We’re three days into the new year and I am feeling compelled to write something profound about goals, resolutions and saving the world in 2014.
My obsessive-compulsive disorder is focused on finishing Phoenix’s OTCh. this year. Easier said than done and probably not a good foundation for a new year’s resolution. In order to finish his OTCh., we have to earn points. In order to earn points, we have to win or place in classes. In order to win or place in classes, we have to beat other competitors, many of whom are highly skilled, well seasoned teams. I really don't want my focus to be solely on winning and beating people. That’s not who I am and that’s not why I show dogs.
I show dogs because I love training dogs and love to go into the ring and give a performance that reflects that love. Plus trust, partnership, confidence, fun and skill. Plus precise heeling, straight fronts and clean finishes and all the other stuff that goes into creating an OTCh.-caliber dog.
We’ve all heard people talk about an “easy OTCh.,” as in “I’ll get a golden or a border collie or a sheltie so I can get an easy OTCh.”
No. Such. Thing.
I live in a part of the country where it’s not unheard of for someone to earn their dog’s UD one weekend and its OTCh. the next weekend. Yeah. No kidding. It happens and it’s amazing. You might say THAT was an easy OTCh. but when you think about the amount of training that went into choreographing the nearly flawless performances needed to win classes large enough to provide 30 or more points at a time . . . hmmmm . . . maybe not.
I’ve put OTChs. on two dogs. I have friends who have OTCh.’d multiple dogs and friends who completed their first OTCh. and never went back into the ring again. It’s a different journey for everyone, but it’s never an easy one. I don’t think there’s a quantitative measure for establishing the difficulty of earning an OTCh. The number of different factors involved boggle the mind and they’re constantly shifting. They include but are not limited to: the breed of dog, age of dog, experience level of the handler, resources available to the handler (time, money, a place to train, availability of an instructor, support of friends and family), area of the country where you live and how good you are at handling disappointment.
Both Connor and Jamie completed their OTCh. 13 months after they completed their UD. I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just how it worked out.
Then along came Phoenix. Our OTCh. journey has been very much like riding a monster roller coaster. We’ve spent a lot of time screaming downhill at breakneck speed, then crawling with aching slowness to the next pinnacle of achievement, balancing on the precipice of brilliance for nanoseconds, then launching once more into the abyss.
I’ve come to appreciate my clever, strong-willed, pushy, tough, sensitive dog more than ever. He is an amazing, complicated creature. Our journey is taking much longer than 13 months, but I’ve come to understand this as a gift that is taking its own sweet time to be unwrapped, heavy with anticipation and discovery. While it would be an awesome experience to finish an OTCh. in a weekend, I wouldn’t trade one second of the last few years with Phoenix. I know he is the dog I am supposed to have and I know we are right where we are supposed to be in this on-going adventure.
Yeah, there have been days at trials when I agonized over that one major error that took us out of the placements. I’ve played the “woulda-coulda-shoulda” game with scores. I’ve looked at the catalog and wondered why Miss 200 Trainer with OTCh. Perfect Dog couldn’t just stay home for one weekend so we could win. I’ve tried to find little, out-of-the-way trials where none of the Big Name trainers would bother going. Guess what - all the other little name trainers with their very good dogs were there, too, looking for the same thing I’m looking for. I’ve gotten ridiculously irritated in training when my dog refuses to share my concern about straight finishes.
And then I’ve realized what a silly obsession this is. Finishing an OTCh. is equal parts love, trust, skill, patience, faith, strategy, attitude, determination and luck. It represents a refusal to quit and a complete lack of good sense.
With Phoenix, I have a soulmate. A friend. A partner. I share my life with someone who teaches as well as learns. He’s helped me find humor in unlikely places and given me a new appreciation for the simple enjoyment of life. He’s helped me discover that my sense of self-worth is not tied to achievement in the obedience ring.
Believe me when I say the joy of achieving an OTCh. (or any title) must come from the journey, not in that final glorious moment when the judge calls your number for the win that gives you that 100th point. Because then it’s over. Done with. Honestly, it’s yesterday’s news within minutes. A bit of applause and then what’s next?
My advice for anyone pursuing a title at any level in this new year is simple: keep your perspective and enjoy your journey. You’re right where you’re supposed to be.