Today’s Dog Agility Blog is about “success” and what it means. I gave this topic quite a bit of thought over the past couple of years of competing with my cocker spaniel, Jefferson, in the sport of agility. At first, I felt “success” when my dog would blast through the tunnel, bound over the A-frame, race down the dogwalk and thrust confidently in the weave poles. The thrill of teaching my dog these skills was exciting and I was a “success” in my early days of training agility.
After a while taking beginning classes, we began to enter trials and I did not have the same feeling of “success” as I did prior to competing. At first it was “cute” when my black and white cocker spaniel ran around the ring looking for morsels of food or got the wild “zoomies” racing with his ears flapping in the wind. But then I started to doubt myself as a trainer and question whether or not Jefferson was or would ever be a “success” in the agility ring. Or more to the point – would I be a “success?”
I was frustrated because we would do extremely well in practice – fast, confident and conquering the ever increasing difficult sequences. But, whenever we competed, we were a different team and our “success” was few and far between. I remember many trials with no ribbons, let alone any maroon colored Q’s. As our doggie competitors progressed out of Starters to Advanced and then Masters, we were still competing in Starters.
As my disappointment grew, our performance suffered. My doubt and frustration was mimicked by my dog – he would stop and look at me, refusing to run – or run off – or sniff – or just get away from me….really FAST. All of these actions were his avoidance behaviors. So, I knew that it was time for me to make a decision about our future in agility.
Once I learned that it was me and my definition of “success” that was the problem, I changed my attitude and mindset. My goals no longer were to earn a blue ribbon or a maroon Q, but simply to have fun again and enjoy running with my partner. At first our goals were simple, begin and end the course together. There were many so-called “Jefferson” courses I made up on the fly just to get us in the ring and working as a team. Yep, I “ate” quite a few entry fees but it was worth it to have my partner back and happy to be working and playing agility with me.
Slowly and surely, we began to celebrate our “success” with parties of treats and praises after every run – whether or not we Q’d was no longer of importance. I learned to set small, attainable goals to build up our team’s “success.” No, this did not happen overnight. In fact, we probably set some kind of agility world record for being in Starters Standard the longest!
A year ago, in July of 2013, my teammate and I finally earned our Agility Dog Title after running clean and getting our 3rd Starters Standard blue ribbon and maroon Q. I sure was excited to be a “success” and having not given up on agility, myself or my dog. We were having fun and running with gusto and enthusiasm.
Now, in June of 2014, my teammate and I have earned our Master Agility Dog, Master Jumper, Master Snooker and Tournament Master titles. We have attended our first Cynosport nationals last fall and are currently preparing for our 2nd Regionals – with our first Grand Prix Bye, and already, as the agility aficionados say “Q’d up” for Nationals. I do not mention all these titles to be a braggart or to equate these titles with “success.” Rather, I mention the journey my teammate and I have been on for the past three years to inspire other competitors who may want to quit because they do not attain a certain level of “success.”
It has been a rocky, frustrating, disappointing and downright discouraging ride at times. But, in the end, I have learned so much about my dog, but mostly, about myself. Defining “success” by anyone else’s standards is not “success” and frankly, not much fun! Agility is simply a game that I love to play with my sweet black and white cocker spaniel, Jefferson. And I am keenly aware that there will come a day when I will not be able to play it anymore. This thought makes me sad so I live in the present and have learned to savor every run – whether we are clean, “E’d” or missed it by a hair. Agility has taught me that “success” starts with believing in yourself AND your dog!