A friend of mine called yesterday and asked what I would say about picking out a puppy; he’s going to meet his future puppy this weekend. Of course I wish desperately that I could go with him, but the distance is just too far. I was faced, instead, with explaining how to look for good structure and good resilience–and he’s not particularly a dog person (and he’s not planning to do any dog sports), so I didn’t want to send him three or four books. As far as structure goes, that was actually somewhat easy: look for a puppy that moves well and is comfortable in his skin.
And resilience? Well, I know it when I see it, but it’s hard to explain how to spot it. I want a dog that can be startled–but calms down immediately and looks to humans for guidance how to react next. Me, I don’t want a fearless dog that hurries to investigate (although I know people who do want that dog); I want a dog that stops and thinks for a moment before charging in. (There’s a joke about poodles: if you ask a poodle to jump off a cliff, he’ll reply “after you!”)
Today in practice, I was working with Dancer on two of her least favorite obstacles: the double jump and the teeter. I’ve been working on her attitude toward the teeter for years. Today I saw that the latest surge aimed at making her more comfortable with the teeter has been paying off. She was happy to do the teeter, happy to stay on the teeter and eat her treats, happy to run on to the next obstacle.
I then set up a line of jumps with the double included. The first time through she did the double well, without stutter-stepping at all. The second time, though? Well, I got too far ahead of her (by her standards) and she knocked both bars down. She looked stunned for a moment, and I apologized to her. Then I took her around and asked her to do it again, while I ran right by her side. She did it beautifully.
That’s more resilience than she’s shown in the past. I’ve been working hard on making agility more rewarding for her and it’s paying off. Her anxiety is lessening and her resilience is increasing. We can go on our evening walk and she will look at other dogs, then turn back to me for my response. I try to be calm and my new way to tell her to be calm is “let it go” or even “nothing to see here, move along” (which always makes me laugh, which is great).
We have a two-ring AKC trial in a few weeks–a situation that has been a challenge for her in the past–and I am looking forward to seeing whether she does the teeter.