Stress comes in many forms and is different for everyone. Some people stress over what to wear, while others stress over what people think of them, while others manage most things just fine, even the worst of the worst news. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
Dogs are not immune from stress. Quite the contrary! My current agility dog is the epitome of Chicken Little! The smallest thing can send her over the edge into a full on panic attack. She loves people outside the agility ring. Inside the ring or right after she runs is a completely different story! Once in the ring, people, including the judge, should not move, speak or laugh! Those are Pankies’ rules. If we have a very mobile or loud judge, I cringe because I know it will be more than she can stand.
I have actually asked a few judges to please count quietly when she is on the table and not to move around much. Some oblige but others do not. I have to ask the leash runners to stand away from her and not to speak or move until we leave the startline. I hate doing it and always apologize for being a pain, but it is just a part of our life. It has taken many years for her to be able to deal with her demons well enough to compete. She was four before she could do contacts in competition. Once she did them, however, she never looked back.
We once had a feral dog whose immune system would shut down if she became too stressed for too long. One time she developed pseudomonas all over her skin after being stressed. Another time she nearly died when she spiked an extremely high fever after a stressful situation. We tried to avoid putting her in stressful situations, but we lost her to stomach cancer when she was 12 years old. I am sure that stress played a huge roll in that.
My life has been very stressful for many years due to personal stuff over which I have no control. I am convinced it is one of the reasons I am battling stage 4 colon cancer that has now spread to my liver. Stress STINKS (cancer ain’t so hot either)
Way back in the 1980s, I did a lot of soul searching and read a bazillion self-help books. I read everything I could to help lighten up my emotional baggage. It helped me a lot, but I still struggle to release stress from my life.
One of the things that scared the heck out of me was flying. It truly cramped my style and I missed out on a lot of good stuff because of that fear. I was never afraid as a kid, but a very bumpy ride in a small plane when I was 16 did the trick. I hated flying after that.
One of the books I read to help me with irrational fears was by Dr. Wayne Dyer (actually, I read a lot of his books and still do. I love him!). That little book changed my life back then. It is called “Gifts from Eykis.” Amazon carries it if you would like to read it.
When I was young I competed a lot with my horses. I was petrified every time I was about to enter the ring. I shook like an IG at the North Pole going in and coming out of the ring.
Then, after I spent a summer in Ireland at a riding school, I was cured and never worried about competition again. We went to a show with a bunch of horses, but I was not scheduled to ride. They knew how petrified I was to compete. At the last minute, they told me I was showing in an open jumper class! I had three minutes to get ready. One of the kids had secretly brought my gear so I got ready quickly, protesting as I went, but my pleas for a reprieve fell on deaf ears. They put me up on this huge open jumper and sent me into the ring. The fences were close to six feet high and very wide as well!
Most of that round was a blur, but we went clean! Unfortunately, I was so excited that we were clean, I forgot to go through the timers at the finish line and was disqualified. I didn’t care! I had done it. I was never afraid to compete after that. I never get one bit nervous when I run in agility.
The same is true for public speaking. I used to be petrified to speak in public. Then when a fellow Connemara Pony inspector and I were giving a report in front of a crowd at the annual meeting, everything changed. I stood there shaking, scared to speak. I knew if I opened my mouth I might start crying I was so nervous. What was it that scared me so? What was the worst that could happen?
Then, we knocked over the mountain of papers we had brought to share. They went flying all over the floor along with our notes! WE NEEDED THOSE NOTES! As the other person and I bent down trying to gather up all the papers as well as our wits, we started laughing. We laughed so hard we were crying. As we stood up we could hear the crowd starting to chuckle awkwardly. Then we really lost it. With tears of laughter streaming from my eyes, I choked out, “Well, we may not be very organized, but we are very nice!” Then everyone lost it. It took quite a while for all of us to regain our composure. We finished our presentation and I never had fear of public speaking again.
Sir Cussalot gets very stressed before every agility run. He is extremely shy and always convinced that everyone is pointing and laughing at him (even though it is quite the contrary!). If he gets a compliment on a run, he will say, “They only said that because I am old and they feel sorry for me.” WTF???? I wish I were HALF the competitor he is!
His ring nerves go right down the leash to whatever dog he is running at a trial. Some of the dogs do fine with it but others feel that surge of fight or flight running through his veins and want to turn tail and RUN for the hills! Crush, Josephine, MiniMe and Stacy Winkler’s Cheyenne (the Westie that taught Sir Cussalot how to do agility many years ago) actually got pumped by Sir C’s stress in the ring. However, Millie (the aforementioned feral dog), Barque, Pankies, their mother Charisse Poodle and Xoom get frozen with fear when they sense how scared Sir C gets before he runs at a trial. They work great for him at home or at class but a trial is a different thing. Xoom is teaching him how to let go of those nerves but it is not easy for one so shy, self-conscious and withdrawn.
The important thing is to recognize our stress. If there is a way to let it go, then we need to do that, or at least work on it. I try to avoid people who cause me angst. I just pretend they do not exist. If they engage me in a conversation, I will be polite, but I will never give them more than I need to. They are dead to me. I have too many amazingly great people in my life to let those who love to cause trouble get under my skin.
When I see people at trials or in training get upset with their dogs for mistakes, I want to cry. Don’t they know that every second they get to spend doing what they love with a creature who loves them no matter how much of a butthead they are, is precious? When I see a dog blamed or punished for mistakes, I want to cry. Why don’t people understand that everything that dogs does is because of the training their person has given them? If a dog blows a startline or contact or flanks them or misses weaves or goes off course or you fill in the blank, it is NOT THAT DOG’S FAULT SO WHY ARE THEY PUNISHED??? The handler should get the walk of shame for the errors, NOT THE DOG!
I hear ignorant people blame their dogs all the time and I just shake my head. It is OUR job to teach our dogs how to perform a behavior correctly, and then to maintain that behavior so it does not go away! There is enough stress in our lives and in our dogs’ lives that we do not need to add to it by blaming them and punishing them for our shortcomings as their trainer and/or handler! We need to be able to put things into perspective!
Once you are told that you have stage 4 cancer and that your time on this marvelous earth is limited, the rest is all just small stuff not worth a sweat.
Rather than worry about the little things that could or do go wrong, go for the gold with gusto! Embrace what life has to offer, hang on and ENJOY THE RIDE!
For more blogs on this subject please visit https://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/stress/ you will not be disappointed!
Helen Grinnell King