good at it.

I talked to many many people … top trainers here in WA, people who had dealt with “problem” dogs, people with other breeds who may have had similar behavioral idiosyncrasies … I’m sure they all got sick of hearing my stories and questions.

In the meantime, I met Amanda Russell. We shared notes on dogs, training, etc. and after discussing Ticket’s issues and sharing my frustration Amanda has been the first person to come back to me with a positive outlook, rather than the usual “give up” type of answer.

Stay turned for the next chapter of Tickets journey …

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