Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Decisions during the journey

“The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Back in 2004, Jamie and I were training hard for his OTCh. and his TDX. We had an Open B win and about 20 points. We were getting into TDX tests with a lot of “close but no cigar” results. I was burning the candle at both ends, trying to train for obedience, train for the X tests, train for agility, take agility classes, trial or test (obedience, agility, tracking) on the weekends and teach obedience classes to help pay for it all. We were doing a lot and getting nowhere with any of it.

I finally decided I wanted the OTCh. more than the TDX. I put tracking aside and focused on obedience. I wasn’t taking agility very seriously, which probably showed in the ring but I didn’t really care.

Within a year of that decision, Jamie finished his OTCh. We stayed competitive for a couple of more years and I retired him from obedience in 2007. We continued to show in preferred agility for a few more years. He had a lovely career and I felt good about the things we did together. He was a fun dog to show - sweet, calm, confident and always a steady worker.

We never went back to tracking. I regret that now, Jamie was a natural at it and truly lit up when we went out in the field. But by then Phoenix arrived and once again, time was at a premium.  Which dog got how much time and attention for what discipline?

Flash forward to 2013: Phoenix and I have been struggling in both obedience and agility. In obedience, he trains wonderfully and shows with a ho-hum attitude that’s not a lot of fun to take in the ring. Our agility work is all over the place, probably due to my ho-hum attitude about agility training. You know something needs to change when in the middle of an agility class you find yourself thinking, “What a lovely night - I wish I was in the park, working obedience.”

Yeah. Really. Not kidding. No reflection on instructors or classmates. It’s just how I felt.

So I’ve decided to take a year off from agility. No training. No classes. No trials. When I finally decided this, my first thought was “I’ll miss my agility friends!” That probably tells me something. It wasn’t “I’ll miss the sport.” I’ve watched as agility has evolved from casual weekend fun to something that virtually requires the mind set of an Olympic athlete-in-training in order to have even the slightest chance at success. (Funny, I’m totally okay with that approach when it comes to obedience.)

Another area of concern is the growing number of agility injuries I’m seeing. It seems like every time I turn around, another friend’s dog is on the DL. These are dogs who are well-conditioned and well-trained, not flabby weekend warriors. Sprains, strains and soft tissue injuries call for weeks of crate rest. ACL tears call for surgery followed by months of rehab and thousands of dollars in vet bills. Scares the hell out of me.

I’m probably in the minority but I don’t find agility as much fun as it used to be. This is ironic since Phoenix is the most athletically gifted dog I’ve ever run. He’s the poster dog for agility. I’m afraid he’s also the poster dog for an agility injury because he has a high pain threshold (remember malinois vs rotary hoe?), very little body sensitivity (CRASH! Hey, who put a stinkin’ fence there?) and very little regard for personal safety (GIT DOWN from those hay bales, your tail is brushing the barn rafters!)

My main conundrum, however, is this: I keep wondering if offering my dog two sports to play - obedience AND agility - makes one (you guess which one) pale by comparison. Sitting him on the start line of an agility course is a virtual guarantee he’s going to have a blast for the next 25 seconds, with or without my involvement. (I would like to think I am directing the fun but honestly, that’s about a 50/50 proposition.) By contrast, obedience must seem dull as mud. How can I expect my dog to value the teamwork of an activity (obedience) that is not intrinsically self-rewarding while I continue to give him a free pass to party on the agility course with minimal input from me?

Some dogs do both and do a lovely job. Some trainers excel at pursuing the fine points of both disciplines. Right now, that is not Team Phoenix.

So, Phoenix and I are going to focus totally on obedience for awhile. I guess I’ve always been focused on obedience, even while completing his MX and MXJ to the nth degree, but agility has evolved to the point where it demands a great deal of training time and commitment if you realistically want to succeed at the higher levels. Nothing wrong with that, it’s simply time and commitment I’d rather spend elsewhere right now.

Will we go back to agility? I hope so. When we’re ready. But right now it’s not fair to either me or my dog to ask him to perform in a sport I am not committed to 100 percent and when there are other things I value more.

Agility peeps - I will still come to some trials to watch you run. Especially if there is going to be cake!

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


  1. I'm so proud of you. I know how hard this decision was for you and how long you have wrestled with it. And it's especially hard to do it in a public way. You can always go back to agility, after you have accomplished everything you want in obedience. Renee :-))

  2. Fully behind you on this! I haven't done agility for 2-3 years because I just don't find it to be fun enough to commit the time to it. I divide my time between obedience and hunt tests, and cram tracking in when I can. This summer I'm going to do a little agility to get ready for our national in September but I won't get serious about it unless and until one of my younger dogs gets into it because the six year old has a pre-existing problem with a front leg that I'm not going to take a chance on - agility injures enough dogs without asking for it! ;-)

  3. This is really a beautiful, thoughtful piece. I can only imagine how hard it was for you to come to this decision, but to me it sounds like you made the right decision for you at this moment. Nothing is written in stone, tomorrow you could change your mind. Do what feels right to you. For you and your dog. And enjoy whatever ride you choose.

  4. As my coffee mugs says, "Do what you LOVE, LOVE what you do!" Best of luck on your OTCH!!!!!

  5. SO glad to find others who don't enjoy agility! I was always told "try it, you'll love it!" So I took 12 weeks of classes with two dogs. The dogs loved it. Me, not so much. When I tell my classmates that I'm not continuing (it's time to take an obedience class and the weather is fine enough to re-start herding training) they ask why. When I say "I'm not going to compete because I don't find agility fun." They look at me like I have two heads. Why does everyone think you have to enjoy agility just because they do? Kudos to you!

  6. Just happened upon your blog from Denise Fenzi's page. What a great blog to happen upon!

    I first saw agility in 1991, it was part of a pet expo, and got to play on a couple obstacles with my 2 yo GSD. Thought it'd be a blast, but the sport was just gearing up and classes were actually clubs, too far away to make use of. I went to a trial in Fryeburg ME that year, loved that the dogs had fun, the people had fun, and all seemed to get along and help one another out. Allis and I did other stuff, applied for an ILP, got a CD, hung out with the cows (I was a dairy farmer then).

    The sport is so different now. I don't think I could mentally handle the noise, the dust, the crowded venues... if I'm stressed, my dog will be, too.

    I, too, hear over and over again about the injuries... It's not just agility, though. The flyball folks *as a whole* have gone overboard, too, like hockey Moms... which is to say, it's not just dogsports. It seems to be a whole cultural thang.

    Bring back scent hurdles, I say! Where the dogs have to think as well as run and jump.

  7. The great thing with personal Journey is that it can take you anywhere, and change at anytime. It sounds like you are going with your gut and heart so it must be the right choice. ;)

    I'm struggling a bit myself with a similar decision. It is hard to commit to a decision like that so your post gives me hope that I can finally make up my mind too! lol

  8. Thank you for sharing your struggle between obedience and agility and the difficulty in making the decision to choose obedience.

    I'm trying to get my young dog ready to show in Open this summer. I also started working my older dog in Nosework. I, too, was struggling with trying to divide my free time to both venues and have come to the conclusion that I'd rather be doing obedience.

    You have helped others of us to take a look at our training situations and decide what we needed. Thanks for the heartfelt post.

  9. I've had this issue too-mostly too many dogs, too many sports. My "plan" is in the future to have one young dog of performance age and pursue multiple sports (I've always wanted a versatility title). But those plans have a way of changing. I of course did not plan to have dogs only a year apart currently but....Lyric happened. So who knows! Legend's obedience future hangs in the balance still and agility well, who knows. Once her NATCh if finished we'll evaluate that whole a-frame issue again!