There’s a lot of talk buzzing around the agility world right now. Talk about how much competing and training is too much. Talk about the choices we make in our dogs’ competitive careers. Talk about who is to blame (or thank) for the direction our sport is taking.
And I think it’s high-time each one of us, as competitors, takes some personal responsibility. It’s time we decide to choose quality, which means figuring out what that means for our personal teams and situations.
For me, choosing quality starts on the training field. If my dog gets something right I am not going to repeat it. If she gets it wrong twice in a row, you can bet I will not be sending her to try a third time because I obviously need to break the skill down for her. And I vow to always do age-appropriate training; a dog that is not done growing should not be torquing her spine, jumping high bars, or ascending full height contacts–and a dog that is past her prime shouldn’t be doing much of that either. I will always go out to train with a purpose in mind to ensure that I am never simply going through the motions. I will train more foundation behaviors than full-height equipment for my dog’s entire career. To me, that’s what quality looks like.
Choosing quality in competition is an ever-evolving process for me, as I imagine it is for most competitors. In previous years choosing quality was about qualifying for bigger events–regional and national competitions are a big reason I am still driven in this sport. With recent changes made to AKC’s national qualifying criteria, I fear more and more competitors will choose quantity in the coming year. I will not make qualifying for that event one of my primary goals because doing so would be abandoning quality in my mind. Instead I will focus my efforts on venues that reward what I would consider quality of competition and choose my local AKC trials carefully. If I don’t attend another AKC national (until the inevitable growth toward quality occurs in that venue) it will be because I chose quality instead of quantity–a choice I am comfortable with.
We shouldn’t only think of quality when it comes to training and competing either. Our dogs are athletes and should be treated as such. Feeding them an excellent diet and keeping them in top condition are the LEAST we can do in exchange for their hard work. Developing a relationship with a good CCRT (Certified Canine Rehab Therapist) has been vital in maintaining quality of care for my girl, Idgie. Laser treatments, PT, acupuncture, and frequent sports physicals have all been a part of keeping her in her best condition. If you think you can’t afford that stuff it might be time to cut out a few trials. Reducing your trial schedule so that you can afford better food and care for your dog sounds exactly like focusing on quality to me.
Finally, an area I think is much overlooked in our sport is quality of our dogs’ mental health. Long hikes, as little time spent in a crate as possible, and sufficient mental stimulation should all be priorities but I am often baffled by the lack of off leash exercise these dogs receive and the long crated hours they experience.
Of course, these are my ideas about quality for our competition dogs and everyone must arrive at their own conclusions. I simply encourage everyone to take personal responsibility for their own dogs’ health and well-being. After all, it isn’t up to an organization to keep your dog healthy and happy–it’s up to you.
Taking the time to hike on the way home from a three day competition this summer.