When I got Mellie, the plan was always for her to do flyball. That was my main sport. I wanted to do other stuff – agility! herding! and whatever. I picked her out, the “highest” pup in the litter. The most precocious, with a gorgeous build and intense toy drive. The breeder knows I do flyball and so her guidance reflected this. Mellie had a pretty good flyball career. I made some mistakes. She wasn’t perfect. It’s amazing how well I trained her to spit the ball on the line before someone pointed out I was actually reinforcing this! Live and learn. Still, she loved it, she gave it 110%, and we had a lot of fun together. She was totally unflappable, nailing pass after pass on the line, in anchor. One time a loose dog trotted across all four lanes at a big tournament… right in front of Mellie as she approached the box. She didn’t break her stride, completing her run perfectly. We won the heat with a superb time and I was relieved the judge did not call interference. (There was no interference!)
We dabbled in agility. She Q’d a couple of times, but we never got into the ring until after The Disaster. The Disaster was an injury playing disc when she was 7. She loves disc. She was practically born with a disc in her mouth. Her breeder was the founder of the Canadian Disc Dog Association; her sire held a Canadian disc record. On this particular day, she must have landed wrong, perhaps putting her foot into a hole. I was throwing balls for the other dogs, and when I turned around, Mellie was lying on the ground, the disc at her side. This was weird, but I hadn’t seen anything happen, so I called her. She didn’t move. I started to panic. There was nothing in heaven and earth that would stop her from bringing me her disc. My roommate and I sprinted over to her. We gently lifted her up, and she lay right back down. Her right rear leg was not bearing any weight.
I took her to my vet right away, and saw someone other than our regular, beloved doctor. This vet could not get a drawer sign. “Partial rupture,” she said. My regular vet called the next day. “Get her straight to an orthopedist,” she instructed. “Dr. ___ does not know how stoic and athletic Mellie is.” The x-ray showed a horrifying situation. The knee was completely luxated, the upper and lower leg bones totally disconnected. It took a couple of weeks to get her in to surgery, where an excellent surgeon performed both a figure-8 repair and a TPLO. Mellie cannot take NSAIDs so we relied on ice to reduce inflammation. We did a lot of rehab, but in the end, that leg has never been really OK. She has permanent damage and degeneration around the tendon insertion points. And, predictably, the other knee eventually had a partial tear. Mellie has now had three knee surgeries; the first big one, a second TPLO, and a plate removal from the first leg.
She was able to return to do some flyball and agiilty before the second rupture, but after that, we knew she had to be done. At age eight, long before she should have had to quit, she had to retire from what she loved most. We’ve been searching ever since.
I decided that we would work more on obedience. She had been in many obedience classes and she was pretty good. When she’s on, her heeling is flashy and gorgeous. She’s inconsistent, and she is impatient. There is not enough running, jumping or barking! Her stand stay and down stay are great. Her sit stay, not so much… and all the knee problems did not help. However, I persevered and finally, last weekend, I got her in a ring. It’s a race against time, against the day her knees just won’t put up with sit stays any more.
It was not pretty. She barked! (I watched the judge marking her (Friday) and his (Saturday) clipboard each time.) She wandered out of heel position! She bounced around too much on the fast pace! On Friday, for the first time in over a year, she anticipated the recall. On Saturday, we made it to the group stays, but she stood up on the sit stay (and stood nice and still for the rest of the time). In a moment of confusion, I went to leash her to retire, but the judge reminded me to stay. At this moment, Mellie turned and snatched the leash of the other dog in Novice A — a friend’s dog — and tried to get me to tug. (Judge marking clipboard ominously.) She did a perfectly lovely down stay and off we went.
I felt like crap on Friday. By Saturday, a sense of acceptance started to fill me. By Monday, I was laughing looking back on her antics. She is who she is. She wants to tug, run, jump and bark. She does not want to walk slowly, sit still, remain silent. It’s not who she is, and she’s had nearly a decade of being allowed to bark, and run, and actually have fun — her fun — in the ring.
Despite misgivings (I’m a trainer, I should be able to fix this; she’s a Border Collie, what kind of idiot am I anyway? Why didn’t I do a better job on the frustration tolerance when she was a baby?), I get it. She doesn’t want to do this, at least, not in the ring. And she’s not quite old (ten in June), but not young, either. We’re not going to waste time not having fun.
Rally didn’t make her too happy when she was younger. But she really does like heeling, and maybe the rapid movement changes won’t whip her up as much as they used to, especially if I can talk to her more. It’s also in and out faster, so less of a wait until she can tug, or have some cheese. No lengthy sit-stay. As long as she can do the repeated sits, maybe she will like it.
We will also return to nose work. She knows all her odors and is a decent searcher. We have more to learn, but she’s pretty good for never having taken a class.
I have to let go of proving something. I have a somewhat naughty and disobedient Border Collie, but she is happy. I’m not going to fight that to prove something. It’s hard. I’m a competitive person. I’ve been expected to excel since I was born, and I have trouble motivating myself without a competitive goal. I need to get past that, for my dog.