Miley had a few different things that happened that shook her world around that time. First, she went into season for the first time towards the end of March. She got pretty noise sensitive and spooky. With this first season comes all sorts of biological changes, including various hormones getting released into her system. As we all know, adolescence isn't always a pretty time and hormones can really mess with your head. Then she went through a false pregnancy, which has it's own behavioral changes and biological factors going on. And finally, she lost her big brother. Miley adored Heffner! What I didn't fully realize at the time, was that she also relied on him a little for a confidence boost. With Heffner around, Miley didn't fret when we were out hiking. Because of how I usually structure my training sessions, she also got to see Heffner using the various pieces of core strengthening equipment that I have. If he wasn't afraid of it, then she could learn to use it too. And then there was just his presence in general, that was so sure and supportive. In ways that I'm sure I couldn't guess at. Things finally got too a point, where Miley just couldn't deal with everything all at once.
That's when the meltdown really happened. I mentioned in another post how noise sensitive she was. I took her out to Hagg Lake one day and she was freaking out at the sound the water was making when it would lap at the shore. I decided to wait it out and it took about 15 minutes for her to settle down, get used to the sound and realize that it wasn't something that she should be terrified of. When we would go out hiking, just the two of us, she would startle incredibly easy at a variety of sounds. In general, she looked a little on edge and it wouldn't be until we hit the various turn around points and she knew we were heading back towards the car, that she would relax a little and start to have more fun. As for training? I pretty much stopped. At home, I was lucky if I could more than a couple minutes of attention out of her before she would start to shut down. I'm talking tail tucked, head down, and all manner of avoidance behaviors. No food and not toys were get her back or get her happy until some time had passed and she knew we weren't going to be trying any training again. This is where my meltdown happened.
I don't know what to do with a dog that I can't train. I am perfectly fine with a dog that I won't be competing with. But if I can't participate in the primary way that I know how to further build up the trust and bond that I have with my dogs, I don't know what to do. What do you do with a dog that you can't train?? Obviously people do it all the time. There are plenty of people who want just a companion dog and they don't want to do anything beyond teaching the dog to sit and lay down. Hell, there's even people that don't want to be the one to teach their dog that and have a trainer do it. So obviously this is not some unheard of phenomenon. I just didn't know how I was supposed to go about a daily routine with a dog that I wasn't doing any training with. I'd never been in this position before and I just hit a wall. I remember talking to two primary people about this and thankfully they sort of got me through it. I lamented (probably more like a pitiful wail) to my obedience instructor that I didn't know what to do if I couldn't train. She advised that Miley and I take a little break from training and just enjoy the summer. We'd pick lessons back up when Miley and I were ready. Then I wailed to my good friend Megan about everything that was going on. She coaxed me through explaining that sometimes you do either have to accept those two minutes and continue to try to improve, or you take a little break. It's not the end of the world. Admittedly, I was probably being a little overly dramatic. Now that I'm in a more rational place and I know how to weather potential future bouts (dear god please don't let this happen again!!!), I can realize that there are still plenty of things that I could do with Miley. And so we did them.
Miley and I went on plenty of hikes. We went out to the lake to play at least once a week and she thoroughly enjoyed it. I spent more time wrestling and playing with her. And I set up play dates for her. "Luckily" enough, the summer was fairly busy, so the time went by fast. Gradually Miley started to gain more confidence in general, so I started working in bits of training to test the waters. Things were going well, so we started back up with obedience lessons. Agility classes were actually going pretty well and we hadn't stopped going to them during this time. While she definitely had some things that wasn't entirely comfortable with, agility class was the one area that I could get a fair amount of attention from her and where I least expected it. Maybe because I wasn't expecting it and she wasn't feeling the pressure, she felt more comfortable and happy. Who knows. Regardless, she continued to improve and I was thrilled with what I was seeing.
She did go through her second season at the end of October and I was anxiously awaiting another melt down, but so far that hasn't happened. Yes we're finishing up another false pregnancy, but still no training meltdown. For either of us. ;) She is still noise sensitive and she is still nervous about the non-carpeted floors in my house, but her training hasn't suffered. As a matter of fact, I'm incredibly pleased with how her training has been coming along and I'm looking forward to sharing that in future posts! In the meantime, I decided to record a brief training session where she used the same equipment that she showed a lack of confidence with back in June. I did some editing and put the low confidence clips from June next to the current clips that I took today. I think you'll see the dramatic difference. :) The only caveat I'll add is that I haven't been using the step stool for the past few months, so she doesn't really see that piece of equipment frequently. It's also been pretty windy the past few days and the sound of the wind outside spooks her a bit. Which you'll also see a little bit of in the step stool clip.