Those are three words I thought I’d never say!
After a failed attempt to visit another flyball club (traveling 60 miles in 80 degree heat with no air conditioning and a very anxious puppy), I decided to stick with our first good impression rather than continue visiting clubs. One more negative experience could put both of us off completely, and flyball is a chance for Ladybug and me to learn some important lessons.
- No one will touch my dog. No one will grab her, shout at her, or hurt her…even if she does not instantly behave according to their unrealistic expectations. (If this ever proves not to be true, she and I will quit flyball immediately.)
- Other people can help me train her WITHOUT stomping all over both of us to do it.
- She’s going to be okay. Whether it’s competing or not, or continuing to train or not, or even if it’s just going once a week to help her conquer her fears of other people…it’s going to be a safe space for her. Again, if it ever becomes not safe, we will both leave immediately.
- Mummy’s not going anywhere (At least, they’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming. I’d only leave her if I could no longer put a roof over our heads, which is a constant worry…but one I have to have faith will not come true). She can chase a tennis ball, let someone else stand near her, and even talk to a grown man without me disappearing.
- There ARE good men in the world. Not all men will shout at her, shove her, or hurt her. Not all men will chase her and threaten to kill her. Not all men will hurt me.
- Mummy’s going to be okay. She’s done such a brilliant job of protecting me for so long (even while deathly ill in the hospital, she protected me from a nurse when she–Ladybug–saw me in tears). I’m honestly touched, as I’ve never had anyone–animal or human–protect me before. No one has ever tried to keep me safe the way she has. When she’s scared for herself, she freezes and trembles. When she’s scared for me, she barks and tries to protect me. I’m going to be okay (at least I hope I will), and I want her to release that burden of protecting me. She’s a baby. She shouldn’t have to worry about keeping me safe.
- Flyball is fun. Chase a tennis ball. Run. Jump. Get praise and rewards. What could be better?
We had a fabulous practice. For one, the venue was easy to find and well-marked. It’s amazing what a big difference that makes. If I arrive late and stressed at getting lost, or never make it there at all–it hardly makes me happy to practice.
This time, knowing better what to expect, I took Ladybug out for a walk around the perimeter of the field and back. It’s a big one, so the walk took a good ten minutes. She loved sniffing the trees, nibbling grass, and cavorting on her flexi lead.
By the time we returned to the practice area, she and I were both calm and relaxed. When we met the first team member, Ladybug didn’t mind! No barking like last week. At least not at first. 🙂 I hoped to pretend this was just a walk in the park where we happened to meet other people. For the most part, this worked well.
I was shown how to do a very basic introduction to the chute, but this time with it lying flat on the ground. Much easier! It was slightly harder than the straight on and off we’ve practiced at home (as basics for agility), as it meant turning to come off the same side.
When I brought Ladybug out, we got to run in the netting first. Yay! She didn’t even protest this time, like she did last week (she was so worried I’d leave her there). I brought her toy as a reward, but she had zero interest in stuffed toys when a TENNIS BALL was at stake. She didn’t jump out of the netting this time, but she did nearly shove her face through the netting when a ball went through. Completely understandable. 😀 She did a great job racing after the ball. She brought it most of the way back to me, but not quite as fast. Still, just running around after a ball made her happy and relaxed. No barking, even when a male team member helped us.
Then, we got to work on the flat chute. This was a square wooden box with non-slip covering attached. I lured her onto the box with her two front feet, guided her around my leg until her back feet got onto the box (so all four feet at once), clicked, and lured her off the box with a treat. Eventually, I threw the treat onto the ground to keep her moving forward.
She was BRILLIANT!
And sooooo pleased with herself.
At one point, when I was chatting with the two lovely team members helping us (trying to figure out strategies), she hopped onto the box and gave me a look as if to say, “Where’s my treat? Stop wasting time and get back to work!” She got bouncy and perky, excited and impatient to keep working.
In fact, she had the same sparkle she’s had for agility class.
I’m learning something new!
I did something well!
I’m so proud of myself!
This is what I wanted! I don’t care if it’s something so ridiculously small that any other dog could do it. I wanted her to do something, get it right, and get praised.
She’ll do almost anything for praise, and she’ll jump for joy once she gets it.
We actually had to stop because I got dizzy (turning around and around to guide her on and off the chute), not because she was done. I let her play with her stuffed toy and took her on another walk around the perimeter for a break.
In between all of this, yes she did bark at a few people. But this week, it was more of an excitement bark. Especially at the end when we watched other dogs working (I kept her at the very edge of the field, as I wanted her to learn that the field is a safe place), she was clearly annoyed that all the other dogs got to have fun while she was stuck doing nothing.
She did try her GO AWAY barking a few times, but she got ignored. One guy (the one who tried so hard to win her over last week) firmly told her no. That was it.
It started to sprinkle by the end, and we got a bit wet as we said a hello to Kubo before leaving. Still, she was happy, tired, and thoroughly pleased with herself. Fell asleep almost as soon as we got home and slept through the night.
I’m so pleased we gave flyball another chance.
Oh, and another achievement of last night?
No one made me cry. 🙂
We really are going to get there, Ladybug and I. Whether it’s as flyball champions or happy fumblers who practice box turns for the next three years, we’re going to have fun. We’re going to make friends.
And every day, every practice…every moment will be one more building block toward health.
She’s going to be a healthy dog someday.
I just know it.
All of these lessons, classes, practices…that’s what it’s about. Focusing on becoming healthier and stronger, not on her illness and weakness.
She’s going to be a strong, healthy, and happy dog.
Or I’ll die trying. 😀