This last weekend felt like one of strangest I’ve had with Bolt. Strange in that he had seemingly morphed into an unpredictable, contact-leaping, distracted dog I didn’t know. We weren’t ourselves. We weren’t communicating the same way we usually do. Our first run delivered a first-ever: a spectacular arc over the yellow bottom bit of the dogwalk. It happened so quickly I don’t think it even really registered until I watched the video (and zoomed and in screen-shotted it as proof). We sat in silence by his crate for a while after that run which, in retrospect, may actually prove too harsh a punishment for him. I’ve never known a creature so in tune to my emotions—however subtle they may be. Small disappointment must radiate from me and seep in to him. If my voice raises in any manner at all he is latched to my side, concerned. He trembles when I cry. His eyes laugh when I laugh. He returns a grin when I smile at him (we smile very often). The silence we shared over a blown contact though created a stress that simmered below the surface and exposed itself more clearly in the following runs. A stress I wasn’t even aware I was causing at the moment.
Two walks of shame. Another dicey contact performance. The silence between us was louder than anything else. We lost our ability to understand each other in those few days.
Not all dogs exhibit stress in the same manner. Some dogs stress down (Nike was very much this dog). He would literally give up; lay down in the field, in the hallway, wherever we happened to be when his stress threshold was met—and it wasn’t a very high tolerance. Other dogs find outlets to relieve their stress: zoomies, hunting for smells, saying hi to strangers. Other dogs, dogs like Bolt, stress up. It’s not necessarily an outwardly obvious thing either. It manifests itself (in agility) as huge extension, broken start lines, bars, and less-than-perfect contact performance. Dogs do not act maliciously, they don’t do things to be spiteful– I’ve never believed that they are seeking out ways to deliberately disobey us.
He was basically screaming at me that he was stressed last weekend. I was too focused on the silence. Too focused on what the results of the stress looked like.
There were so many factors in play that I had taken for granted. Bolt is a boy. He has become ever more boy-like in the last year (good LORD are those hormones raging). By Sunday it became apparent that there was a bitch in heat in the building. Noses were stuck to the turf, jaws quivering (ew). I myself had begun to stress about what was happening, our contact performance in general (why did he miss it? What am I doing wrong? He hit all his contacts before– always! Have I been training him wrong? He’s broken. I’ve broken him). We were a snowball hurtling down a hill becoming a gigantic avalanche full of stress and frustration. He fed off me, I fed off him.
What I didn’t know was that beneath everything else he was lyme and anaplasmosis positive as well.
I know we can’t be perfect. But goodness it sucks when we’re wrong. There I was wrapped up in imperfect contacts, and a knocked bar while he was masking any symptoms of tick borne disease. Could resilience and heart be any more apparent in a dog? He ran jumpers on Sunday in 21 seconds… 22 seconds on Monday. I only had his blood drawn because I obsessively watch him move and noticed he was slightly reluctant to play with our landlords’ dogs Monday and Tuesday evening (one of his favorite things to do at home). It was a shot in the dark and, unfortunately (fortunately?), I was right.
Stress doesn’t always look like we’d expect. Stress doesn’t always act in the way we think it should. We may not even realize we are the ones creating and expanding the stress. Sometimes it’s hard to hear what our dogs are saying. As usual Bolt has been my greatest teacher.
I’m still learning to listen.