It’s More Fun When You Just Don’t Give A ****
I truly have not missed doing much in the way of agility for the past year.
A year ago I had a great time at the last agility trial in my area that was held the weekend before the governor of the state shut everything down. However, it was also the trial where I realized that Rhys was likely not gonna be my next agility “superstar.” I made the decision that weekend after an incident at the trial that he wasn’t going to trial for at least a year, and maybe never again. I was truly okay with that, although a bit sad. In that respect, The Covid Times hit at the right time for he and I. 2019 was a full, successful and busy year for my business, but at the expense of my own dogs in many ways. 2020 gave me a chance to reconnect and fix that, at the expense of my declining business.
I suspect that Rhys’s traumatic and long overnight by himself in the woods last summer helped him realize that maybe being a Big Independent Dog wasn’t all that he thought it would be and maybe his Human was good for more than just feeding him good food, taking him to cool places so he could run and explore, and fighting him for more room on the bed.
Our bond became tighter, but we were still a hot and inconsistent mess when it came to agility classes when those resumed in the second half of the year. In our more focused private lessons we were pretty good, but we also had the luxury of having the The Relationship Counselor as our instructor and we focused mainly on skills and drills. I finally realized that the group class was souring not only me on agility, but him as well and teaching us both to work in a constant negative emotional state. Interestingly, after a bit of time off again, when we resumed our private lessons, we were both more relaxed and focused. In fact, we managed to impress The Relationship Counselor one Friday morning during a lesson when she casually suggested we do an entire course and we nailed it to criteria and perfection.
I had divulged to her that Rhys was unlikely to cut it as a serious competition dog and that I was okay with that. I was more than okay with it. I still wanted to take lessons and learn with him as agility is a great activity for dogs overall in terms of the physical and mental aspects of the training. Plus, he’s a fun dog to work with and presents me with a lot of challenges given his speed and stride length, not to mention his power, so continuing lessons helps me as a handler.
I think my actual words to The Relationship Counselor where along the lines of “I really don’t care anymore.” And it was true.
A magical thing happened. Not caring meant no pressure. No pressure meant more fun. Suddenly we were not only having actual fun, but we were good.
Still, Rhys easily goes over the top and he has a pretty negative history of association with an actual competition ring.
Meanwhile, during the late summer and fall months of The Covid Dark Times, I realized Brady and Camm were both very close to major championships in the agility organization in which we mainly compete. Brady was up for his third and Camm was up for her first. But alas, no trials. However, the organization has long had a video run program in place and it became the way in which many of us continued to garner qualifying scores in 2020. While many people I know were doing video runs every week, I wasn’t nearly that motivated, plus my favorite place to go is around 90 minutes and a toll bridge away. Still, once I had that goal in my sights, it was a goal I wanted to accomplish, particularly for Camm.
Camm and Brady earned their respective championships in early December 2020. Mission accomplished.
Suddenly, I really didn’t care about agility at all.
Sure, I missed the camaraderie. But many of the people I truly would want to hang out, I was already seeing on a fairly regular basis. During The Dark Covid Times, I was lucky enough to establish a core group of friends that I was able to go on walks with or to go hiking with, or – god forbid! – even to picnic or tailgate with. The Covid Times would have been black times indeed if it wasn’t for these wonderful women.
But back to agility. Once I accomplished my goals with Brady and Camm, I had no goals left to try to achieve. Now, I truly didn’t give a damn about agility.
With Youke being retired after obtaining multiple big ribbons, Brady turning 11 years old, having his own closet full of big ribbons and becoming the agility dog of my dreams, Camm earning her big ribbons in 2020, and Rhys clearly not being a competition dog any time soon, if ever, I thought about simply not competing anymore. It was actually an appealing thought. I’ve played dog agility for about 15 years. My life is very much in flux and with the start of 2021, even more so thanks to a tree that fell on my house.
However, I really enjoy the dog agility community here in the Pacific Northwest and I truly love the special human friends I have made.
So when a friend asked if I’d be the trial secretary for her trial that was held this past weekend, naturally I said yes.
Initially, I figured I just might enter Camm and Brady in a few runs. Then I thought I wouldn’t enter any of my dogs. Then I thought maybe I’d enter just Brady as he truly loves agility, but not enter Camm as she’s often frustrating for me as her handler to run and I’m not really sure sometimes how much she actually likes it. Also, sometimes I’m not really sure how much I like running her.
In fact, I thought about just retiring Camm.
She’s only nine years old, and for my dogs between five and ten years of age has been a prime period. Physically, with all the hiking we do, the dogs are in great condition. But when we sometimes fool around in the yard or on hikes playing what I like to call agility tricks, she’s been extremely vocal and doing her patented pogo stick up and down barking in my face. Her frustration barking and pogo stick maneuver was in full bloom toward the end of last year when we were working toward her big ribbon. The behavior ruined a number of runs because I simply could not get her to cease and desist with the yelling at me and actually get to work. In fairness to her, it’s a behavior born out of frustration, usually with me, but it’s also a pattern that she has a hard time breaking once she gets into it.
The more I thought about going into this weekend though without a dog to run, or to only run Brady in a few runs, the more disheartened I felt. Ultimately, I decided to run Brady and Camm in most of the runs offered.
As usual these days, I took the dogs out on short hikes during the week. Brady and Rhys ran really hard on Wednesday and Brady seemed to be favoring a paw on Thursday afternoon.
I decided to scratch Brady from the runs I’d entered him in for Friday and to substitute Rhys instead at the lower levels.
Actually, what I decided was to bring Camm and Rhys to the trial and to leave Brady and Youke at home. Camm was officially entered. I scratched Brady’s runs and figured I would maybe run Rhys in Brady’s place but at the lower levels. Maybe.
Ultimately, Rhys did do some runs on Friday. I had only one criteria. I wanted to work as a team. Not a perfect and well-tuned team, but I did want to work together. If I saw that we were disconnecting, which has been a frequent problem except during our private lessons, I would stop the run immediately, attempt to gather him up quickly and leave the ring, and not return. I absolutely did not give a shit about a qualifying score.
Because I was able to to, I ran him in back to back runs and at the end of the two classes he ran as he was the last “tall” dog of the class anyway.
A magical thing happened. For the first time since the very first trial we entered, we worked together, I could feel that invisible rope held between the two of us and it was clear he could as well. Not only that, but because I truly didn’t care about anything but maintaining the bond, I was relaxed and having fun with him. Rhys, despite being a very independent and hard-headed dog, is ultra sensitive to my emotions. He stayed relaxed and happy because I stayed relaxed and happy. And what’s even better, I didn’t consciously have to tell myself to be relaxed and happy, I just was. Because I didn’t give a fuck.
On our last run, we did have a moment of disconnection and Rhys did what he has always done, he circled me, outrun style. The magic was though that when I told him calmly that we weren’t going to play that, he came right back and worked as best as he was able to in that moment. It was a win.
Although I was sorely tempted on Saturday and Sunday to enter him in a few more runs, I ultimately opted not to and I think it was a smart decision. I was busy running Camm and Brady and doing trial secretary stuff and I don’t think I could’ve been there for him as much as he needs.
I was also tempted to run Youke is a few classes, but decided not to and I’m pleased with my decision. He didn’t get to do as much as he’d liked to have done due to crappy rain, wind and chill March air, but he still got to play Ball. He indicated several times he thought he should be getting out of the Living Room on Wheels for his turn to go run agility, but I have to wonder how much of that was years of habit and knowing that good things happen after each run like lots of treats and toy play.
Brady was ecstatic to be running agility once I gave him the all clear for Saturday and Sunday.
It is amazing to me that running Brady now is comfortable and hugely fun. It’s always been fun, but in that edge of your seat, holy hell, better hang on by a thread, this is going to be a thrill ride kind of way. It’s still a thrill, and I still better be on my game, but in a more comfortable, we’ve been together a long time kind of way.
Brady had to announce his arrival into the ring and at the start line on nearly every run – a habit that has become hysterically funny and endearing now. His aging and greying face eagerly anticipating each run was achingly sweet and touching.
But lest I forget who I was dealing with, Brady got so pissed off at me on Sunday when I tried a foolish and ill-timed fancy blind cross sort of maneuver that he screamed at me the entirety of the rest of the course while simultaneously charging at me with snapping jaws and running the course at the same time. Brady is still the best agility coach I’ll ever have, human, canine or otherwise. We may be a bit older and mellower, but he does not tolerate foolishness and does not forgive stupidity, and I better not try that shit again with him!
As for the dog I thought about retiring because we both get so frustrated sometimes? Well, guess who had an awesome trial?
No one can push my buttons like Camm at times. Also, no one can simply delight me like Camm at times. Often this is one and the same. The difference? If I care about the outcome, it’s maddening. If I do not give a damn, it is simply delightful and she is the most sparkly, sassy, funniest dog to run. Ever.
For her entire agility career Camm is supposed to have adhered to a two on, two off stopped contact criteria, meaning she stops at the end of the a-frame or dogwalk (and teeter) with her two front feet in the dirt and her two back feet planted on the wood plank. The problem with this, for Camm anyway, is that she’s fast and wants to do things fast and why in the world would anyone ask her to slow down when she can go fast? The problem with this for me is that Camm is fast and I am not superhuman and able to get into position to cue her properly when she races down the contact equipment. The battle for us both is that she actually has a gorgeous natural running contact that many teams would kill to have and spend years training to have properly. However, as with every single dog I’ve ever seen in person or televised with a running contact, contact zones eventually get missed or leaped.
Camm did her patented running contacts the first third of the trial, then when I did some training in the ring on how this was not how we do it and asked for Stoopid Stopped Contacts instead, she then flagrantly leaped the contact zones, looking over her should at me with a very clear, “fuck off, this is how Cammi does it” look. We did walk off two courses after this exchange occurred, but I was laughing behind my required face diaper and she knew it. Plus, she still got cookies – even if it was only three instead of five.
In typical Cammi fashion, during the last run of the weekend with contact equipment, she nailed her two on, two off criteria while throwing me a defiant look of success that she had actually thought to do it on her own. I praised her profusely and congratulated her on doing a Stoopid Stopped Contact, while laughing as I read the thought bubble steaming out of her head – “ARE YOU HAPPY NOW??? MY WORK HERE IS DONE!” Then we promptly left the course to play a massive game of tug and to have some dried fish skin. Well, she had the dried fish skin. I had a small vending machine sized bag of Fritos later.
Camm just had me smiling with glee at her antics all weekend. All of my dogs pattern quickly and easily, meaning that they learn a course and how it flows or the directions of the course after an attempt or two. All of my dogs also scan a course at the start line and make decisions that I can sometimes not influence at the start line. This trial was a double-run format, meaning that we ran the same course twice. Every single time, whether we did it well the first time or not, when Camm went to run it the second time, she basically told me to get the hell out of her way so she could run her course. Sometimes this makes me look like an amazing handler, mostly to the uninitiated. Other times this makes me look like a tawdry accessory from a decade ago, embarrassingly unneeded and better left at home.
She was just a naughty, opinionated little sass all weekend and it was so much fun. Good times because I did not care about whether or not we qualified and the more sassy she was, the more fun it was.
Camm isn’t going to retire after all.
My dogs also learned this weekend that just because our house has suddenly become a lot smaller with the inability to use half of it and because we basically reside in either the office or the main bedroom these days due to the briefly aforementioned tree, things can actually get a lot smaller.
On Saturday we stayed in a friend’s RV for the night after the trial. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m adept at stepping around and over dogs that have to be with me at every step I take. Because I’m here to tell you that with four border collies in a RV, and not a huge RV, no one has to move at all in order to be very near to the Human.
Of course, when I went to go to bed, three of the four were already in the bed when I turned around after changing into sleeping clothes and the fourth was on the floor in front of the step to get onto the bed.
Overall, despite not caring about doing agility very much, it was a really good agility weekend with really good dogs and good people