Cisu earned her Obedience Trial Championship

I’ve tried to find the right punctuation for that first sentence, but nothing fit, so I left it off altogether.  I couldn’t use a period because there is no emotion in a period.  I considered an exclamation point, but an exclamation point cannot cover what Cisu and I experienced over the years.

An exclamation point would not tell you the beginning, where our string of successes made me feel assured of an easy road, nor about the years in the middle; the beginning of a downward slide that ended with consistent failure in every show and every class. You would not know how I found myself giving up –  filling out entry forms and no longer writing in her name.  An exclamation point would not tell how I felt when I drove to shows; Cisu’s hopeful face watching from the window, or worse, how I felt when she stopped watching at all.

An exclamation point would give you no clue about the hours I spent trying to do better, so frustrated that she couldn’t just tell me – in a way that I could understand – what I needed to do to make us a team again.  An exclamation point could not express the inner conflict I battled every time I thought about her; and how that inner conflict finally grew too great to ignore, driving us to a new plan that allowed us to return to serious training and competition.

An exclamation point could not explain how after such a emotional journey, the OTCH wasn’t really very important.  The title measured our success, but the success had already been  measured in the process; the validation of what was possible.  We did it because we could, and that’s what I had needed to know.  Could we do it?  Yes, we could.

Maybe the English language needs a new punctuation mark; one which covers the emotional roller coaster experienced in a whole story; from the  beginning (the future looks bright!), to the middle (something bad has happened!) and finally the end (we did it!).

You can read Cisu’s early story for yourself here:

That story left off with Cisu’s UDX title and about 25 OTCH points. When I returned Cisu to training and competition, I needed to learn how to handle her – one exercise at a time, so that we could qualify.  I had no real expectation of finishing the OTCH.   The next few months were all over the map; in some trials we were highly connected and worked well, and in others we struggled.  Over time, it became clearer to me that I could not leave Cisu “alone” for even a second – each moment needed to be covered – touching her, talking to her, or actively working her.  Rather than trying to calm her down, I needed to support her energy through interaction. I needed to give 100% engagement, and if I failed to provide this connection, then we would fail.  Cisu did not break contact with me, but she could not recover if I broke contact with her.

And she blossomed,  leading to a solid streak of beautiful performances, consistently high scores, and a rapid accumulation of OTCH points and awards.  Competing with Cisu became a chance to show just how beautiful competition obedience could be, regardless of the day’s outcome.

While that is the end of the story for Cisu and I as a competition team, it is far from the end.  The experience of failing – giving up and coming back – validated my belief that the answer to training problems is understanding the dog in front of you – what matters to her.  Cisu taught me that all the positive methods in the world won’t work if the dog isn’t buying into the program.  I must actively search for the games, motivators, and relationship builders – as many as possible – that will support love of work and competition.  There is clearly much to learn when the dog isn’t going along with the program.

If you have been following Lyra’s progress over the past several months, then you have seen what Cisu has given to me.  Lyra is the end product of Cisu’s struggles – a way to approach training with respect for the dog and an overriding responsibility to keep training and competition enjoyable for both members of the team, regardless of where the scores fall in formal competitions.

Cisu, I am so grateful to you; what a patient and forgiving teacher you turned out to be.

Here is Cisu’s final run with a score of 198 out of Utility B: and her open run: