At least in this one regard, Cooper is a lot like me, or I am a lot like him. We both get worried, feel insecure, and need help and reassurance when we don’t understand what we’re supposed to be doing.
Fortunately, Cooper has me. When he is insecure and worried doing his Long Sit and Long Down in the Obedience ring, as he was during both trials this weekend, he can get up and walk over to me. It’s not what I want him to do, but when he does, I will hold his collar and let him stand next to me, where he is safe.
And I have Cooper. While he’s not particularly good at having an intellectual discussion about what he’s worried about, he is a good dog who loves me. He’ll keep going into the Obedience ring because I want him to. So it’s my job and my privilege to help him understand what I want him to do.
But I need help, too. I am a Novice A person with a Novice A dog. This is my first performance dog and my first experience with Obedience training, with only a few months experience. I’m clumsy, I make a lot of mistakes, I don’t know a lot of things that other handlers just seem to get without effort. I’m not naturally talented at dog training. I don’t see where and how I’m going wrong, just that it’s not working.
So, this weekend, after Cooper didn’t qualify at either trial, I knew something had to change. It’s just that I can’t figure out what. Am I doing everything okay, and I just need to be more patient? Am I doing something wrong? Is there something else that I should be doing that would be better?
Or maybe I should just quit.
I thought about that a lot on Sunday after our failure in the Obedience ring. I sort of mechanically put Cooper up in his crate with his toy and a bucket of water, and then walked toward the building where the conformation dog show was being held.
On my way, I ran into Tammy. Seeing her, I started to cry. She’d already heard that Cooper didn’t qualify again, so she didn’t ask me what was wrong. She just put her arms around me and said, “I am so proud of you.”
No advice. No scolding about how I shouldn’t have put Cooper into the ring if he wasn’t ready. No trying to convince me that I shouldn’t feel sad. Just, “I am so proud of you.”
And then she told me some stories about her dogs: the dog that took 20 trials before qualifying the first time, the dog that never could get a CDX title, the various creative ways her dogs have expressed their opinions about competition Obedience.
And she also said that she’s sure that Cooper and I can do it.
So probably, we can.