This past weekend I did an AKC agility trial. Not a highly unusual event for me and my dogs, though it was the first one I have done in several months, as I spend my summers hiking and playing USDAA. Naturally, some folks I don’t see often wondered about Felix. He is legally old enough to compete in AKC agility, so they wanted to know if he was entered.
I stifled a laugh. His age is neither here nor there, you see, because the the dog isn’t ready. More than that, I’m not ready either (start a young dog on the cusp of a big event with my seasoned dog? How on earth would I do him justice?). One person argued she believes in the mantra “trial early, trial often,” and while I was stunned into silence in that moment, I want to offer a counter-mantra now.
Trial when there’s a reason to, as often as serves both dog and handler.
What is a dog for?
The sad state of affairs in dog agility is that a lot of people only have dogs for agility. Their dogs are bought, trained, and kept for agility. If that is the case, then of course the dogs are ready to trial at the legal age (15 months for AKC, 18 for USDAA). I have spend the first year plus of Felix’s life training him, exploring with him, and loving him intensely. As I told his breeder when I first asked if I could have one her of dogs; if he never did dog agility he’d still be my cherished companion. What he’s mine for is to make me laugh, snuggle me on the couch, and be himself. He’ll do agility; and I will value him no more than I do now. It will be another thing we do together, because we enjoy each other’s company, and we enjoy the game. If I am lucky I will look back on that conversation in 13 years or so and still have Felix beside me. In the grand scheme of a dog’s short life, does it matter if they started trialling at 15 months or at three years? The answer is clear in my mind.
What is agility for?
This is for all of us to decide, and I think if you’re “doing it right” it will probably evolve. With my first dog I saw titles as markers of progress, as accomplishments. I have become a person who tracks nationals Qs, and recycles title certificates when they arrive in the mail. Agility is another means of growth in my life; I am in it to push myself. As a trainer and as a competitor, if I become stagnant I bore with the game quickly. Now competing only serves me if it is meeting that need to grow, and it only serves my dog so long as I make plenty of time to walk her, warm her up, cool her down, and generally enjoy her company. Agility trials make up the majority of crate time my dogs have in their lives; when I look at it that way I am careful not to trial weekend after weekend. Idgie will be eight years old soon, I’d rather spend time with her beside me than not. Running her is a thrill and a joy; I treat it like a special occasion, not a routine.
Choosing how to spend our time
Fifteen month old puppies turn into fifteen year old dogs only for the luckiest of the bunch. If agility is what your dog is for, then by all means spend most of your precious time together doing just that. Our time on earth is our most valuable currency, and our dogs’ lives, whether cut short by unfair circumstances or not, is always brief. Spend it how you choose; I’ll be training, hiking, and laughing with my dogs far more than I’ll be at weekend shows. As for Felix, he loves agility, and he barely knows what it is yet. He’ll see you all out there when he’s fully prepared.
Kelso on his first day with me, and his last. I’m not sure how old he was at his first trial, and looking at these pictures I am certain it doesn’t matter.