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Aging vs Maturing

http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/aging/ It's DABAD and I'm hardly qualified :)

I feel a little funny trying to write a post about aging. I am certainly on the left side of the bell curve and my oldest agility dog is only 8 and running the best she ever has. I am not going to pretend I know squat about how to smoothly transition from actively competing dog to retired dog. I am not going to pretend I know about how to say good bye to a treasured friend, though of course with my profession I see this happen to others on almost a daily basis. The only pet I have had to make that decision for in my adult life was a rabbit that I never really even bonded with. The rabbit that I did have a strong tie to made the decision for me, with a several month long warning period during which he wasted away physically while still acting like the happy bunny I had always known.

While I don't know much about aging agility dogs, I am certainly in the midst of one with growing pains. Which got me thinking about how different each of my dogs' experiences have been in the maturity department. First Marron. The dog who was born a little lady. Never for a day acted like a puppy. Picked up agility like a total natural. Thank goodness since I certainly didn't help in the training department. I also handled like a novice. Held her back from her full potential. She floated through Novice, Open, and Excellent A. But never with any pizazz. Never with any flair. And no joy either. Almost as if she didn't even enjoy it. There were several times over the past 6 years of competing that I thought she would rather retire. She even took 3 months off completely after going to her first AKC Nationals in 2012. But then, just as she had all the times before, she came back. I started thinking less about how she did the obstacles, and more about how she felt about them. Who the heck cares if she knocks a bar, pulls off a tunnel, or misses a weave entry? Not that she ever does ANY of that. Naturally. Because the obstacles came easily for her. The joy didn't. So here she is. 8 years old. And still on an upward trend. Not even peaked yet. I don't know for how long she will continue. This summer for the first time I've noticed she can't catch the Frisbees that she used to. She's behind on them just a step. Not that she's lost anything in the ring. There she just keeps doing better and better. But I know that seeing it in the yard, it will come soon enough. Some day soon, I will know how it feels to face the decision of when to retire your agility dog. For now, I just treasure every run she gives me. I have her well managed mentally for now, but she has taken unexpected down turns in the past and she could do it again any time. But I sure hope not. I sure hope she just matures like a fine wine and gets better and better as we go along.

Spy is the yin to Marron's yang. If Marron came out of the womb as a mature dog, Spy has been the forever puppy. At 18 days short of 7 years old, she still can't be trusted loose in the house. Can't be trusted off leash on hikes. No hint of maturity, trustworthiness. And not to mention how long it took her to become trustworthy on the agility field. Granted, I got her at a year old, and she didn't trial until she was over two. But it was a total coin toss what she would do out there, especially early on. Run out of the ring? Sniff the floor? Run really well, only to whirl around to chase a bouncing ball of fur before the last jump? Perpetual puppy. Until she was 5. Then suddenly she started to settle. I always saw Marron as the steady eddy, reliable one. And Spy was the wild card, the unpredictable one. But lately, Spy has started to become as reliable as Marron ever thought of being. She isn't super fast. Even Marron beats her more than half the time. But she gets it DONE. Finally. I thought this time would never come. Spy. Reliable. Who would have thought? I didn't, but I believe in her now. And as much as I always called her my perpetual puppy, in recent years, I've started to worry about her health the most. Not that there's anything wrong with her, but she has had more family members pass away far too young for a JRT than they should. Her sire passed of a mysterious kidney disease at 7. A half sister (on her sire's side) and her dam of lymphoma at 6 and 11. A half sister living with seizures right now. Her mortality seems more real to me than either of my other dogs'. I always thought of her being one of those dogs who could compete into her teens. So long as she survives that long.

Then there's Kraft, the youngest of the bunch. With the most expectations hitched to his bright shiny star. He's certainly everything a happy goofy, almost 2 year old should be. And he certainly hasn't been pushed where agility is concerned. I actually feel behind the curve when it comes to his training. But then, wow. What he CAN do. Though obstacles weren't as natural for him as they were for Marron, the handling has practically taken care of itself. It's like he reads my mind. He does things that a dog his age shouldn't know how to do. Feels like he was born knowing how to play this game. His skills are years beyond my expectations. Skills-wise, he has practically already out performed the girls. But then there's that nagging little problem. One that I hope is just a maturity thing. One that I fear is a habit, his reaction to stress and stimulation. A problem I've never faced before. I've seen dogs do it before, but always thought it was just due to bad food, poor training, and stress. Poop. Mid course. And not when he is stressed and worried, but when he is flying in highest gear. Will he outgrow it? Will I have to manage it forever, never able to run him with ring conflicts or when a class runs ahead of schedule? Such a bright future to be sullied by such an embarrassing problem.

And then there's my maturity as a handler. Obviously, I've talked about how much of a novice I was with Marron. I like to think of myself as pretty seasoned now, pretty savvy. But mostly because I've studied the game. Not because of my success with the girls. Honestly, I'm a long legged handler with short legged dogs. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to get through clean with them. It DOES take a handler who will handle them in the most efficient manner possible in order for them to be confident enough to run their best and to place and win with any consistency. And I can do that. But I think the true test of my skill is still to come. Can I handle both an 8" dog and a 16" dog? Can I show my novice dog how to flow through a course, no matter what the challenges, Novice, Masters, or International, as smoothly as my experienced dogs? That's the next step in MY maturity process. Mentally, I have come from just working through a course to realizing that agility is more than just the obstacles. I have come to realize that with all the cues at my disposal, I can combine them to make it work the best for whatever dog I have on the end of my leash going in to the ring. Then there is the mental game. That's where the real growing up in agility occurs. Where do I peak? Human athletes in professional sports hardly ever play in the latter part of their 30's. I'm still a few years short of that, though I am able to count them on one hand. Does our success start to slide along with our physical skills? Or are we like Brett Favre? Whose smarts and tight mechanics carry him well beyond when his gray hairs say he ought to take up golf instead of football? Hard to know.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sep. 5th, 2013 08:07 pm (UTC)
Love it!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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