My dog Swift loves dock diving. I was looking forward to competing with him on this beautiful fall day, watching his enthusiasm, athleticism and drive peak as he launches off the dock and the look of satisfaction as he retrieves his toy and brings it back.
There were lots of excited dogs at the event, leaping and lunging at the end of their leashes, barking in their vehicles when other dogs jumped, and dragging their handlers towards the entrance to the dock. Some couldn’t hold their sit stay when the handler led out, and others needed to be held by a helper. Some were so crazed by the time they jumped that I wondered how their bodies must feel to break the plane of the water in such a contorted way. I wondered how much further they might jump if they were better able to control their bodies using their minds.
When our turn came to practice we climbed the ramp to the dock and found our sit stay spot. I walked to the edge of the dock with Swift’s ball while he waited to be released. He ran the length of the dock to the end and then stopped and barked, which was quite unusual for him. He loves to fly! He loves to splash! When I set him up again he stopped short and went to the access door to the ramp that led to the pool instead. Some folks encouraged Swift to jump, meaning to be supportive. One woman explained that dogs just do that sometimes. They didn’t really know how to respond when I told them I thought it was Swift’s way of saying he wasn’t physically able to make the jump.
We left the dock and I pulled him from the event. I walked to the registration table in the adjoining field and pulled our disc dog entry for the day. And then I found the veterinary chiropractor on site. When she went over him she discovered that his left shoulder was tight and sore. I was surprised and then relieved when I saw the tension on Swift’s face melt away as she adjusted him. And I was grateful that she was there for him.
My good friend and a student of CCC was competing with her dog at the event, so I stuck around a little while to cheer them on. She was early in the lineup in the first round, and felt a bit rushed to get her dog. She did her best to help her dog hold it together as they got closer to the dock, but struggled to prevent the dog from lunging and barking. By the time they got to the dock, the dog’s jerky movements showed how tense her muscles were, so much so that she slipped on her first jump, and flailed into the water on her second jump, coming up short on both.
After considering her dog’s mindfulness, or lack thereof, my friend came up with a plan to help keep her dog more emotionally balanced the second round using some of the CCC principles she’s learned. She got her dog earlier, and took her time approaching the competition area only moving forward when the dog showed her she could handle it. She added lateral distance from the dock to support the dog’s mind, and waited in a more quiet location until it was her turn. The dog’s movement was smooth as they set up on the dock. It was clear that she was in a thoughtful state. She was coordinated when she reached the edge of the dock, showed full control of her body as she jumped . . . and landed her personal best, by a landslide.
Later in the day she practiced more CCC strategies while the other dogs competed, and at a distance that the dog could be successful.
And in the Finals she jumped a NEW personal best! Way to go girls!!
The devil is in the detail when it comes to a dog’s performance, whether we’re asking for their cooperation at home or control when we’re out and about. Practicing awareness through connection helps us to support to dog’s physical and emotional needs, and improves performance in whatever we do and wherever we go. CCC helps handlers and dogs develop that awareness to strengthen the team, and to strengthen the relationship.
I’m disappointed that Swift and I didn’t get to compete today, but I’m also glad that I heard him, and satisfied that I made the right decision for him. For us.
When your dog says I can’t, whether it’s in response to a behavior request or in the way he carries himself in a certain situation, listen. He’s not doing because he’s being stubborn or willful. He’s not being a bad dog. He just can’t. Hear that. And adjust to support the dog.