Finding safety

Photo credit: Gracie’s mum

Last weekend, I felt as if Ladybug had won a gold medal. She and I visited our first flyball tournament, didn’t have a meltdown, and made new friends. Watching her run around with the other dogs gave me a soaring, exhilarating joy. I want her to run free, but only if she can do so without coming to harm. The world is full of nasty, hurtful things and people who could cripple or kill her in an instant.

The paradox?

Learning to run free (in a safe environment and surrounded by her new “pack,” our flyball team) has meant locking her in a cage.

I still want to cry, sometimes, at the thought of her behind bars. But she and the team are doing everything in their power to reassure me she is okay. She didn’t jump into Tracy’s van without a treat (which she was doing by the end of last weekend), and even with a treat she was a bit hesitant. Not because she was afraid (even I could see that), but because all kinds of fun things happened outside. We went for walks, played with other dogs, and she sniffed all kinds of disgusting piles. She was fine in the van for over an hour ride each way, and she was fine periodically throughout the day. Several people made a point of telling me that she was relaxed, resting, and calmly watchful of everything going on.

Huge progress: while in the crate, she allowed people to come near her! Even to sit on the bumper of the van. In our car, she feels threatened when anyone (even someone she likes) comes near. Maybe the bars help her feel safe that no one will come in? No one will thrust a hand at her, shove their face into hers, or pick her up.

I’m still amazed that we needed the canny collar almost constantly just two months ago, but I can’t remember the last time I put it on her. She’s been great about listening to me when I tell her to stop pulling on the leash. She doesn’t always choose to follow through, lol, but she clearly knows what she should do. At practice last Wednesday, she didn’t mind at all when first Lisa and then Nicky held her to practice running toward me.

It’s like our early practice in walking off-leash. I let her walk a few steps away from me, and she turned back to check on me. I let her walk a bit more, and she waited until I returned to her. The more I trust her, the more she trusts me. The more she trusts me, the more I trust her. (Except then she runs toward poop or barks at a postman.) I’m always afraid she will make a mistake or choice (out of fear or puppy naughtiness) that someone will use as justification for hurting her. I expect her to behave perfectly, as if that will keep her safe.

Something happened at the tournament today that made me worry about my and Ladybug’s safety while participating in flyball. No matter how perfectly she behaves, and no matter how hard I work on training with her, there will always be that one dog or person who could hurt her. I kept her on leash all day, except when our team was together with our dogs. (Strength in numbers.) I’m not positive I’ll feel comfortable walking her by myself in the future (at the tournament sites). No witnesses if something happens, and no one to help. Up until now, we’ve enjoyed walking around quiet corners of the sites (as other dogs get energy out by racing, and she’s not doing that yet). Until/unless something is resolved, I’m going to be wary. Worried.

Fortunately, that’s just me. Ladybug was a star. Had a little play session with Brogan, a cute staffie (I think? Still not great at identifying dogs), and she had another fabulous zoomies session with Scout. It was great to see Scout, Brogan, and Reuben all ask to play with her. Scout barked at her when she was too slow to respond. 😀 Poor Reuben got the short end of the stick today, but he had plenty of other playmates.

Oh, and another proud moment! She went up to bother Lexi (an older collie who is not impressed by impudent pups getting into her face), and she stopped! I think Lexi gave her a good hard stare, and our fearless puppy explorer actually read the situation correctly. Very proud of her for responding appropriately!

At practice last Wednesday, I’d asked people not to give her any treats (because she hadn’t eaten anything all day). Turns out that she did just fine! Quite surprised and pleased to realize that she no longer needs treats to allow people to approach her, at least for now. Lisa pointed out that people tend to look at her while giving treats, and at this point she’ll do better with being ignored. She doesn’t mind people coming close to her/us if she knows they won’t bother her, and she doesn’t mind safe people interacting with her if she’s getting to practice flyball technique. Not a single peep from her when Nicky held her collar (first time ever!) to practice runbacks. This was all without getting any treats, too. 🙂

 

(Puppy yoga interlude)

At puppy yoga, we had another wonderful session. We had the class to ourselves for the third time in a row, which was amazing. Ellen had even popped popcorn (trying to find a bland training treat that won’t upset Ladybug’s stomach), and Ladybug thought that was great. We worked almost the entire hour without a break (just tiny snuffle mat breaks now and then), and she loved the new position. We started doing head between paws, but she shifted to lie back on one hip. Since she kept doing it, we decided to capture the behavior. She loved it. 😀 Got all the way on one side and even rested her cheek on the mat. It’s cute to see her desperately eager to train/learn/be rewarded while learning poses that help her relax and calm down.

I was particularly proud of her for successfully struggling through confusion. In the past, she’s gotten upset or discouraged when she doesn’t get something right immediately. (So glad she’s outgrowing this! It made me reluctant to train her.) This time, she put a paw on my knee, leaned in, and gave me her sweetest, most endearing look. It was very hard not to fuss over her, but I managed it. After a little pause, she offered something closer to what we were learning.

She very much likes flopping onto one side for a treat now. 😀 Impressive as she’s never liked being on her side or back in front of most people, but especially with people she doesn’t know well. She even went up to Ellen several times, mostly out of curiosity or asking for a toy or treat. (Ellen had made the cutest sort-of snuffle mats, soft fabric padded toys with crevices for stuffing treats.) Ellen was allowed to crouch down near her and touch her a few times (lol, or say nope you can’t pinch the toy).

Ladybug still is doing her jump-like-a-maniac thing whenever Ellen tries to show me how to train something, though. I’m not sure why! She licks me and jumps on me, not for affection but in a slight panic of, “OMG someone came too close to me!” Only it’s not necessarily about proximity. Maybe she doesn’t like someone else taking on the intimate role of training her? In flyball or agility, she’s allowed people to hold her for a few seconds or to hold her leash. Ridiculously amazing accomplishment and leap of faith, but it’s still something with distance. She doesn’t have to interact with them. Maybe, because she’s only been trained by me for a long time, she thinks that’s my role? That if she allows someone else to hand-train her, it’s violating a boundary?

I don’t think she was scared, or at least not in the barking-lunging-cringing way. Unsettled, yes. Fearful for her safety, no. She wasn’t responding to my unconscious cues, either, as I trust Ellen to show me a training technique. I trust Ellen 100% not to get too close, speak too loudly, or move too fast around her, too. So what makes Ladybug jump up and maul me when Ellen attempts to train her?

I’m fascinated and trying to figure out her psychology. Is it because puppy yoga is about being calm, learning boundaries, and letting her indicate when and how she feels comfortable doing things? So she feels more able to let me know what she doesn’t want? Or is it because the lower energy level of yoga means she’s more in tune with how she feels (rather than agility or flyball when she’s a mass of adrenaline)?

It’s so interesting to watch how she responds to different training methods and environments. She’s more tolerant of flyball teammates using more authoritarian methods with her, but sometimes it can be difficult to get her to settle down afterward. (Ellen suggested that this past week’s antsy-ness may have been due to slight muscle stiffness–she was walking a tiny bit funny–and/or due to my having a horrific week.) Maybe how I’d be willing to let someone hold my hand while walking on a wobbly log, but I wouldn’t let anyone rub my shoulders. Different kind of touch, purpose of interaction, and mood.

Ladybug’s been my only for so long (only everything, not just only dog) that maybe she’s protective of our connection. She’s slowly but surely allowing other people to enter our lives, but she doesn’t want anyone else acting in a mummy role to her. Maybe that’s it. Flyball teammates are aunties and uncles, teachers and neighbor-types.

(End puppy yoga interlude)

 

Two new firsts for flyball today: huddling in the tent and watching “starters.”

Starters is the name for beginner competition. They do declare a winner, but no one cares too much as you can’t earn points toward awards and levels. If a dog doesn’t get something right (refusing to bring a ball back), they get to go back and try it again. One dog ran the jumps, ran toward the box, and barked her head off before getting the ball. Another decided to wander around rather than return to the start/finish area. It was so cute! One dog had only come to a few practices but already was able to run back and forth. I think she even brought the ball back! Pretty impressive.

I wonder how Ladybug will handle starters, once she’s ready? The netting and extra people will help, and she won’t have the option (unless she jumps over the netting–she’s capable of doing it, but hopefully she’s learning not to) of running over to the other team’s dogs to say hello/beg to play. I think she’s become excited enough about running that the noise and commotion won’t scare her. I *think*. She’ll bark and lunge, but that’s not uncommon for the other collies. Even the seasoned competitors go nuts as they wait their turn. How she’ll handle strangers in “her” lane (record keepers and the judge), I’m not sure. She’s getting a bit better about men, but she’s still wary.

In some ways, I think it will actually help because running will allow her to channel her energy and excitement. In others, the pressure (having to do it on command, at a certain time, and with dogs and people in close proximity) will be overwhelming. Brogan, a cute little staffie, had to run about five times because she kept refusing to bring back the ball. (I can see Ladybug’s busy little brain figuring out that not bringing back the ball means she gets to run extra times! 😛 ) I liked how several people reassured her handlers that their dogs had also had mishaps when they began competing in starters. There was that in-and-out weaving of “that’s like what happened to me when…” or “you think that’s bad, listen to what my dog did…” Several dogs were competing for their first time after months of hard work, and they had fun. That was most important!

I’m still worried about Ladybug tripping on a jump, injuring herself, stressing out, or getting freaked out by the chaos. But…once she’s ready (and not any time before!), I think she’ll enjoy it.

Will I? I’m not sure. I’ll hate people looking at me, and I’ll hate the pressure. Even if it’s baby starters where no one cares who wins, I’ll still feel pressured. I’m happy collecting tennis balls in the back because no one notices that. I like cheering on the other dogs, and I like giving a cuddle to the dogs who will allow it before or after racing. (Very much missed Sky today, who was sulking at home because her paw was too sore to run.) I’m so adamant about people respecting my dog’s space, so of course I have to do the same for everyone else. Olly’s always good for a cuddle, and Bonnie and Birch are as affectionate as they come. Reuben came to me for a stroke today, and he was jumpy and licky. 😀 Feeling how slight he is (although he’s the same size as Ladybug or even a bit bigger) made me realize that Ladybug’s chest as filled out, and she does have a more adult body than she did a few months ago.

The other first was rain. Such heavy rain that races had to be cancelled. We huddled in the tent, played a quiz game (with some blatant and unapologetic cheating from Paul 😛 ), and shared snacks.

The highlight of the day, of course, was at the very end when Ladybug got to run around with her new pack. Worth the price of admission.

I may not be a great flyball teammate. I don’t care if my dog competes. 😛 The lessons she’s learning are so much more important than fast times or races won. She’s learning to be a confident, secure, healthy, and happy puppy.

I started flyball 100% for her. I had no desire to stand in muck and rain in all weather, and working in close proximity with a lot of other people stressed me out. I preferred to cuddle with her on the couch, but she needed something productive to do.

As I’m growing to like flyball in its own right, for my own sake and not just for my dog…

Will my resolution waver?

Will I walk away if/when she says she’s had enough? If she says, in a month or two, thank you but no thank you…will I recognize it and make the best decision for the welfare of my dog?

I’ve got decidedly mixed feelings as I grow to like the team more and more. I was very impressed today at how everyone stood together and supported a family. I’ve never had anyone be loyal to me, or to stick up for me when I’ve been hurt. I’m pleased that team seems to really mean just that.

This is for my dog.

Not me.

But since she is my entire world right now, isn’t that the same thing? I need to know she will be okay before I can be okay. If something happens to me, or if I can no longer keep a roof over our heads, this training will help prepare her for those challenges. If, God forbid, she is taken from me.

We’ve been up since 5 AM, and tomorrow will be another long day.

Better busy than sick with fear and worry.

Ladybug says that any day is made better by a tennis ball. ❤

 

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One thought on “Finding safety

  1. rozharrison says:

    Hi Ana,

    Sounds as though you and Ladybug are continuing to learn and grow together and gain more confidence, which is awesome 🙂 I like what you said about the more you trust her the more she trusts you.

    Hugs
    Roz

    Liked by 1 person

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