The last trial I attended, I was standing in the waiting gate to go to the start line when a woman came over and started talking to me about Penn. She mentioned she had a dog that was stupid like her. She ended up retiring him and getting herders because some dogs like hers and mine just are too dumb to get it. She went on and on about it all while I did everything I could to cut the conversation short. It was really rude, unnecessary and caused me to be 1000 times more anxious than I was before she spoke to me. I, to this day, have no idea what she hoped to accomplish by picking that precise moment to bring up that lovely anecdote.
Those particular comments were mean and unkind no matter what setting you imagine them being said in. It is definitely an experience and feeling that will stick with me always. I do not know what would prompt an older adult who had been doing this longer than me to think that was an appropriate thing to say out loud. I do know, however, that we have all been guilty of this in some way or another. Hopefully not an example this mean spirited but I bet every single one of us has said something that came out harsher than intended. Maybe it was a bad day for you and that person just happened to be the one you took your frustration out on. The feeling of instantly regretting the words that just came out of your mouth.
While there was no setting that was appropriate for those specific words, there have been times that I have even gotten unwanted kind words. I love advice, I can take criticism and I love discussing why something happened during a run. When I am training, all of that is encouraged. That is the best way to learn. Take different perspectives. We are practicing different things to improve and also having fun. There is no stress when you are training. Or, at least, minimal stress compared to a trial. Maybe people who haven’t suffered through trial issues do not have the same trial dread. Maybe it is a feeling that fades as you gain more experience. If you have ever felt it, you should try to remember it no matter how distant of a memory it becomes (and oh how I hope it becomes a memory). I do not need any advice on the start line. I do not need any comments when I am leaving the ring. I do not want your pity, suggestions or backhanded remarks.
When we trial, we set a game plan up in the walkthrough. There are lots of different ways to run the same thing and you usually know your dog better than anyone else. So unless the person stepping up to the start line has specifically asked your advice, leave them be. Offering helpful last minute suggestions or tips is not going to do anything other than make them second guess their plan. And second guessing has rarely done anyone any favours. Remember all those times you changed your mind on multiple choice questions and the first one was right?
Similarly, when a person is stepping out of the ring after a run, shut up! Offer a high five and congratulations if it was a good run. If it wasn’t? They know where it fell apart. They know why it fell apart. And they are usually acutely aware that it did, indeed, fall apart at some point. Most likely, they do not want to walk out the ring and immediately have advice thrown at them or discuss what they could have done differently. No matter how well intentioned it is. People need time to decompress. Ask me how I know.
I have had so many kind people offer advice before I have even had a chance to mentally separate myself from the run. In the state of frustration, I am not going to be able to take anything you are currently saying in a positive way. Also, advice that wasn’t asked for gets old fast. Sure, the first ten times I heard to keep Penn focused going into the ring I could nod, smile and say thanks. The millionth time, however, I was a little less noddy and thankful. And I definitely was not smiling. So, while I recognize that all of the advice comes from a good place with good intentions, it becomes overwhelming. If you do not know the handler and dog personally, do not offer suggestions unless they ask. Seriously. Chances are, it isn’t the first time they have had this issue. Your suggestions are not earth shattering so they have already tried some variation of them and probably will just leave them wanting to punch you.
One trial, so many people had opinions on me and Penn and our relationship (or lack thereof), that I stood there and cried. I got so sick of repeating myself and listening to people and I felt cornered by people and it was awful. If you see someone struggling, offer a sympathetic smile and an ‘We have all been there’ look and move along. Trust me. If they care what your thoughts are, they will ask. If they don’t, you should be thankful you didn’t waste your breath. Win-win. You’re welcome.