Gibson is now retired from the show ring. Try as we might, we were unable to get that second major and his championship. I really don't know what happened to cause him to not like shows at all now, but this past week-end showed me that it would be unfair to him to continue this goal.
I was thinking in July that this was a possibility, but then Gibson got his first major the last show of the Independence cluster. I started working very hard after that to build on his confidence and dispel those ring jitters once and for all.
The two shows in September showed some positive results of my efforts. He moved the best he ever had, although he still wasn't comfortable with the judge's exam. Gibson really does like his routine and familiar places so I attributed the outside show site to his uneasiness. I set the goal to finish his championship at the Turkey Cluster shows, a show site he'd been to frequently.
During October and up until the show, I exposed Gibson to every situation that he preferred to avoid. We took daily walks, right when the school bus or trash trucks came through. The trash cans with the blowing lids? That was the perfect place to stop for a treat! Ditto for the end of our road with the heavy, early morning commuter traffic. Within a couple of weeks, Gibson, while not completely comfortable, was confident enough to handle each situation. Better yet, he would watch me for cues and trust me that he didn't need to panic.
I thought we had our problems solved! Suddenly, almost every type of situation that used to give Gibson some anxiety was not an issue. The dog that would rush across his yard and bark and growl at us? Gibson barely glanced at him. A different route for our daily walk? Great, new scents to explore! The deflated helium balloon hanging from a mailbox? Okay, that was a bit too different, but Gibson showed some initiative and put a tentative nose out to make sure it wasn't too scary.
My own confidence was building with each successful outing. I figured winning this major was in the bag--a piece of cake! But the day before the first show, Gibson did not do well on our walk. We took our new route and he was apprehensive over things I didn't even see. He clearly wanted to go home. He settled down during his bath and grooming but then started to get nervous as he saw me packing up the show equipment.
The next day, Gibson started shaking when I went to put him into the car, something he hadn't done for awhile. Once in his car crate, though, he settled right down and slept most of the trip. He wasn't as relaxed on the grooming table at the show as he normally was but I figured he was feeling my excitement over the win that I was sure was coming our way.
We stood outside the ring to watch the Rough Collie entries. Gibson was the most relaxed I had ever seen him at a show! He was nibbling on bait, watching the show and standing in a show position. All of a sudden, he tensed up and I could see his anxiety starting. I didn't see or hear anything to cause it, but our day went downhill from there. Gibson didn't even win his class.
We went home and I tried to put it out of my mind. Gibson and I spent the evening watching t.v. and sharing a bag of popcorn. The next day, he was more relaxed during our pre-show prep and he did show better, but still didn't win his class. I wasn't too worried though. The judge for the final day was the one who gave Gibson a major reserve in July. We were competing against most of the same dogs from that show and the judge didn't seem to mind then if Gibson didn't stand perfectly for the exam.
Everything was going well before our ring time. Gibson was happy on the grooming table, was taking bait and I couldn't wait to get into the ring. But, once again, Gibson developed a severe case of nerves as we stood outside the ring. He seemed to be a bit better as we went into the ring but then a dryer started just as the judge came over to examine him. Gibson has certainly heard that noise often enough and should be able to show through it. While he's never comfortable with it, he just plastered himself against my legs and tried to get away from the judge. The judge was nice, said he was obviously a mama's boy but I knew there would be no championship for us.
I was disappointed and kept going over the shows in my head, wondering what I could have done differently to have changed the outcome. Even though Gibson is now five years old and the dogs winning over him are younger, maybe a few more months of concentrated socializing was all he needed and surely he could get his championship at the shows in January or February? Maybe I was the cause of his nerves and a handler would have better results? As I tried to puzzle this out, Gibson himself gave me the answer. When I walked him out of the building to the car, he looked truly miserable. He jumped into his crate, curled himself into a ball at the back and gave me the saddest look. That desire he'd always had to please me, to show even though he wasn't 100% comfortable, was gone. There's no way I will continue to make him do something he doesn't like.
The very funny thing, though, is that in the days since the show, Gibson acts like he always does after winning points! He's confident, wants to go into a show stance when I take his food bowl out and acts like he's eager for whatever comes next. Rather than disillusion him, we tell him he won this past week-end and he's a Champion! Of course, he is a champion to us, even if he had never won a show!