Some days I feel like I’d give anything to go back in time with Bolt. I want him 3 again: wild, with boundless potential. I’d like to shake myself then, fix the footwork that was so obviously wrong, change her mentality. I want to go back and relive everything with him again— knowing that there’s so much I’d do differently. When Seeker came to me in June, I remembered all the things I said I’d change this time around.
That’s what we usually say, isn’t it? How different our foundation would be, how we’d train this or that better if only we’d known. Our next dog will have a start line. Our next dog won’t bark by the ring. Our next dog will threadle on verbal in his sleep. (The next dog will whine less). But it’s not as simple as that. What I love so much about training is the piece that makes it so very difficult: every dog is an individual, and all individuals learn differently. If I couldn’t go back in time, I’d clone Bolt. Even then though, with identical DNA, there would be nuance. Environments would be different. There is no one single formula and sometimes the best intentions can be lost learning these nuances.
And still, I’d make mistakes.
Seeker is teaching me each step we take together. He’s unlike the other shelties I’ve owned in some ways, but in others he reminds me of my past dogs’ best qualities. He’s independent, but affectionate. He is bold and happy. He is driven and excitable. He displays love through small bites, squinted eyes, and a gently wafting tail. If you’re lucky, you may get a lick, more than likely though, you’ll get a bite in your ass as you walk away. He learns quickly and offers behaviors quietly and with great intention. He didn’t come pre-programmed with a love to tug, but he is coming around to the game. He has shown me an incredible work ethic at not-yet 7 months old. He will restart again and again to learn.
There are changes to my foundation training that deviate from what Bolt learned 7 years ago (as well there should be). When he first came home I thought of him like a stage actor looking for his motivation– he hadn’t been asked to learn much previously and so he wasn’t sure why I was asking it of him. Soon though, he began to work for meatballs and his dinner and then later he worked for dish towels to tug and chase. Now, oftentimes, he works for me above anything else. I leave every training session impressed with him, no matter what we have worked on. He is more thoughtful than Bolt, more apt to get it right before diving around the stanchion or wing or tunnel without permission like a lunatic. This quality I think will make him honest— and that is something I truly wanted. He is, however, finding his speed more than ever lately and so I think there will come readjustment soon on what we prioritize: behavior or gusto. Maybe sometimes it’ll need to be both.
I do not think our foundation journey will be perfect by any means– I’m fairly certain none are. Things will be lost in translation as we both learn to speak the others language. What I want to do most though is to avoid comparisons. This will be the most difficult thing to accomplish, I think, with half the agility world owning new puppies. It’s hard not to look at others and wonder if we’re doing enough, or too much, or if our new dogs have “it”– whatever “it” is. We have friends and littermates chasing the same result and sometimes the same dream and so it’s hard not to get caught up in wondering if we are behind or at the very least caught up to them.
There is no use in that, though, as tempting as it might be. Sometimes we need to readjust our expectations, or change plans, but that doesn’t mean our path is less worthy just because it’s different. If I held Bolt against every dog and handler team I truly admired it would rob him of his accomplishments and what we’ve done together.
Ultimately though, I wouldn’t go back in time. I wouldn’t clone Bolt. The years we spent chasing perfection made us both who we are now (even if we never actually caught it). Countless sessions of failed footwork lead to understanding– pursuit created dedication and success. Without those years there would be no progress. Without all those mistakes there would be nothing to take away.
So I will go into this journey with Seek knowing these things. Knowing that it will be imperfect, it will be wonderful, but that ultimately, in the end, we will both be better for it. Because really there isn’t a next time: there’s only now.