The second I enter the kennel at the animal rescue I volunteer at, the decibel level skyrockets. Barking, whining, rattling of the glass dog run doors crescendo into a symphonic peak. This alone is intimidating enough to send tentative types promptly back out from whence they came. But I continue forward.
Walking calmly as I can, leash in hand, I stop in front of the third or fourth run down, housing two extremely energetic pit bulls. One, named Disney, literally completes a 360 turn in the air before landing on all fours. The other, the beautiful cocoa and white dog named Chanel, meets me at eye level – snout to nose – only separated by a wall of glass. I’m nearly 5’10”. She meets me at eye level. Holy shit.
“Are you ready, Shannon?” the equally energetic and seasoned volunteer training me to handle the more ‘challenging’ (though not dangerous, I’m assured) dogs asks. My look of sheer terror gives me away, but Dave doesn’t let me quit so easily. We have a third volunteer with us, who is also in training but has a pit bull of his own and is totally comfortable with the task ahead.
“Um, okay…” I stammer meekly. But Dave reminds me to simply practice what we’ve been training. The human body language cues we can use to calm the dogs and earn their respect. The treats in pocket to encourage good behavior. We’d been practicing all morning with a few pint size yet energetic dogs, and sure enough, with a few treats, a few changes in body position when they misbehaved, good behavior ensued.
Train long enough, hard enough, and there eventually comes a time when we need to declare that we are ready now. To trust our training and put it to use already. But dang, it’s hard sometimes! Especially facing two pit bulls head on.
I’m reminded of another time I was called upon to trust my training: at mile 17 in the Portland Marathon during a torrential downpour. Our pace setter, who was guiding us on an 8-minute mile pace, saw the fatigue and defeat on some of our faces, and shouted out loudly: “trust your training! You are READY!” All good, until I tore my calf muscle two miles later. Damn! Do I stop? It hurts. But her voice came back. I trusted my training, and with a modified gate and a few run/walk breaks, I saw it through to the finish, completing the race just 5 minutes over my goal of 3:29. Scary? Yeah, but I trusted the months of training and knew what my body, even injured, could handle. And it could handle going the distance.
I trusted my training.
So with a stance of confidence I barely felt, I calmly entered the run with the two men, turned my back to the over-excited dogs and waited for good behavior. Within three minutes, miraculously, all paws were down and we easily slipped the collars over their eager heads. We successfully managed to get them out to the field where they could run, wrestle, and expend the incredible natural energy inherent in this beautiful breed of dog. Watching them gave me the kind of goosebumps I always get when witnessing beauty in motion – whether it’s the graceful leap from an Alvin Ailey dancer, the perfect swing of designated hitter, or a wicked fast Cheetah flying across my television screen on an episode of Animal Planet.
If I hadn’t trusted my training, these dogs would have remained confined until another volunteer, confident in his or her training, came along.