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!