20 February 2014

Win or lose ~ The way it should be..

I have been doing Agility for 16 years, and in all that time I have, by far, exceeded my expectations when it comes to success in the sport. But one often forgets, that with success often comes defeat! I have lost far more than I have won when I look at the results on the scoresheet.. but… even though, in history, frozen in time and ink, on certain days I “failed”, in real life I have not failed at all. The time spent “failing” on paper, is, for the most part, learning. It all comes under the heading “Lessons in life” and should be treated as such!

I have come across many handlers that chase the win, at all costs… handlers that arrive hoping to win and leave with nothing but the vision of someone else claiming the rosette (if they even stay for the prize-giving). The negativity surrounding them is obvious after a “loss”, and often emotions take over (jealousy, hatred etc). I fear that these competitors have lost sight of what is truly important. I often ask myself if they come to enjoy the sport or to fetch a prize…..

It is essential to remember, in Agility, that we are a team, dog and handler, and the journey is actually the most important thing. Am I training well? Am I enjoying the training.. and is my dog? At events, is my dog happy? How am I treating my dog and is my dog understanding what we are doing? Are we walking away with a feeling of fulfillment? Do we smile at our friends after our rounds? Do we play with our dogs after our rounds?

When I arrive home after a day’s Agility competitions, I do not count my rosettes, I do not count my prizes… I reflect on my time with my dog(s). Some of the BEST times I have ever had with my dogs have been when I have been eliminated. Some of the most valuable lessons I have been taught have been concealed in a “failed” result.

I review my competition very casually – I often hear of others scoping out their opposition and making lists of ways in which those people can fail, giving the rest an upper hand. I say it is not for me! Helping the “opposition” serves me to no end, as the advice I give is always the best advice I can muster and 99.9% of the time it is exactly as I wish to handle a situation. By doing this it drives me to run against a better quality of opposition, which in turn makes me and my dog, as a team, even better!  
And naturally, I always aim to outdo myself, as opposed to beating someone else… There’s much more satisfaction that can be achieved by beating a standard that meets mine than someone else’s bad choices.

I feel that losing is a part of winning. It lets us remember where we are in the bigger scheme of things. It shows us where we need to work, and reminds us of where we want to be… and makes us more determined to get there! Losing makes us find ways to improve, and it makes us pay more attention and seek out ways that we can try to achieve certain ideals. The challenges of achieving greatness are just so much closer and more intense after losing!

Sometimes after a terrible, technically clear, round, I cringe at the compliments and the congratulatory murmurs as the “win” feels like a loss… because it is not what I was aiming for.. but to grumble back just adds to the negative feeling of the round. Likewise, my fellow handlers reveal their dismay loudly across the field after I have eliminated, is an annoyance to me.. because DIDN’T THEY SEE my dog and I having a fabulous time!?? It surely was a win!

Any apparent “loss” is often analysed to death by handlers and instead of stopping to review the work on the field carefully, from a positive and more optimistic point of view. They focus on the “wrong” without looking at it more simply, and look for what was right in the round, and then merely pin-pointing which minor aspects need adjusting. Trained manoeuvres will always be there in the dog’s mind, but it’s the bit that links our instructions to the dog’s performance that is often the problem.
By presenting the best possible information to my dog is often the solution, and when not complying with this, it becomes the main culprit of a “failed” round

Keeping a positive outlook on my sport is important to me, it keeps me focused on the good side of it, and it keeps me in line while trying to achieve my goals. It keeps me enjoying my dogs, and it strengthens my bond with them.

I will always try and remember to “feel” my dog by my side, enjoy my sport with my canine friends, and not let anything outward interfere with my bubble.

Dance like there’s nobody watching!

03 February 2014

What a backward little town we live in!

After a nice holiday filled with fun fun fun in the sun for me and my dogs, it's back to the sport we love... or we are trying..!

It is quite hard, after training so nicely, and researching so much agility STUFF, to be presented with the unexpected.

And I don't mean "shitty courses". I am sure my sheltie and I can take anything a judge throws at us that is done according to the rules... it's the other "stuff" that comes along with the Agility & Jumping competitions...

As a judge myself, I believe in giving the competitor the best advantage to succeed with their dog, within the rules, and I try and make sure they have a good time, win or lose, clear, faulted or eliminated. But WHY oh WHY do some judges insist on making things difficult!?

We had the first show weekend of the year this weekend... 2 days, with Contact, Non-Contact & Dog Jumping on each day... There was 1 judge per day.

Saturday appeared to be going smoothly (well, as smoothly as it can go with a learner judge loose on the course). When the Agility was finished, the course was changed for the Dog Jumping. The second handler got to the line and was ready to begin, only to be yelled at across the arena by the judge to get rid of her toy... huh?? The toy had been dumped quite far behind the handler on the outside of the arena, not in the sight of the dog. The judge repeatedly insisted that it was to be picked up and moved 10cm (yes, 100mm) to where she wanted it... BIZARRE!

It was explained that the new rule that will be coming into our sport on 1 April would be applied NOW in her ring (with no mention of it in her briefing, I might add). The new rule will state something to the affect that rewards of any kind may not be within 10m of the arena.... ok..... so the date on Saturday was 01 Feb, and the toy was 3m outside of the arena............... what next!?

Actually yes, what happened next was that some handlers let their dogs tug with their leads into the arena... Holy crap what a terrible thing to do! Someone had a dog lying at the start, in the arena, ready to begin when the judge started waving her arms about and yelling for the lead to be removed.... It had been placed behind the dog on the boundary rope of the arena (no, we do not have lead stewards). The judge marched straight at the dog and reached behind the dog and picked up the lead and placed it elsewhere...... Yes, WTF!?

What advantage could there possibly be for any dog by having it's tug lead behind it, while running onto the course? What could the possible reasoning be, for such pedantic (imaginary) rules to be enforced? And why do people think it's ok to approach other people's dogs like that? If a dog HAD left the course, it would be eliminated.. so what's the problem!?

Another handler decided to play along and counted 10m from the boundary opposite the last jump, and placed her toy there (in the middle of nowhere). The dog actually took the last jump and was sent screaming straight out, across the grounds, for a further 10m to get his toy..... in my opinion "baiting" but it was apparently allowed...........

The mind boggles!

Sunday was better. The judge supplied a "bin", that was a piece of equipment turned upside down, in the arena, at no1, for the handlers to deposit their toys in. Hallelujah! Dogs could still be kept attentive and make their way into the ring confidently and happily, and their attention could be held with tugging etc while the judge saw to something in or out of the ring. When the judge was getting ready, handlers could deposit the toy in the bin and prepare their dogs to run. After the round, the handlers could collect their toy and tug out of the arena. Now what the H*&# is wrong with doing that every time!?

Incidentally...... Saturday's judge was a scribe on Sunday.. the scribe table was IN the ring, directly behind the start (and I mean 6m from jump no1).. She was sitting there, with her dog lying under the table........... How on earth does it compute that, that is alright?? Daar is geen woorde!

Then.. amidst the smokey haze of bush fires, the other handler issues, sideline squabbles... my dogs did really well. I stayed out of it all and actually had a super time with them!

And it happens all over again in 2 weeks' time....