The Dog is What Matters

I enjoy the Qs as much as any competitor, but quite some time ago I realized that’s not really why I do agility. I enjoy the camaraderie of the people I’ve met through agility and the friends I’ve made. I enjoy testing my training and skills, my own and my dogs’. I like the physicality of it and I love the mental aspect of the game. But mainly I love playing with my dogs and love the bond that playing agility has given me with each one of them.

I chose to play agility, not my dogs. I try to keep that in mind. Luckily, the dogs enjoy, to varying degrees, playing agility with me. They’re also all dogs that deeply want to please me. Yet, they don’t do agility with me just because they want to please me. They play agility with me because there’s something in it for them too. It’s up to each dog/handler team to find that special something that makes it worthwhile, especially for the dog.

For me personally, pretty much the worse day in an agility competition is still a better day than normal. Usually. But I really like to play with my dogs and I can usually find a way to have fun even when we have no Qs. And believe me, my dogs and I have had a whole lot of practice at that last part.

Apparently for many agility competitors, the worse day is a low qualifying score rate (Q-rate) or a zero Q-rate.



It is weekends like this past one when my head isn’t really in the game itself as much as it should be and then to be confronted with the news of friends with dogs with severe illnesses or injuries and seeing, through, tears, two retirement runs, that really put things like the importance of a Q-rate into perspective for me.

The dog is what’s important.

I had an astoundingly poor Q-rate this past weekend. Youke had 11 runs in total over the weekend and received nary a qualifying score. A big fat zero. Brady and Camm fared slightly better. Camm earned two Qs out of 10 total runs and Brady scored four Qs, out of 12 runs. I’d like to say this is unusual, but really, it’s not.

I put this out there because I suspect not a lot of people at the trial this weekend knew that. I think I’ve become very good about celebrating the good moments in runs. At least I strive to be. And there were a lot of good moments this past weekend.

I started of Saturday by almost not going to the trial. I’d been deathly ill since Thursday night – most likely food poisoning of some sort. Until Friday evening, when I was sort of forced to attend to something, I hadn’t been able to stand upright for longer that 15 minutes at a time. However, when the alarm rang at o’dark thirty on Saturday morning, I realized that I didn’t feel like spewing anymore. Plus, the poor dogs had been so good about laying with me all day Friday, I felt I at least owed them a half-day, or whatever I was able to get through.

Off we ventured then, and with no coffee as I didn’t think my tender insides could tolerate anything other than a few sips of water.

In further proof that agility is my drug of choice, I found I felt better as the day went on, and as the adrenaline rushes kept on coming. Still didn’t feel 100 percent on Sunday, but any day of playing agility with my dogs is a good day in my book.

Youke and I started off the weekend with a great run. But he missed a contact off of the dog-walk. No big deal. I was just ecstatic he was feeling so good and happy. And pretty much all of Saturday was like that. He had a pretty and smooth jumpers run, but went a bit over time. Our “bad” run was in the afternoon when we stepped to the line and he went around the first jump. I asked him again to take it, and he went around it again, which is Youke’s way of saying that he’s just not into it. So we ran a super abbreviated version of the course and went back to the car and had a celebration.

Sunday continued in much the same vein, with a fault here and a fault there, but always something super great in most of the run. And we celebrated each of those “almosts” with a fabulous game of ball – Youke’s favorite thing. Those games aren’t just toss and catch either. Youke and I have variations of the ball game that we play and mix the versions throughout our agility days. It’s how I tell him he’s made me super happy and that his efforts are appreciated. In return, he gets something he values highly. The Ball.

Brady and Camm both had similar weekends. Both did a lot of sassing and talking back about certain aspects of my handling at times, both were walked off course a couple of times before the situation escalated – or in Camm’s case, when she took a nip at me. But both dogs also had plenty of shiny moments.

Brady and I had a lot of very good stuff, but also our usual mix of ugly stuff and simply awesome stuff. I admit, the whirlwind of running that dog has become very addicting. Sadly for Brady, I wasn’t into it as much as I should’ve been and it showed in my handling errors. Overall, he was very patient with me. I promised him I’d try to do better next time. He’s not a dog willing to have a deficient handler for very long.

Camm had so much awesome stuff this weekend that my tired brain took notice. Now I just need to start pulling the pieces together with her. I suspect that she’s regained some confidence as she was fairly compliant about downs and sits at the start line and that she actually let me do lead outs, including in front of a tunnel. I haven’t seen that for a bit. Because this was a NADAC trial and the handler is allowed to do some limited training in the ring, when Camm blew her contacts I was able to re-set her and get a do-over on a contact, which helped tremendously with her overall grasp again of a stopped contact in a trial setting. Much more to do in that respect, but the link is happening. And speed! Speed is not a problem with Camm. Her speed is a problem for me as her handler that I simply will need to overcome. For now, I just step on the gas and see where she’ll take me.

And did we step it up in our last two runs of Sunday, notably tunnelers. Camm zoomed a perfect clean run at seven yards a second (6.98 yps). I ran her exactly how I ran Brady, who ran first in the elite class. Brady ran the course in 6.85 yps. I think the difference simply came down to the fact that Camm was able to manage slightly tighter turns. From my quick perusal of the entire elite class, Camm and Brady scored second and third place, respectively, in the entire class and were first in their divisions. Kinda cool and a nice way to finish up the weekend.

But perhaps the biggest moment for me at the trial was Camm’s dawning understanding that nipping at me leads to consequences that she doesn’t like.

Camm did not appreciate my rather rude crowing about a successful push into a tunnel on an a-frame/tunnel discrimination. Truthfully, I should’ve remained silent. She was right, it was kinda rude. And because I was rude, she came flying out of the tunnel and nipped at me. To her credit, I barely got the words “lay down”* out of my mouth when she voluntarily came to me, stopped and flattened. We walked off the course, because the fun now ends completely when that impulse takes over. With Camm, there cannot be any gray. It’s got to be black and white.

The other interesting thing that happened was Camm’s decision over what reward meant the most to her. After one particularly successful run with lots of good bits, we ran to the car to play – I thought – a game of tug with a favorite tug toy. But Camm ignored the tug toy in my hand, dipped her petite pretty little head into the toy bag and touched her nose to a beloved ball.

The dog – and honoring her decision about what matters to her, is what matters.


* Yes, I suppose the command should be “lie down.” In my defense from the Grammar Police, that is just not the first thing to blurt from my mouth when my dog is trying to make an emphatic and painful point. We can blame my lack of early schooling.

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