Finding Balance

I was thinking about finding *balance* in agility this weekend. I think it’s something that I’ve struggled with personally lately, and I’m still not sure what to do about it. Specifically, I’m talking about competing and pushing for the tightest turns, the best lines, and the most speed, while still somehow enjoying the moment with your dog and having fun. I had a bit of a meltdown moment this weekend with poor Trip, where I was SO angry with her about a blown run. Certainly we both had some blame in how the run went bad, but I was not nice to her afterwords, and I’m not proud of the way I acted. Five minutes afterwords, I took her out of her crate and apologized, and took her outside to play frisbee. But still, not good for your relationship with your dog. I know that, but I’m also human.

It did get to me thinking about balancing all of these reasons why we do agility. The standard answer is “we do agility for something fun to do with our dog.” But that’s rarely a whole truth. If we just wanted something fun to do with our dog, we’d stay home and play agility in the backyard, and save the money that goes into entering competitions. So, for me, I’m a competitive person. I played soccer in high school and college. I enjoy socializing with agility folks. And I love competing with my dog and doing well. I’m blessed to have a phenomenal girl who is competitive with just about any dog in the country. And I have goals for her–Nationals Finals, World Team, etc.

Which can put a lot of pressure on those normal trial weekend runs. I’m trying to improve my handling, analyze the best lines, all in the hope that it will help me in the bigger competitions. But feeling like you have to gun for 1st every run is a lot of pressure to maintain every run of every show. It gets to the point where a Q just isn’t enough–I’m analyzing every turn, every cross, every choice I make on course, to try to determine if that was the absolute fastest we could run it. And “enjoying the run with your dog” sometimes goes out the window.

So, I’m back to balance. How do I balance those big goals with loving this dog with all my heart, and knowing that one day, I would give anything for the chance to run her again, mistakes and all? Well, I’m going to try to have smaller goals–tight turn here, good acceleration there, etc. Focusing on winning is a recipe for disaster–we compete against some awesome dogs, and will just set ourselves up for failure if second place is a disappointment. I know I need to focus on prepping for the big events and handling clearly and well. Of course, I need that positive reinforcement of the Q as much as the next person, but I do think I’ve managed to move beyond handling *for* a Q and am able to make decisions that are consistent within my system, even though they may not always be the *easiest* decisions to make. I also need to avoid “overhandling” courses–I think now that I actually remember to use decel to improve a turn, I sometimes overuse it, and tightening every single turn (and therefore losing speed on every turn) isn’t the fastest way to go.

I also found Trip’s frisbee in her old dog bag–I couldn’t tell you the last time I played frisbee with her, and it’s her favorite game. She’s the only dog I have that really loves it, and I just let that toy disappear. So Trip got to play frisbee this weekend, and I’m also making it a goal to play frisbee with her after every run. It may not happen now that I’m running 3 dogs again, but you better believe she’ll be seeing that toy every weekend, just me and her. I know it’s a small thing, but it’s a reminder to me of how much I love this dog, and how she always gives me everything she can, despite my mistakes and flaws. And I owe her the same thing.

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