The Right Attitude in Dog Agility is a Winning Attitude
I am sure many of you, in the beginning, had thoughts of quitting dog agility for one reason or another and that would be perfectly normal. I am also certain most of you have had a friend actually quit which is just fine. Dog agility isn’t for everyone, but we need to do our part and help those around us understand it is a team sport, especially beginners. They are taking on a huge task of learning a completely new sport, most likely with an adult dog that may be learning their very first form of structured exercise.
We need to understand and help other beginners grasp as well, that dog agility is more than something that entertains us and gives our dog a work out. Too many individuals see a polished team on course and think their dog will fly around the course while they casually jog and guide the dog through. And while that is a goal that can be reached, it is not where anyone of any level of experience starts. It is a journey of that breaks down both ego and pride and rebuilds it with character and humility. It is also a journey that we undertake with a dog that has to catch our vision, dogs don’t normally run around playing on dog agility equipment on their own. We have to sell them on the idea of playing this game with us, not for us.
That being said, dog agility really isn’t for everyone and there is no shame in admitting it early in the game. Maybe another sport would interest the handler or even a totally different discipline. If the handler can not get into the game, by no means will they be able to get the dog into it either. But you have to give it all you have in order to know if you and your dog want to continue.
It takes time, dedication, and practice in good and bad weather, distraction and difficult times. The truth is that dog agility is the vehicle that gets many a handler through the struggles of life. It gives them focus and purpose as well as sense of belonging when life gets out of hand. Dog agility is also the healer of many issues with dogs from shy, fearfulness to over exuberance and even aggression. Giving a dog purpose is one of the best things you can do for them.
All beginners need to go into dog agility with the understanding that this sport is about a dog and a handler first and foremost. The handler cannot give up on the dog, they must rise above the frustration, confusion, and even discouragement and be the beacon for their team. They must be the glue that holds it all together.
It also requires humility and openness to try new ideas and ask for help on this journey. If road blocks are met, the handler must be willing to seek out the help their team needs before both dog and handler lose interest in the game. And all seasoned handlers will agree it takes at least six heaping helpings of humor! You have to be able to laugh at your mistakes and your dog’s. I will go out on a limb and say 90-95% of mistakes made are the handlers, even when your dog leaves the ring. You never know exactly what your dog will do until you go to that first trial, but if it is a “flop,” it’s not the dog’s fault.
Every trial will not produce a win, but every trial will provide opportunity to learn about you, your dog, and your team. As captain you need to learn what makes your dog tick. What stresses them, what makes them happy and how to settle their minds. At the same time you have to learn those same traits in yourself. You can see why calling dog agility a journey is the truth.
Beginner beware, dog agility will make you and your dog grow. It is up to you if you allow it to grow your patience, humility, and confidence or grow your temper, bad attitude, and fear. No dog agility isn’t always easy, nothing of value ever is. Give it all you have and at the end of the day you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror with pride in knowing you did.