Lisa Bonker is one of my favorite agility handlers and teachers. She once told me, and I still hold this quote near and dear to my heart, "expectations get in the way of success." Just let that sentence sink in. How true for all of us at one time of another. We have these dreams and expectations for our dogs, ourselves, and as a team. Most of the time our expectations really don't jive with the training we've done, the dog we have, nor do they set us up for really feeling like we've accomplished something.
So take a deep breath and let your expectations go. Don't compare yourself or your dog to others. It's a game you'll never win, and always come out of feeling worse. Compare yourself and your dog to the team you were a couple months ago, or even a year ago. Are you making progress? Have you moved forward together? What have you successfully accomplished? What successful moments have you had?
Keep a journal if you have to. Write down the little stuff that really is big in the grand scheme of things such as: I moved to the other side of the street to give my dog more space; they didn't bark, SUCCESS! My dog sat on their own at the start line, SUCCESS! My dog looked to me rather than staring down the child 100 yards away, SUCCESS! My dog chose to work with me rather than sniff the ground, SUCCESS! We had a conflict free walk, SUCCESS!
Ribbons, titles, and other shiny accomplishments are fine. HOWEVER, your real success are the tiny changes you see in yourself and your dog every day. Once you start to focus on the small things, the little ounces of stuff that make your dog successful....that's when the magic starts to happen. Little successes lead to a big picture that really is what we want to see. A big part of our jobs as handlers is capturing a successful moments and celebrating them.
The moment you let perfection go and enjoying the successful moments you will FEEL the difference. A weight comes off your shoulders, you feel a little lighter, and you find more joy in working with your dog. Enjoy your dog for themselves, be kind to yourself, and be proud that you are striving to have the successes that you do everyday. That is what it is all about, enjoying this crazy life we live with our dogs and cherishing the moments of joy when they come about.
Now go play with your dog's and enjoy them for who they are. Embrace success and let the expectations go!