I’ve never been any good at competition. Doing well means too much; it always has. I’m one of those people who hands homework in early, stressed myself sick over tests all the way through college, ran my years of track plagued by moments of Fail though Trying Too Hard, and always aim to deliver my books early.
So when I started pondering obedience trials with my first Cardigan Welsh Corgi, it wasn’t a natural fit. I forgot to breathe, my legs were too wobbly to move confidently, and my clever dog knew better than to think we were having fun.
Very early in that effort, a gruff steward followed me out of the ring to berate me harshly in front of all and sundry for a newbie error. I went off to cry and that was essentially the end of my obedience trialing.
(For those who know AKC rules-yes, the steward faced disciplinary action, but the damage was done.)
Flash forward a couple years. I was training brain-injured Jean-Luc Picardigan in agility as therapy. No one expected him to function well enough to compete, but that wasn’t the point, and we were happy. Then I started Belle Cardigan in classes about six months later just because she loved it.
Six months after that, I entered them both in a small trial, somewhat against my better judgment. Not because of my concerns about them, but because of me. I knew me. And, in fact, Jean-Luc took one look at the unfamiliar start line and went into his autistic mode, freezing in place until I went to get him—unable to process the sensory input of the situation. But that was okay. We were there to enlarge his world, not break competition records.
But then I went out with Belle Cardigan—me and my nerves and my complete lack of confidence, tense and freaky and Oh My Gawd Everyone is Watching—
And then Belle started to run. Suddenly it was me and her on the course together, alone—and we were flying.
I came off that course a different person. One who knows it’s not about being perfect (even when perfection is nice). It’s about those moments of connection with the dog. It’s about flying together.
A decade later …
Jean-Luc has passed, but the agility changed his life in ways I can’t even describe. Belle is freshly retired, 100 points away from her second PACH and, at the time, #1 Lifetime Preferred Corgi. Oh, we could have eked out those final points. But she’d become concerned over her own diminishing speed. We weren’t flying together anymore—not truly. We were just worrying together, and that’s not what this is for.
Now it’s two more dogs (and a breed) later, not to mention two (almost three) MACHs later, and a handful of other titles (including that obedience title, albeit with a different dog), with young Dart just starting his journey.
Cheysuli Jean-Luc Picardigan, OJP NAP OJC NAC CGC (Jean-Luc)
PACH Cheysuli’s Silver Belle, CD RE PAX2 MXP5 MJP6 XFP EAC EJC CGC (Belle)
CH MACH2 Cedar Ridge DoubleOSeven CD RE XF EAC EJC CGC (ConneryBeagle)
Albedo’s Charter Member TD RA OA OAJ CA CGC (D’Artagnan Beagle AKA Dart)
We’re also into tracking now, and ConneryBeagle is flirting with cat search and rescue—and we’re all enjoying the zen of it. And if Dart Beagle is a little crazy and well-deserving of his Crytic Evil designation, those moments when we do connect on course and on the tracking line and in the obedience ring…well. Those are out of orbit. And changing the way I think about that is what makes it possible for that to be what it’s all about—for both me and the dogs.
We still aim to be perfect. But we also take it on the fly, just being together.
PS But leave me my book deadline anxiety—and don’t ask me how far out from this Dog Writing event I had this blog written!
PPS Other blogs on this subject are linked at the Dog Agility Blog Events.