Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mental Rehab

A couple of months ago I was talking with my agility trainer about some concerns I had about Maddie. There was this video of Maddie running in a practice match when she was barely two years old that was going viral on many Greyhound Group Facebook pages. She was so happy, silly, and excited. She did her first weave poles in public and bounced up and down on her hind legs gleefully. She is completely adorable in it.  To see it, Click Here. So where did that joyful hound go?  She is more steady and purposeful today, but she seems to have lost her spark.
 Of course, when I watch Maddie's agility videos, I second guess myself.  She looks pretty good and she always ends the course with the speed and appears to be having a good time. But my gut says otherwise. For example, prior to our runs she loves to tug... until we get close to the ring.  She will usually eat treats, but sometimes she won't.  She seems to get very serious and it is difficult to get her to be silly.  She used to dig holes in the dirt ringside and I was constantly having to fill them in, but now I am lucky if I can get her to dig at all.
I also never lead out anymore. Maddie starts her courses slow (even trotting the first jump sometimes).  I start the course alongside of her because I can outrun her and it often feels like I am dragging her through the first few obstacles. God help us if the weave poles are the second or third obstacle.
So I was telling my trainer about these concerns.  I said that unlike my other hounds, I could see Maddie being uninjured and perfectly sound her entire life, but at some point just deciding that she had done agility enough times and quitting. My trainer said something that resonated with me.... You always have to rehab something.  If its not physical, then it is mental rehab.  So true!  Seven had to rehab physically almost her entire career..... but mentally was bombproof, driven, and highly motivated. Riley was seriously injured several times and also spent a great deal of her career rehabbing physically.  Despite getting hurt and falling off obstacles more than any of my other hounds, she never needed any mental rehab or retraining.  She is fearless and she loves it. So with Maddie holding all of the agility cards now, I am spending a lot of time thinking about her. Agility is supposed to be fun, but I think she is feeling a bit squashed by pressure and stress.
So I have adopted some new strategies:

Warm ups are completely informal. I try to get Maddie to play, dig, tug, or run around with me. I try to get into the ring earlier if possible to get her to dig or be silly while the prior dog finishes their run.  I poke at her front feet and try to get her to play bow.

I am trying to be very cheerful and praise her verbally throughout the run. I already did a lot of that, but I want to make sure I am not neglecting and if I can do it more.... do it more.

Hide all disappointment. Maddie is very affected by my feelings. When she would pop out of the weave poles, I would definitely correct her with my reaction or expression.  Nothing I (or my other hounds) would consider sharp, but it appears that Maddie's perception is that it is indeed sharp... so I must refrain.  It was not helping anyway. The other errors are 99% my fault, but if I am disappointed in myself, I am not sure Maddie can tell who the disappointment is directed at.  So I must not be deflated about how I handled something.  At the last trial, I think I did a good job and it showed.  She popped out of the weave poles once and I just said oops and started her over.  I tried to be very neutral.  And then the other error, was me calling Maddie and it pulled her right off the correct jump.  I praised her enthusiastically for responding to my call instead of dropping my head and silently scolding myself.

I have to be careful in training too.  I recall a couple of months ago, Maddie ran very well in training, but then refused the treats for whatever reason. I was disappointed she didn't want the reward.  And as I was driving away, I thought how stupid is that.  You want her to run agility well and she did that.  I shouldn't care if she ate the treats or not.  She was probably stressed for some reason, but ran well despite her worries. I should have been over the moon for her perseverance, but I was not. I felt really crappy later.
So mental rehab is in full swing and I think it paid off in the last trial. I was very happy with both of us. Mental rehab will just be part of our routine now. Maddie has been training great! We only train for a short time 1 to 3 times a week, but I am trying to make sure they end with my heart over flowing with how thrilled I am with Maddie.