we ran in an akc agility trial last weekend. i know, pick your jaw up off the floor. akc has come a long way! i, for one, am thrilled about the canine partners program that allows mixed breeds to compete. the trial site is 15 minutes from our house, and the host clubs are awesome, we like supporting them. plus, agility is agility, any way you slice it. you get to hang out with your friends, maybe make some new friends, and play with your dog.
i am a casual competitor in akc, usdaa, and cpe agility. usdaa is by far my favorite, for lots of reasons. but one common thread running through all these venues, is a tendency by handlers to blame anyone but themselves when things go wrong. i hate this. and i’m here to vent about it.
in all venues, we have the ALMIGHTY Q, or qualifying score. collecting Qs is the way one earns titles, and also the way to earn an entry into national championship events. requirements for earning Qs depend on the venue (akc, usdaa, cpe) and also the level (novice, level 3, masters, etc). in the highest levels, you pretty much have to be perfect to Q.
i saw way too many handlers who clearly blamed their dogs when their runs went wrong. they came off the course with a scowls on their faces, leashed their dogs, shoved the dog back into it’s crate, then walked back to gripe at their friends about their bad run; blaming everyone from the judge to the gate steward, to another competitor, but most often, the dog.
i love cpe agility for many reasons, but in that venue especially, i see dogs who are NOT ready to trial, running in trials! they are distracted, stressed, aroused, or just plain unable to focus in their runs. these dogs are given leeway to fail miserably, and practice bad habits like disconnecting from their handlers, zooming around the ring, charging the fence at other dogs outside the ring. i am not saying these are bad dogs, just that they are definitely NOT READY TO TRIAL. if you cannot trust your dog to stay with you during a run to the point of insisting the gates to the ring be closed, perhaps you and your dog need a little more practice, that’s all. blaming other people or dogs outside the ring for distracting your dog is cheap.
people, just OWN it. take responsibility for what your dogs do. everything that happens in your run at a trial is your responsibility, and yours alone. you are the one steering the dog around and you are the one who taught him the skills he’s performing. if he goes off course, you probably sent him there. if he misses a contact, you are the one who trained him. if he disconnects from you and has a case of the zoomies, you haven’t adequately prepared him for the stresses of trialing. our dogs do these silly sports for us and for the rewards we provide (however haphazardly).
celebrate every run with your dog. he’s doing the best he can with what you gave him; training, handling, preparation. this is a GAME we play that is supposed to be fun. even those among us whose livelihood is agility, their character is best revealed by a bad run. the ones who come out of the ring angry have lost perspective. i wouldn’t want to go to a seminar taught by someone who blames their dog for a bad run. the best agility instructors understand that every run is a gift to be treasured, and they celebrate the good instead of dwelling on the bad. they play the same games and give the same cookies after a run where their dog went off course as they would if they’d just won a national championship.
own your failures and learn from them. don’t blame the judge for setting up that wicked contact/tunnel discrimination that is WAY TOO HARD for ______(whatever level you’re in). don’t blame your dog for missing a contact or knocking a bar. don’t blame the spectator standing outside the ring with their well-behaved dog or their hamburger. don’t blame the gate steward who rushed you into the ring. just own it. take responsibility for your own shortcomings has a handler or trainer, resolve to be BETTER, and move on.
i’ll leave you with my favorite quote about agility. if you’ve never met gail storm, too bad for you, she is one heckuva lady, and she doesn’t take any nonsense.
“The real JOY is in the privilege and ability to step to the start line with your dog by your side, not in the crossing of the finish line victorious over others.”
– Gail Storm
wise words we should all take to heart!