Reading the title, you might be thinking that someone earned a NW3 Elite after a third pass! Not so! This morning I happily withdrew my Mini Aussie, Why, from what would have been his first NW3.
Why has been stressed lately. I spent 4 weeks in Europe this Spring, returning in mid-June. When I came home, life turned upside down for Why. Judd got sick and I introduced Powder into the home. Since then, his searching mojo has been off. Initially he couldn’t search at all. Now he can do a couple of straightforward searches back to back happily before he tells me that he can’t do it anymore. Quite simply, trialing him right now would not be in his best interest.
I wanted to discuss the issue of Emotional Stamina. Emotional Stamina is the reason why Why needs to be built up again, slowly and with patience. His sensitivity is not uncommon, however because he’s a sensitive dude, I can either choose to support him long term or ruin his chances entirely with a short-sighted focus.
Playing the Long Game
Why is 8 years old and has been doing Nosework for 4 years. He earned his NW2 this Spring with an Overall Pronounced and Third Overall placement. That accomplishment to me, is just as incredible as Judd’s third Summit title and Brava earning NW3 Elite in 3 tries. Getting Why to search WITH JOY is my goal. My goals for Why are entirely wrapped in emotions, not in titling. Taking this approach will preserve his love of the game and will keep him playing for years to come.
Anxiety does not produce joy. In fact, anxiety is a Joy Thief. When we feel anxious, our perception of the world is pessimistic and worry becomes front of mind. I promise my dogs that I will not ask them to search while in this mindset. Of course, this is in part because I love my dogs, however it’s also because I know that anxiety and loss of joy will cut their careers short. I play the Long Game with my dogs.
A short-sighted focus steals prospects for the future
You know the old adage, “cut off the nose to spite the face”? Of course you do! So many of us though focus on titles and Q’s that we don’t realize that this is in fact, what we are doing.
Nosework is an emotional sport. When our dogs scent, the odor information makes its way though our Primitive Brain… the Limbic System. Here, emotions are born and memories are created. I choose good memories. Because searching releases dopamine, doing Nosework is a gift to our dogs, especially the sensitive ones. To prioritize titles and Q’s over emotions literally robs the dog of this therapeutic outlet. I choose the Long Game, and I choose happy searches.
How do I know when to return to trialing?
Why is currently able to search in new environments. However, he can only do 1 or 2 searches before he quits. Why don’t I just be okay with this considering he won’t need to do many searches back to back? Wouldn’t he be okay returning to the car in between to rest? No. This is not a feasible solution.
Why needs to be able to search happily and confidently for an entire training session of about 4 or 5 searches before he can get back to trialing.
Why is that?
Why isn’t quitting because he’s tired. He quits because he has low Emotional Stamina due to his sensitivities.
Dogs with sensitivities use so much of their being just in coping with the status quo. What may be easy for other dogs to cope with, sensitive dogs must move mountains to do the same thing. Being calm in a new environment can be a dog’s limit depending on the dog.
“I think I can, I think I can”
Dogs with sensitivities are never “cured”. They just develop coping mechanisms and a belief that they CAN DO IT. In reality, they are constantly pushing a boulder uphill with the mantra “I think I can”. They can sustain this for a period of time until they JUST CAN’T. At that point their Emotional Stamina hits a wall.
When your sensitive dog says “I CAN’T”, it’s a real thing. Dogs need to be available emotionally in order to perform and search. When your dog says “I CAN’T”, he quite literally CAN’T. The only thing we can do at that point is to respect that.
We don’t want to get to that point
When a dog reaches the limit of their Emotional Stamina, anxiety has overridden their ability to cope and stay positive. Anxiety poisons the dog’s feelings toward the activity and towards target odor itself. Instead, we want to always search within the dog’s available Emotional Stamina.
When we search within the dog’s emotional comfort zone, the dog develops an optimistic outlook and JOY is possible. JOY is what carries our dogs through the long-term and makes it possible for sensitive dogs to move up the levels and have a long career in this sport.
This is where MOOD comes in
I wrote a blog on MOOD recently called “MOOD and the Sensitive Nosework Dog”: https://scentsabilitiesnw.com/blog/mood-and-the-sensitive-nosework-dog/
There are definitely things you can do to affect how your dog feels! The important thing is that you pay attention to how he is feeling. Building a positive MOOD will help your dog grow and build on his Emotional Stamina. MOOD is the key!
When in doubt, Pull
Sometimes handlers tell themselves that they will still trial “for fun” or “just to see what happens”. However, this will ultimately work against you. Your dog doesn’t know that you aren’t setting your sights on “success”. To the dog, the expectations are the same.
Searching with your dog in an environment or situation that puts your dog beyond his Emotional Stamina is damaging, potentially permanently. It’s ok to pull. I understand the allure of trying. Trialing is fun. It’s a social event. But unless your dog can truly enjoy it too, that fun aspect is one sided. Pulling out of an event is OK.
So today I am happy to give someone on the very long Waitlist a chance to play at NW3 next week. We will try later when Why can have JOY.
Totally on point Stacy. Thank you for writing it out and having courage in this crazy competition world to stand up for the dogs!
This is a fantastic blog. Joy is what I want for my obedience dog:)
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Awesome and insightful. Beautifully thought out and written. Thank you
Thank you for this! This is why I will never Trial with my mini Aussie again. His anxiety overrides any potential for fun. I find that if I give him a long break from training (weeks or months) and then choose a day to bring him to class for one lesson, he loves it!
He has had many serious health issues over the last few years including almost dying after being attacked by a golden.
For the rest of his life he gets to choose what we do and I am making sure he’s always relaxed and happy.
Oh how horrible…. Mini Aussies are sensitive to begin with (I have one)… and keeping him happy searching includes a lot of ups and downs.
Thank you so much for this! Really helpful <3
Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s me who is afraid of competing or if I am truly protecting my sensitive girl’s confidence… I hadn’t thought about this in terms of emotional stamina, but this is a very helpful and insightful perspective to help me better articulate if and when competing in agility will be our thing… If and when my kelpie has the same joy for agility that she has for mountain biking, I know she can start to build the emotional stamina to compete!
I work with a very sensitive two year old border collie. NW training has been wonderful for developing confidence, and just recently I can finally see some joy coming into the first search. But even after training primary for a year she really does reach her threshold after just one search. Emotional stamina is a wonderful concept. I can see she is conflicted because her desire and love for work is foremost, but must co-exist with this incredible sensitivity to the environment. Drive forward, retreat, drive, retreat. How difficult to maintain emotionally!!! Thank you for the concept. It helps me frame how I see and work with this delicate being.