A friend and I were visiting while carpooling to a match last weekend and we both noted that our desire to make long road trips, usually by ourselves, weekend after weekend in pursuit of shows was dwindling. We looked back at the amount of traveling we’d each done while campaigning previous dogs to high achievements over the years (OTCh. for me, NATCH for her) and wondered out loud if we had it in us to continue the demanding pursuit of earning similar titles with our current and future dogs.
Before we start sounding like candidates for rocking chairs, I might add neither of us have plans to move to the retirement home and start knitting tea cozies any time soon. We’re just both at a place where it might be time to re-evalute how we want to invest the large amounts of time and money we devote to our love of dog training and dog sports.
I got Connor’s OTCh. 13 years ago and Jamie’s OTCh. 7 years ago. To be perfectly honest, while I’d love to write those letters in front of Phoenix’s name, I don’t know if I want it badly enough to repeat the damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead campaigns that yielded Connor and Jamie’s championships.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot while goal setting for this year. What do I really want to achieve in 2012? I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve abandoned OTCh. dreams for Phoenix and myself, I’m just trying to decide what’s best for both of us in terms of having fun and being affordable. More emphasis on fun than affordable. If we’re truly having fun, I’ll find a way to make it affordable.
Obedience training has evolved tremendously in the last decade. When I showed Connor, Open B and Utility B class wins typically went to different dog and handler teams every day. Now it’s not unusual for the same person to win both classes and go HIT/HC every single day of a three-day cluster. It will probably be the same person who won them the previous weekend and the same person who will win them then following weekend. I think each region of the country has one or two trainers who simply dominate the sport. While I’m amazed by the level of precision and consistency they’ve managed to achieve with their dogs, this is not an encouraging scene for folks chasing wins for an OTCh. Yes, there are points for second place but you must still have three 1st place wins.
And so the game begins. You try to figure out where Exhibitor A is going to show on any given weekend because you don’t want to be fodder for her endless ring supremacy. You find yourself going to trials not because they’re at a local site or have your favorite judges or that’s where all your friends are going — you go somewhere else in another state to try to escape the exhibitor with the 199 average who rarely, if ever, fails. And for me, that’s where pursuit of the OTCh. starts to erode the simple enjoyment of obedience trials. Showing stops being a let’s-have-fun hobby and starts resembling a military strategy.
Again, I don’t want to sound like I’m going all sour grapes on the OTCh. but quite honestly, I’ve been there, done that. It was a fine achievement and I was tremendously proud of my dogs, but the title didn’t help me win the lottery, guarantee my health for life or earn me a promotion at work. While the title represents something different to each trainer who achieves it, I’m happy to say my own happiness and sense of self-worth are not tied to achieving those four letters and if I don’t ever earn another one, I won’t be any worse for the wear.
On the other hand, earning an OTCh. brings you incredibly close to your dog. You build a relationship that is light years beyond what it takes to earn three legs and get a title. You learn a lot about yourself, your dog and what the two of you can do together. It’s an adrenaline rush, an incredible high, a beautiful thing. But it comes at a price.
So that brings me back to my goals for this year. I want them to fall into the category of being realistically achievable while still being elusive enough to trigger my own prey drive as a trainer.
Whatever Phoenix and I do, I want to enjoy it. What was fun 13 years ago and 7 years ago, may not be as much fun now and I’m realizing that with both a slight pang of loss and a breath of relief and a quiet determination not to give up but to see how things go and not close any doors too quickly.
I love obedience work. I love to train. I love to see my dog enjoy the training and carry that joy into the ring. Those are my goals for 2012. Everything else is icing.