Discover Your Purpose
A friend of mine confessed to me she dropped out of dog agility, and I asked her why. She replied, to my amusement, “Because I found out that I have to run on the course too.”! Well, duh, yeah!
But the fact is, my friend expressed a common misconception about agility that affects many people. While not as bad as the customer that called and told me that she looks out her window into her obstacle-filled yard and is disappointed that her dogs aren’t out there running around using the equipment on their own (yes, I’m serious), there IS a mentality that we have to come to grips with, and that is agility is more than something that entertains us and works our dogs. I’m afraid most people catch the ‘agility fever’ without counting the cost of what it means to them, not the dog. The speed, the glory, the good feeling of seeing dogs flying over jumps and whipping through poles is something that affects anyone who sees it the first time, and does more for enlisting new recruits into the sport than anything else. But as much as we might want to admit otherwise, the purpose for agility goes deeper than our dogs. It’s also about our own character and personality. There is something we all seek for in doing agility with our dogs, and it’s often a “vision” that lies in a seed form in our heart. This applies not just for agility, but for anything we get involved in. Getting in touch with this vision and clarifying the reason why we do something is one of the keys to “sticking it out” when the weather gets nasty, distractions come, or when difficult challenges arise.
“Agility is like life…you have to take it one obstacle at a time”.
I have to admit, when I first started Affordable Agility about a decade ago, it rather ‘snow-balled’ into what it is now, rather than starting off as well-planned company of vision. Not to say that it didn’t have any. Vision was conceived in frustration, particularly over trying to make backyard equipment for the “agility fever” that I had caught. As a single gal who still holds a hammer up close near the head (the hammer’s head, that is), and who is about as confident walking through the aisles of a Home Depot as I would be walking the streets of India, trying to design a teeter-totter base for my dog was more than I could emotionally handle! I remember my pitiful attempt at building an a-frame. Would you believe I used a small hinged garage sale sign and nailed carpeting on it? My Springer Spaniel would either fly over it, or knock it flat. She was so patient with me back then.
It didn’t take long for me to feel that my dog was enjoying agility more than I was. What happened? Why did it sometimes feel like a chore to train? Why did I get involved in agility to begin with? What did I believe it to be? What was the vision of Affordable Agility going to be? Over time I got more in touch with the vision for all these things, and it helped me immensely.
I discovered, for one thing, that agility is more than just a fun thing to do with our dogs. If that was the sum and whole you would get bored of it, because while your dog appears to be in his glory, you yourself are doing soul-searching. Soul-searching, you ask? In agility? Well, if you’ve been involved in agility training for any length of time you have surely experienced the subtle affect that body language, tone of voice, and attitude has on your unusually sensitive dog. Anyone who has competed in agility knows, for example, what happens to their dog’s confidence when you feel nervous in the ring. Or if you feel insecure, how easily you can miss giving a necessary cue in time. Or if you are discouraged, how your dog runs slower. It’s like your dog is seeing right through you and reflecting everything you feel. Suddenly a sport that started off being fun (and still is) is also becoming a way of seeing yourself for who you really are! For some of us, this revelation can be a pivotal experience. How committed we become to the training process, and how we decide to work at it, is directly related to how much we want to use the method of dog agility to train ourselves and succeed in overcoming certain negative aspects of our character.
You see, in a fundamental way agility represents and contains the essence of what dogs were meant to do and what we were meant to do from the beginning of creation. Dogs are creatures of nature, and nature was created for man. Both are happiest when in a harmony of submission, dogs to their masters, and man to his Maker. Agility is a form of teamwork that exemplifies this harmony. Training dogs is fulfilling and rewarding, both for the dog who was created to work, and the human who was created to work the dog. This goes for any other act of ruling over nature, whether in tending to a garden or mowing grass, teaching students how to do read and write, or organizing unruly data into neat columns. Everything we do, done to the glory of our Creator, is honoring our created purpose.
So next time you go out to ask your dog to run through a tunnel, or leap over a jump, maybe you’ll get that exhilarating sense, as I do, that even the simplest things of life have profound opportunities to fulfill Divine purposes. I hope you will embrace the moment for all it’s wonderment, and learn all that you can from everything you do.
~By Pamela Spock
Also read: Get a Focus Plan: A gutsy top-down approach to setting agility training goals!
Agility has taught me that there is more than one way to reach a goal. Afflicted with spinal stenosis, I found I could no longer run with my dogs. My dear friend is running my older dog who firmly believes agility is running the course WITH his teammate. However, I am teaching my young dog distance handling and he is loving it! His confidence is soaring, he enjoys the trust I bestow in believing that he can do his job without me by his side. I am able to walk rather than run, and using body motion and lots of verbals, direct him through the course. Thanks to the two of us being willing to try a different way to reach our goal of having fun together “running” agility, I am still participating in the sport I love.
That’s so great, what you shared, thank you so much. I love how you said there is more than one way to reach a goal. That’s where we need to stay flexible in our training, and realize that the goal might not change, but how we get there can certainly change. I have often been thrown off in my goal setting thinking the process is supposed to go a certain way, and when it doesn’t, I give up. I get too attached to my methods. Anyway, you reminded us of an important point.
By the way, you might be interested in a product I just heard about, called the Ready Trainer. We are planning on carrying them as soon as they become available. It is a remote controlled “treat” machine that dispenses a treat from a remote you hold in your hand. It is particularly useful for distance training, since you don’t have to be on the other end of an obstacle to treat your dog. And yet, if the dog skips a step (i.e. skips a pole, misses the down contact, etc.) you don’t press the remote. It’s a small thing too, so that you can place it in strategic spots for training. More to come on that, but meanwhile, I am so glad that you haven’t let your spinal illness stop you from doing the things you enjoy doing!
I think that we all need to ask ourselves that one pertinent question. Why did I begin agility to begin with? Because it looked like a lot of fun! Also for the challenges for ourselves and most of all for our dogs, really nothing more in the beginning was as important than to see if we could do it! Its hard not to let the competitive side take over. Its important to go back to the beginning and analyze what our intentions were. For myself it just looked like a lot of fun, and for my dog a challenge to be the best he could be!
It is inspirational to watch some people doing agility. But sometimes I think that God wants us to do agility so that we learn how to laugh and not take things so seriously. Most of the time when there are mistakes, my dog’ll look at me as if to say, “What happened there, I was where I should’ve been, where were you?”. If you don’t just laugh at yourself, life is a lot harder and you still haven’t Q’ed. Sure train more, and work to get better, but laugh too! Your dog will appreciate it.
Amen Sharon! I think being cheerful and having fun through the whole learning curve is definitely key … as I heard it said, “If agility isn’t fun, then you aren’t doing agility”. I think this lesson is harder for some personalities to learn. Some people are wired for laughing easily and seeking out fun adventures, and they are more apt to think positively of their own mistakes. God bless them, while they have other areas that agility can refine, some of us who are more perfectionists and driven for success should learn to be more like that. We’d actually do better too!