posted by Doranna Durgin
Yes, I'm back from another dog show/trial...last of the season for the this area. And although we did well enough in terms of success, the contrast between this show and the previous weekend's show is something I'm still pondering.
The first weekend held an agility trial. It was a single event show--agility only--held in a quiet park in a beautiful little high desert town just outside Sitgreaves National Forest. In most agility trials, everyone's got a work-together, pitch-in attitude. We try to be considerate "neighbors," our pop-up tents and shelters dotting the edges of the trialing grounds--quiet dogs, no littering, keep the porta-johns nice, and we help each other shove those shelters up into place as we set up upon arrival. It goes without saying that we cheer each other's accomplishments, as well as our dismays. Every trial has a slightly different personality and some are a little more cliqueish than others, but I've never found one I couldn't navigate with a smile.
Most importantly, in agility, one celebrates the dogs. The judges admonish us--"You chose to do this sport, not your dog. Be considerate or I'll whistle you off." And they do, too. When I come off a run my first priority is the dog--we celebrate (for Belle this means dancing and leaping into my arms; for Connery it means a lot of self-congratulatory bawhing followed by a dash to the shelter for cookies. Jean-Luc, after his occasional runs, mainly just looks bug-eyed). Everyone works to find the reward that's most exciting and meaningful to their particular dog, and when you see a handler dash off the course with that look in her eye, you get out of the way--she's heading for the special treat, usually with the dog taking lead.
The second weekend we attended a local show--an all-breed show with rally and obedience. It was held at the fairgrounds--lots of asphalt, giant event tents of circus proportions for the conformation classes, a long row of tempting vendors (shopping!), scattered porta-johns, and along the edges, a grass venue for obedience classes and a covered barn for rally. My set-up was in the middle grounds, along with everyone else--jam-packed with dogs and equipment and noise. High-powered air dryers, barking dogs, loudspeaker announcements...people left litter where it suited them, and o my Gawd those porta-johns--!
And then there's the celebrating...
Or rather, the lack thereof. People stand around the obedience ring chatting, their dogs on leashes...ignored. People come out of the ring tight-lipped, never having exclaimed to the dog how special it was, and what a good job it did (even if it didn't!). One cannot praise a dog during the obedience exercises, either. Rally is slightly more relaxed--one can praise all along the way, thank goodness--but I still felt like the odd man out, revving my dogs up, getting them confident and driven and happy before our turn in the ring. In either ring, one cannot allow the dog to leap into your arms. In either ring, a barking dog can be dismissed.
How's a Beagle to congratulate himself?
For Belle, I left the ring as quickly as possible and then let her jump up. Connery came out of the obedience ring quivering with anticipation of the celebration, and all I could do was offer a big cookie treasure and lots of thumping. After we went back in for long sits and downs and then stayed for ribbons, he couldn't stand it any longer--as soon as the judge turned away, he began congratulating himself. Bawh!! Well, the class was over...
So here's the thing. Although we did comparably in each trial, with an unanticipatedly high Q rate in both and enough first placements to turn my head--and although Connery finished his Rally Excellent title and Belle is now close, and although both have legs on their novice obedience...I feel very differently about the two experiences. One stands out in my mind as a weekend of celebrating our teamwork and easy camaraderie with other competitors, and the other as a large, noisy venue full of people ignoring one another where I was not allowed to let my dogs know how very special they are to me.
So...equal success. And not. Obviously, the latter experience works very well for a large number of people. However, it was a good lesson to me on my own definition of success with my training, and it's kind of making me think about how it applies to my writing, and to life in general. One makes a lot of choices along the way with writing...and I guess I'd like my career to feel like agility, not like obedience. I want to dive in with glee, wallow in what I'm doing, celebrate what I've done whether I "win" or not, and make the choices that allow me to do so.
Awareness feels like half the battle with that one.