Saturday, March 17, 2012

When is it time to quit?

I showed my 1st dog, Australian Terrier Casey, in conformation in 1985. That was my first attempt at competing with a dog. We earned her CD in November 1986. I've been in the ring in several venues a lot since then with my 8 dogs and had a lot of successes, along with my share of NQs. One thing I've been incredibly fortunate to do with all of my dogs is to earn the titles I set out to earn. However, during the years I have been teaching obedience, I've sometimes had to have the difficult discussion with a student about having to give up on a long-sought title.

This question started rolling about in my head this morning during my morning bike ride with the dogs today.

How do you know when it's time to quit and give up on that dream?

Sometimes, the answer jumps up and slaps you in the face: your dog gets injured and you just can't get him sound enough to trial. Sometimes, the dog simply gets too unsound because of age or structure problems, and even with the low jump heights we now have in AKC obedience, can't jump comfortably. 

Sometimes, your dog is so fearful during stays because of a bad incident in his past that he can't help but come to you. Or your dog just isn't cut out for the rigors of the requirements needed for certain advanced titles. 

I am asking myself this question about Ty right now. She currently has Ch UD OM1 RE SH WCX. She has qualified for the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America Hall of Fame. She just finished her OM1 last month. She has 4 UDX legs and 19 OTCh points, including an Open B 1st place. She finished her UD a year ago this weekend. I do feel like I have finally figured out a better way to train her. I'm not sure I've found the best way, but at least we are both having more fun. She has been quite a puzzle for our whole time together (I got her at 16 months). Last summer, when we got back to field training, I had a big Ah-ha moment. I wasn't training with any test in mind, just trying to improve her skills. With less pressure from me, she was much happier and having more success. Most of her Senior Hunter legs the year before were shaky - some moments of brilliance mixed in with quite a few ugly moments. While she was much improved at the end of field season in the fall, I still can't imagine her ever getting all the pieces solid enough to pass 1 Master test, let alone 5 to earn a Master title. 

Her age is another issue. She turned 7 in December, which shouldn't seem old, but in Flat-Coat years, it can be. Sadly, two of her litter mates died of cancer recently. While I may still have years left with her, I have no way of knowing. Given how frustrated I can get with the mysteries of her responses, I'm not sure I want to subject either of us to those frustrations in whatever time we have left, whether short or long. During my trip south, she had a couple of brilliant days training in the water, much to my surprise. The 3rd day, when I ignorantly asked her to do something much harder (I'm still enough of a novice at the field game not to recognize when something is dramatically more difficult - thankfully the person I was training with pointed it out to me!), she had a bit of a meltdown. That evening, when we got to Lakeland and trained some obedience, she was positively radiant. She was fast, she was fun, she had confidence. She knew her job. Another Ah-ha moment for me.

Another issue is time. I enjoy training and running Gryffin much more in the field than Ty. It's not that he never frustrates me, but he is simply better at it. And I have my baby girl Sonic coming up. I really like having 2 dogs to train in the field (and in obedience, for that matter). Three gets unwieldy. 

Another issue is money. How much money are you spending on entry fees that result in another NQ? How about class fees? My first dog took 21 trials to earn her UD, but she earned a leg our first time in the ring. Her 2nd leg came 6 months later, and the 3rd a year after that. I did have a baby between legs 2 and 3, so that held me up a bit. But not much. It never occurred to me that we wouldn't finish the UD. In the years and dogs since, I just keep plugging away and eventually get there.

If you have been pondering this question, here are a few more questions to ask yourself:
  • Are you enjoying your training time?
  • Are you enjoying your trial time, even without passing very often?
  • Is your dog enjoying the training time?
  • Is your dog enjoying the trials?
  • Is your dog still physically sound enough to be doing what you are asking him to do?
  • Do you have a promising young dog you've put on the back burner because of the time needed for the older dog?
  • Is there another activity that you can do with your dog to keep her busy but doesn't take as much time and/or money?
My plan with Ty, at least for now, is to work towards her OM2 - I've never had one - and then see where she is on her UDX and OTCh points. I'll play with her in the field on days there is time and she has the desire, but not with any pressure. Gryff will do field work as long as his body allows him to, and Sonic will get to do everything I can throw at her.

It should be fun!

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