When you scroll through my newsfeed you will find many shadings of great flatcoated moments – of which the most talk about positive and successful experiences. However, as in real life there is of course no such thing as succes only. Our human tendency to avoid failure regularly is very handy for surviving but it can also be an obstruction to success.
A while ago I participated in a competition with Rumi who has done really well in training lately. The competition consisted of 5 different elements all except 1 asking the dog to be able to switch from open to closed areas and visa versa. At the same time the competition had a high amount of distractions some not known to handler.
I started the competition confident and happy with Rumi and how she tried to do her best. Some things were simply to difficult compared to the level of training we are at in training but as the day continued her frustration grew and I was tempted to push and handle more than I would have liked to see myself doing. At the end I decided to pull her out of a set up that I felt even the judge was unhappy with. I left the grounds really disappointed and discouraged.
Someone asked me if I was unhappy with my dog’s execution of the work that day. I really needed to think about that.. I was not unhappy but sad. Sad that she had been put into a situation where I did not recognize the impact the design of the test had on my girl. Sad that I had trusted the design of the test. It is very easy to complain about a test or a judge – because it takes away any self blaming or responsibility of lack of training so instead I tried to use my sadness and hangover to contemplate.
First of all, what do I think is a good retriever competition? This question alone can take endless sentences to answer so let me be brief and forgive my incompleteness.
A good retriever competition is one that has various elements to allow different working styles of all retrievers and all individuals.
For example, a Labrador is very precise and ground working with his nose (generally speaking). Flatcoated retrievers are mostly working on the wind like standing gun dogs and in the best case they switch between wind ground scenting. These are things a competition can include in their set up. Another thing is distance. At which distance does a breed start working at own initiative – this varies a lot also within a breed. Allowing a chance for all types to have a good chance to do well could be an aim for a hosting party. I have now mentioned a few.
Now back to failure. I noticed that my experience of failure had disappointing feel to it. Disappointed that all our hard work seemed demolished in a few hours.
But more importantly I felt to have failed in protecting my dog from the mental failure and frustration she suffered. I should have given up the moment I noticed her frustration. I did not do this in time. Why not? I had nothing to loose or win anyway because I had missed one retrieve already. I did not give up because I did not want to be confronted with my own feelings of failure. So let’s say I failed at failure.
Later I started thinking how my ability to allow failure as a part of the proces actually can benefit my success rate. It could potentially allow more space to acknowledge what we need to practice better or differently. It could also allow more kindness to my relationship with my dogs and it could spare me the hangover of having raised my voice or used my flute signals too much. Failure can potentially be my best teacher in kindness and gun-dogging.
So we will continue to practice the art of failure a little bit more.. at least to the extend that I am able to protect my dogs from circus acts.