Negativity sucks!

So, warning, rant ahead, and a bit of a rambling, disjointed post. When did agility become so negative?

Sure, we’ve all done it. Honestly, trying to rid myself of that negativity has been a huge part of my mental management, and I feel like I’ve come light years. Want to know why I wear head phones in a walkthrough? It’s not because I’m trying to avoid answering someone’s question (I’m HAPPY to offer advice when asked). It’s not because I’m some kind of uber-serious competitor who needs to be in my own little world to focus (my co-workers would probably tell you I’m almost TOO good at tuning extraneous things out). It’s for two reasons that both involve eliminating negativity–the first, my music makes me happy. The second–listening to complaining about courses wore on me mentally, and inevitably sucked me in. If you’re so busy thinking about all the things you CAN’T do on a course, you’ve already lost. Know your skills, create a plan. If it doesn’t work, figure out what skills you need to attack the course next time. But I don’t want to lament over x is too tricky, y is too hard, I just can’t do this.

So, that’s one form of negativity I see at agility trials. Another is much more personal. I have a friend who competes in agility. She has a great, fast, young dog. Who, absolutely, has tons of potential. But fast, young, green dogs are NOT easy to run. There are going to be mistakes. There’s going to be great big combustive events as the dog completely obliterates the course as it was meant to be. But she’s trying. She goes to more classes. She asks more questions. She looks at options she hasn’t considered before. So why has my friend been repeatedly approached at trials by various people who tell her she has “too much dog?” What exactly is she supposed to do with that? What good does it do to tell her, essentially, “your dog has a ton of potential, but you sure suck?” This isn’t someone who blames her dog for all that goes wrong. She knows exactly what kind of dog she has. She’s TRYING. But on top of actually training, she has to fight the constant, unsolicited discouragement, from people who have NO idea what she’s currently working on. She’s been told her dog is too fast, she is too slow, has she should think about giving her to someone else? Seriously. I just don’t get it.

Before you point out I’m a hypocrite, yes, I have run other people’s dogs for them, and currently run one regularly. I will do it when asked, and I try not to question their motivation too much. But I’ve never told someone let me run your dog because I can do better. I’ve been asked for various reasons (usually physical for the handler), and I always say I’m happy to do it. But I also really try to push people to run their own dogs. That’s why we do agility, right? To get out there and have fun with our teammate? Just go see what happens–you never know!

Sure, I have seen fast dogs with a ton of potential frustrated by slow handlers. But I would never presume to tell someone they should just give up. Quite frankly, for every good handler out there, it’s not hard to find a better one. One who could probably do things with YOUR dog that you can only dream of. I have accomplished plenty with my dogs, and I’m not ashamed to admit there is a long list of people who would have done better given what I had. Just don’t come up to me at a trial and tell me that person is you, so hand over the keys, or you’re liable to get an earful. What our challenges show me is whatever we need to work on as a TEAM to improve. I really believe these people don’t mean their comments to be hurtful. But they can destroy the self-confidence of a handler (and secondarily the dog), and take the fun out of agility.

I make a point of finding something I’m happy about with EVERY run. Even the colossal disasters. So while yes, I may be disappointed, at least I can think, hey, she kept all the bars up, or wow, that was a beautiful contact. Little goals within the course of a run. So, having someone come up within 10 seconds of leaving the ring to say, wow, sorry, you really bombed that, is not helping. If I want feedback or criticism, I will solicit it. If you REALLY need to tell someone what went wrong, can you at least give them 5-10 minutes to cool down/put up their dog, and decompress, before hitting them with it? I’m not perfect, I’m sure I’ve “commiserated” with someone as they’ve left the ring. But my goal is to only say something positive as someone is leaving–those weaves were great, your front cross was perfect, etc. Anything else is just dragging people down, and adding to the negativity. And that’s something we just don’t need more of.

Next week, Trip and I leave for the AKC National Championships in Reno. I’ve always had big goals for my perfect girl–really, some of the biggest–NAC. And sure, my ultimate goal is to run 3 clean, make the Finals, and give the Finals course everything we have. I also realize that even if we are perfect, it might not be enough. And that’s ok too. Trip has been battling an on-again, off-again injury for months. Every run is a gift, no matter what the outcome. And I keep reminding myself my biggest goal in Reno is to enjoy every moment with my girl, and appreciate everything she gives me. So cheer for us, no matter what the final score sheet says. If we’re running, then all the rest is gravy. 🙂

Please feel free to share this if you feel so inclined. If you find yourself struggling with negativity and the mental aspects of competing, I HIGHLY recommend Lanny Bassham’s book “With Winning in Mind.” As someone who used to feel physically ill when she stepped to the line, it has made a huge difference for me.

Happy trials, and safe travels for those of you I’ll be seeing in Reno.

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