At the end of one of our classes, the instructor mentioned that Ida was doing great, that she was happy and clearly having fun. In the car afterwards, I teared up. I was so happy to see her happy and filled with hope and excitement for the possibilities in our future. Maybe we'd actually be able to trial some day.
We continued going to classes, and they got easier with each week. A couple months later, on a class day, I got home from work much later than usual. I was in time to make it to class, but just barely, and I didn't give Ida her situational medication before leaving (they would've kicked in towards the end of class, anyway). She'd been doing to well that I didn't think it would be a big deal. I expected she would struggle a bit more than she had been, but I figured things would be fine if we just took it easy.
It was not fine. Clearly stress from the car ride and the disrupted routine were too much. She was nervous - conflicted - going into the building. She would settle in her crate when other dogs were working, and couldn't focus. By the end of class, even an easy exercise like Choose to Heel was too much for her. After a minute of sniffing the floor, tail down and ears back, she chose her crate over me and cookies.
I cried in the car all the way home. I felt so defeated, so heartbroken. It didn't matter how much work we put in it would never be enough for Ida to do the things that dreamed for her. Some dogs finish championship titles in two years. We couldn't even play easy games in a familiar class setting. What was the point? Why was I putting in so much work only for it to not make a difference?
I dreaded the next class, but I am cheap and hate missing classes that I've already paid for. I made sure Ida got her Xanax on time, and we got to class early enough to walk around outside and sniff around inside before others arrived. I had my happy worker back.
It was a hard lesson about my own resilience in the face of unmet expectations and a reminder that progress is not linear; a single session without the context of those before and after it, is not representative of the direction you're heading in. Sometimes when things go bad, you really do have to just... keep on keepin' on. Maybe you take a step back, a look at what happened before, and if those circumstances were unusual or a one-off you just try again next time.
But one bad day doesn't make failure. It's just a bump (or sometimes a lake) in the road of progress.