Whole Dog Journal's Blog June 9, 2014

Do What Fills You

Posted at 12:39PM - Comments: (13)

A week ago, I attended my first agility competition Ė just as a spectator. It made me immediately wish I had kept up with my agility lessons with Otto. I want to get back to it! I have to try my hand at this sport.

I had an excuse for quitting Ė several, actually. The trainer I was taking group lessons from suddenly moved far away, and I didnít know anyone else locally who either had agility equipment or was offering group classes. And family matters prevented me from having enough spare time to drive much farther than I already had been in search of a replacement class.

But Otto LOVED going to class and jumping over things and running through things. He thought it was a blast and so did I.

Within 10 minutes of watching a fairly advanced class at the event I attended, I had burst out laughing (with utter delight at watching a fantastic dog/handler team) and burst into tears (at the end of the same run, to witness the joy and pride and connection between that dog and handler). Okay, yes, Iím a total and utter sap, but emotions are part of what I love about dog/human relations.

Itís breathtaking to see a fast accurate agility run, and heartwarming to see a slower, accurate one where the dog checks in constantly with his handler and seems to be having a good (even if not great) time. And it always saddens me to see a dog go unacknowledged at the exit of the ring after a run in which he made mistakes. Maybe the handler doesnít want to ďrewardĒ a run in which the took the wrong obstacle but if he got 95 percent of the other obstacles right, isnít it a little dampening to his enthusiasm if he gets zero affection/patting/play or even eye contact at the end? Iím a TOTAL amateur at this sport, but instinctively, I feel there is often a connection between the dog not paying strict attention to his or her handler and the handlerís visible, palpable disappointment and unhappiness at the end of a poor or even mediocre run.

Itís a thrill to see the Border Collies and Aussies and Jack Russell Terriers and Belgian Tervurens flying around the course . . . but no less thrilling to see pit-mixes and Pomeranians and Rotties and who-knows-whats do so, too.

I should also say that while I saw lots of fit, gorgeous human athletes tooling around the courses, I alsosaw plenty of people far older and far more out of shape than I am jogging with their dogs to pick up ribbons. Being middle-aged and middle-sized is no excuse to stop my exploration of this sport.

I still have a lot going on in my family. Iím spending most of my spare time supporting one wing of my family, people who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, and the rest supporting another close family member in a serious battle with cancer. But darn it, the time I spend working with and enjoying Otto is what helps fill me up, so I have more to give. Iím tracking down another agility class today.

Comments (13)

Thanks Greg for your piece on Hawthorne berries. I am giving her goji berries (also called wolfberries) that she absolutely loves, but I am running out. I buy them in bulk at Sprouts store in Albquerque. I also give her coconut shavings with the goji berries as a treat; also some sprouted grain bread with some extra virgin olive oil and peanut butter. She's 14 years old and has always had an erratic heartbeat, which I notice is becoming more pronounced . I also give her sardines or salmon with whole grain brown rice and organic barley grass mixed with moringa. But thanks a lot for the hawthorne be berry tip as I have a bottle here.

Posted by: Glorious22 | June 13, 2014 7:03 PM    Report this comment

I had a sweet mini Poodle who was an agility natural. Any time we had a bad run it was my fault, not hers. We have to realize our dogs pay more attention to our body signals than our voice signals. She knew when we missed an obstacle, she knew it was my fault, and would "rooo, roooo" at me to let me know I blew it! I would apologize and she was very forgiving. Unfortunately, she developed congestive heart failure and had to stop running. She then passed away and I still miss her terribly. Her litter mate has NO interest in agility and my current job makes it hard to practice and compete. Hopefully another time and another dog will allow agility again.

Posted by: AgilityMom | June 10, 2014 8:37 PM    Report this comment

Wheatie, the third dog pictured, is my grandpuppy. He loves agility almost as much as my daughter. You are absolutely right. It is a beautiful sight to see the love, the bond, and the connection between the human and their best friend. Thank you for sharing this story and the photos.

Posted by: Marty WYe | June 10, 2014 7:28 PM    Report this comment

Agility has helped my dog with her problems. My rescue, Whiskey, shuts down when she's stressed. If scared she will look at me like she doesn't recognize me anymore and bolt. So we started agility 7 years ago and I credit the sport for building her confidence and trust. I realized that my dog needs to be rewarded even she does something "wrong" - and so what if we blow a run! My job is to help her have fun. She's made tremendous progress, but it's been hard work, especially compared to my other agility dogs who are gung-ho about the sport. But in the end, my dog will have lived a happier more secure life thanks to dog agility.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | June 10, 2014 5:04 PM    Report this comment

Ctwomey, it is not too late to start your 7-month-old; it is actually too early! Most classes stipulate that a dog be at least a year old to start agility, as their bones haven't yet hardened enough for all the jumping before that. Right now, though, you can strengthen those obedience commands that your dog will need for agility, as well as increasing his attention on and response to you as his handler.

Posted by: kimsheard | June 10, 2014 12:12 PM    Report this comment

I have a 7 month old golden retriever. Is it too late to take classes with him for agility?
After reading the article it sounds like a fun thing for the dog, especially if he responds to the training. Winning is not that important, but having something serious to focus on would be another way to have fun with my companion.

Posted by: Ctwomey | June 10, 2014 11:13 AM    Report this comment

This piece echoed, in some ways, my experience last fall. Family issues (a death), injury (broken ankle), and distance (1 hr. drive on icy roads last winter), expense (sadly, I'm on a budget) all came together so that I did not sign up again. I did love the 6 lessons we took, my dog surprised me with how well she did. I'd love to give it another try.

Posted by: Carolyn M | June 10, 2014 10:40 AM    Report this comment

I can not thank you enough for this beautiful, honest and heartfelt article. Having just returned from Camp Gone to the Dogs I recognized that I desperately want to continue my agility training with my dogs. Though I have no aspirations for Nationals or to decorate my dogs crates with ribbons , it's the connection between my dogs that I enjoy and thrive on most!

Posted by: Jeannie | June 10, 2014 8:10 AM    Report this comment

An addition to my previous post: no matter if we nq or qualify, the first thing I do with my dogs is go back to my crate and give them a special treat, usually real brand name peanut butter. They don't know if they qualified or not, all they know is they had fun.

Posted by: Sheltiepack | June 10, 2014 6:37 AM    Report this comment

An addition to my previous post: no matter if we nq or qualify, the first thing I do with my dogs is go back to my crate and give them a special treat, usually real brand name peanut butter. They don't know if they qualified or not, all they know is they had fun.

Posted by: Sheltiepack | June 10, 2014 6:37 AM    Report this comment

I will be 65 years old and just started competing in agility 2 years ago. I had been doing obedience for 10 years, but my newest female sheltie had way too much energy so I started in a foundation agility class just for fun, never intending to compete. Well, 14 months later we entered our first trial and I was hooked. Even a partial knee replacement didn't stop us, I was out for 6 months and started competing again in December. Sure, it's nice to bring home ribbons, but the best part is bonding and having fun with your dogs. You don't have to be 30 to run, most competitors are on the backside of 40. We may never get a MACH, but we're having a blast.

Posted by: Sheltiepack | June 10, 2014 5:36 AM    Report this comment

I do agility with 3 of my Havanese. I love it, they love it. They are not the fastest dogs on the field but still have achieved some championship titles and are working on more. However, I don't do it for the ribbons and plaques. I do it because of the bond we've developed. Agility is my stress reliever after a bad day at work or anything. I've met new friends, traveled with my hubby and all our dogs in our RV. It's just been win-win for me. I am extremely grateful for every run and for every day we can practice, demonstrate or compete. "Run fast, run clean" :)

Posted by: jgrace | June 9, 2014 1:04 PM    Report this comment

I trained and competed in agility casually with my Aussie for about 7 years (until about a year ago when I retired him at the age of 10). Even though I am not a great handler, he was very forgiving of my mistakes and I treasured every run we shared (good or bad). I credit agility with creating an even stronger bond with him than I've ever had with any other dog. There are so many different organizations now that offer agility or other fun "games" to do with your dog (like Wag It games, Treiball or Nose Work) ... I highly recommend finding a game your dog enjoys and making time to share the fun with him/her!

Posted by: midebrown | June 9, 2014 12:05 PM    Report this comment

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