On learning joy from my puppy

In the last few days, something lovely has happened.

Ladybug has begun to trust.

After I wrote Sunday’s blog post coming to terms with all the reasons I’ve unwittingly needed her to be fearful, something inside of me relaxed. So she’s timid and skittish. So what? If she were a human child and scared of strangers, I wouldn’t push her. I wouldn’t blame myself. I’d watch, wait, and let her tell me when she was ready to push her boundaries.

I also felt the most enormous sense of relief. Once I realized that my fears (and hers) were about desire for safety, I also realized that it’s a silly idea. Being fearful might have kept pills out of her mouth a few months ago, but being fearful would also have meant no agility, no flyball, no scentwork, no puppy yoga, and no puppy play dates.

I’m scared.

So is she.

And that’s okay.

Since then (of course, it helped that I no longer had the pressure of her silver exam in a week), I’ve told myself that we’ll go at her pace. A new friend told me that her nearly two-year-old border collie still won’t let anyone hold her leash. This is a dog who is accomplished at flyball and great at recall. One of our teachers said that her dog never did any of the obedience exams because it was too stressful.

I like taking Ladybug to the obedience classes because (except for the one teacher we hated) it’s a place where we can practice everyday life skills in small, manageable steps. With the one exception, we’ve had teachers who are down-to-earth and realistic about what to expect from young puppies.

I realized, though, that the silver exam had become something I felt we had to do. If it hadn’t been for letting someone else touch her, she would have passed. She’s not ready to let someone else touch her.

And that’s okay!

Look at how far she’s come with everything else.

If she never is able to take the silver exam, we can still learn everything from the gold class. The certificates are a nice, objective proof of all the hard work we’ve done together…but the learning is more important. We’ll move up to the gold class and enjoy a new challenge. Getting to stay with our current (fantastic) teacher means I won’t have to worry.

In this frame of mind, and after having finally conquered a major obstacle of my own, we went to flyball ready for anything. We’d had one night of stress and fear (the first night) and one night of surprising fun despite our fears and worries. I had no idea what to expect for Practice #3, but I was prepared to let Ladybug be clingy and fearful if she needed. (“She’s fine!” a new friend reassured me. “Ladybug will do great. You, though, we’ll have to work on.” Cheeky! 😛 ) We’d had two play dates with team members, and I’d learned more about how the team and practices worked. She’d had some success with the chute lying flat (easier to get onto the box and turn around), and she loved it.

We arrived to practice almost 20 minutes late, but the more experienced dogs were working. That meant we had plenty of time to walk around the field. As far as Ladybug is concerned, we go to flyball practice so she can sniff everywhere, sneak a nibble of grass when I’m not looking, and gallop after imagined squirrels. She met the guy who helped us with the chute the first night (and has barked at ever since), but this time he had his absolutely gorgeous border collie with him. Ladybug judges people by their dogs, and she loves every border collie she sees (gets heartbroken when the older ones won’t play with her). She was fine with anyone who had such a lovely dog!

Our new friend had brought a harness for us to try. It has a handle, so people could grab onto that rather than touch her body when we practiced letting someone else hold her. Our goal: Someone else would hold her while I walked to the other end of running lane. I’d call her to me. She’ll gladly sit and stay/wait while I walk away to call her to me, but she wouldn’t let anyone touch her leash.

Until this week.

Lisa and Tracy started off with some hardcore spoiling. After asking my permission (which I appreciated!), they fed her treats. Not just any treats, but sausage. Even mummy doesn’t let her have sausage. 😛 After a few bites, Ladybug sat herself right in front of Lisa begging for more. (Shameless minx!) I laughed and said, “Okay, you have to give her back at the end of the night.” Lisa laughed and said she’d see. 😀 The first night Ladybug saw Lisa, she barked her head off. (Of course, it didn’t help that I was stressed and in tears at her barking.) This time, Ladybug was relaxed, excited for the treats, and calm.

During this time, a few other team members wandered by and gave Ladybug treats. She was like a little kid at Christmas! It was soooooo cute. I could not believe how much of a fuss everyone made over her. Even if she never gets to competition level and/or if we can never afford all the expenses of competing, I will always be grateful that these kind-hearted people took the time and effort to love my dog. It makes me teary just to write this! After all the negativity, all the awful things people have said and done to her (and me)…to have her welcomed as “just a dog,” an excited dog who wants to play flyball! is amazing. They like that she barks, even! Especially last week when her barking was mostly excitement to play or annoyance that other dogs got to play while she didn’t. (Flyball is technically work and a job for her, but she doesn’t know that. Either that, or she’s a workaholic. 😀 )

Anyway, Lisa and Tracy took turns holding Ladybug’s leash/harness while I walked to the other end of the running lane. She yelped the first time I walked away from her. It killed me to walk away, but even with my back turned I could hear the difference in her barking. It wasn’t the frantic, panicked distress she’d given in obedience class, where she’d jumped waist-high and nearly hurt herself in contortions to get free. No, this yelping/barking was confusion plus annoyance that I was walking away. She’d just had three people focused solely on her, and I was leaving. How dare I? I still had to bite my lip and blink hard as I walked forward.

By the time I got to the end of the lane, I turned around and saw her pulling on the leash. I took out her reward toy (poor little stuffed toy won’t be long for this world 😛 ) and called her to me. She ran like a maniac and jumped all over me! I laughed and hugged her. We repeated the process, and this time her barking was excitement/impatience rather than confusion. Third time was even better.

It’s the same skill we’ve practiced in obedience class and flyball, to wait and run to me when called. But this was the first time she’s ever let someone else hold her back. I could not believe it! (Life lesson from Ladybug: Bribery gets you everywhere.)

Then we worked on the chute. We started with the chute (I have no idea why it’s called a chute when it’s a square piece of wood…) flat on the ground. She’d forgotten that Tony had the lovely border collie, so she barked her head off. (Sigh.) I made the offhand joke that he would need to have his collie with him, as Ladybug had been fine then. Of course, I was joking.

Guess what?

He actually went to get his dog!

I could not believe it! Sure enough, Ladybug calmed down and began working with enthusiasm. He even came and stood right in front of the chute, and she didn’t mind. He gradually raised the chute until it was at a 30 or 45 degree angle, and she did just fine! Then put a foam pool noodle in front of the chute so she’d actually go onto the chute instead of just stepping forward.

Ladybug did great! Me, I got dizzy. 😛 Again, I was too slow for her and she hopped onto the chute to tell me to hurry up. I had to keep stopping and shaking my head to clear it. (I have no idea how other people do this without tipping over.)

At the end of practice, Ladybug had a great end-of-leash play wrestle with Reuben, a 6-month-old border collie. They were a perfect pair. Ladybug is so small that she was only a tiny bit bigger, and their temperaments were a great match. After playing for quite a while, Lisa told Reuben that was enough. Ladybug was crestfallen, but she perked up later when Lisa suggested letting the two have a bit of fun.

Holy crap.

So this is what “zoomies” means.

The two raced around in big circles. Ladybug and Reuben were well-matched for speed and strength, but he didn’t have quite the same body control as he was so much younger. He fumbled once in a while, and she had to adjust her stride to match his.

But…

My little babybug raced around the flyball field.

Pure abandon.

Pure delight.

Absolute, 100%, utter joy.

No fear.

Two days later, I still can’t believe it.

Oh, and a postscript…we met a new-to-Ladybug human friend last night to celebrate my success on Wednesday. One soft, squeaky toy and a walk in the park later, Ladybug actually let my friend hold her leash! And…and…and! My friend was able to hold Ladybug’s leash while I ran into the bathroom. Just a token whine, but no panicking, yelping, or trying to escape.

Just amazing. Absolutely amazing.

My scaredy-cat baby is growing up. Becoming more confident.

And so am I.

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