Sunday, September 27, 2009

Agility at Davenport, Day 2

Remember the "Bang Head Here" sign from last weekend? I could have used it today. No clean runs for us and both courses were absolutely beautiful and lovely and flowing. Can we have a do-over? Please?

Our JWW run had its moments until bars started flying like shrapnel. Std. was super except for the part where I released Phoenix from the teeter and sent him flying out into the abyss where there were no jumps . . . oops . . . um . . . there's the jump I MEANT to send you to. Sorry. Again.

Some friends and I were discussing our current Q-drought (it's been a really loooooong time) and I realized that while I would certainly PREFER to be collecting a green ribbon at the end of each run, their absence is not bothering me as much as it does other people ("other people" being folks I observe at both obedience and agility trials). Not that these other people are dismayed by the fact Phoenix and I are not Q-ing . . . I meant they are dismayed that THEIR dogs are not Q-ing. Dismayed, distressed, distraught, disturbed, depressed, you get the picture.

I guess it all comes down to why you participate in this sport. I do it for fun and over the years, my definition of "fun" has become independent of any judge's score or Q rate. Sure, I want high scores in obedience and clean runs in agility. You don't get an OTCh. through careless training and you don't get double Qs by being an indifferent handler. But there's more to the sport than the few minutes in the ring and what gets written in the judge's book. At least there is for me. If you depend solely on "winning" to feel good about the weekend, dog sports would be a very futile and depressing experience for most of us.

I look at all the things that make up a show weekend (either obedience or agility): loading the van, grooming the dogs, choosing my clothes and packing, meeting friends to drive to the show site, sometimes battling the elements, hauling everything in and setting up, watching friends show, sharing training ideas, meals and snacks with friends, playing with my dogs, going out to dinner with friends . . . and oh yeah . . . the 10 minutes or two 30 second intervals each day we actually spend in the ring. Did ya notice, FRIENDS are pretty darn important. My dog friends are the best people in my life.

And so the bottom line, at least for me, is Qs and ribbons are not a requirement for a "successful" weekend. I love the social aspect of dog sports and even more, I love watching Phoenix and I grow as a team. He is an amazing, beautiful dog (am I prejudiced or what?) and a riot to train. We are vastly improved from where we were a year ago when we started running agility and quickly found ourselves dazed and confused on Excellent courses. 

I've gone from running Jamie, who was a wonderful Steady Eddie type of dog who loped around the course at a moderate speed, giving me all the time in the world to commit and correct handling errors, to running a "feral cat on crack, made out of steel-belted radials and industrial springs." (Found that definition of a malinois somewhere, it's perfect.) This has not been an easy transition from a handler's perspective and believe me, I am still learning.

(As I type this, Phoenix has the butt-tucking rips. He is ricocheting around the house with a ball clamped in his mouth and a totally insane gleam in his eye. Just try focussing on nothing but winning when you live with THAT!)

Yeah, we're not bringing home agility ribbons of any color right now but so what? I love the fact we are making only one or two mistakes per run instead of half a dozen. I'm feeling more confident about my ability to handle him and I'm doing a better job of figuring out what happened when the wheels fall off so hopefully I can keep it from happening again.

Looking back, I remember showing Jamie in Utility for a year with no Qs. Talk about frustration. Then bingo! He titled in three trials and a year later, had his OTCh. To everything there is a season. Each dog has his own timeline. What fun would it be to Q and/or win every single time you went in the ring? Seriously? Where would be the sense of exhilaration and achievement? 

The best trainers I know are the ones who are "input focussed" (enjoy teaching the necessary skills) versus "outcome focussed" (only think about wins and titles.) Over the years, I have changed from the latter to the former and am a lot happier for it. Shows are a test of where we are at any given point in our training.

I know Phoenix will bring home agility ribbons sooner or later. And he will be spectacular. In the meantime, we're enjoying the journey together.

Well, vacation is over. Back to work tomorrow. Good thing, now maybe I can finally get some rest!


  1. Hey Melinda, Thanks for the perspective and the reminder of what this is all about. Well put! I'm really working at trying to adopt that attitude as we pursue the elusive UD. It really does make it a lot more fun and less stressful when you can look at it that way.

  2. You hit it on the head for me. Heck the only reason I started this was because I thought I had a difficult dog who needed something to do. That was 11 years ago. I thank Sophie for meeting all the aforementioned dog friends. Trials - that's the best thing for me. The friends, the food, the dogs, the friends, having a nice run every once in a while even if it isn't a Q and maybe even pulling a dog's tail once in a while. It was a perfect week-end!

  3. I'm currently wearing the sign around my neck. It made driving difficult and I'm sure swimming in the morning will be even MORE of a challenge. LOL

  4. What a terrific attitude you have! I must congratulate you. After all, having fun with your dog is really why we have dogs at all.

  5. Good post, reminds us all to remember why we really do this. Which can be hard sometimes! Love the feral cat on crack reference!