Dog Agility: Why Doing It “Just For Fun” May Be The Wrong Way

Posted on 03/02/16 21 Comments

feature_snow_2011Today I wanted to make to time to join in the Dog Agility Blogger Action Day because the topic is FUN. How can I not take time out for THAT?

As a professional in the sport of dog agility I recognize I am more obsessive with training and handling then the average “weekend agility warrior.”  That is who I am…and that is how others working at the top of our sport roll as well. But there is a misconception that we are “different” then the rest of you or worst yet that we do agility to WIN while the rest of the world just does it for FUN.

There is an old saying…

“Champions in any field make a habit of doing what others find boring or uncomfortable.”

That “old saying” supports the myth that Champions don’t have fun…that we are all just driven to win. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are those rare humans that will get up every day and push themselves hard, working, working, working…striving, striving, striving. Suffering, sacrificing all in the name of winning.

There are those few people out there that will do that…I haven’t met any of them yet… but I have been told they do exist.

I have a friend who has won 5 Olympic medals, I have another who was the World Champion of karate and another who was on the pro tennis circuit. None of them fit the description of a “champion” above…and neither do I.

Here is a description we do fit though… I have twisted that old saying into something that I believe holds more truth…

Champions in any field turn what other people find boring or uncomfortable and turn that into a game that they will love to play every day.

In other words champions have figured out how put a multiplier on the fun associated with any activity.decaff-fanny

So if you are thinking you don’t want to be a champion because you “just want to have fun” I have news for you. Those of us who truly love having fun have figured out a way to have a lot more of it while reaching our goals at the same time!

We make a game out of everything. We have fun with everything we do…and that is why we succeed. But there is more to it then that because dog agility involves another living being. So it can’t matter just how much fun you are having…it has to be mutual fun. If you look at the elite levels of dog agility you can tell…every one of those dogs is having FUN (sadly not every one of those handlers maybe having fun…but that is topic for another blogpost).

Think about the agility dog who is sniffing the ground, bypassing jumps…walking around the course…maybe breaking into a trot every now and again. Does that dog look like he is having more fun then the dog that is racing at top speed around a course?

What about the handler who is clapping, cajoling or begging his dog to take the next obstacle…does that handler give off the appearance of having w-a-y more joy then those of us who are flat out running just trying to get our cues out in time for our speedy dog to take the next line of obstacles?

So if you hear someone saying “I just do agility for fun” ask them if both they andhanging_out_on_frame copy their dogs are having fun every time they train together. I am not saying Champions don’t have challenges. But I will say that challenges come only when one of the two parts of the team has stopped having fun. So if your dog is knocking bars or is turning wide…he is still having fun…although you may not be having quite as much fun as you would like. If you are trying to run a dog in agility that is worried about his environment showing signs of stress, looking for a place to escape at every turn…you may be having fun but he sure isn’t.

Let mutual fun be your guide in agility and you will not only truly have fun…who knows you may also end up being a champion!

Today I am grateful for all of those agility competitors who look for mutual fun in our sport…ensure their dogs are having as much fun as they are.

21 Comments

  1. Chuck says:
    Monday, September 12, 2016 at 1:29pm

    I’d like to say it’s “just for fun”, but we all know that while we like it, those Q’s and titles are important to us! I used to play Golf, a game that only a few people can play really well. I find a lot of similarity to Golf in Agility. Learning to handle and train well are very demanding and labor intensive. Lessons, classes, practice….but in the end, like Golf, one good shot…or run, keeps you coming back.
    It’s a great feeling to run well with a dog friend you’ve trained, and in the end don’t they deserve the titles and praise?

    Reply

  2. Chloe says:
    Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 3:59pm

    You are so right! I always wonder if I’m too competitive, but then when I do a really speedy, clean course I am more happy and excited than any other time. Also, the same applies to my dog, she seems so much happier when she gets the chance to run at top speed and get lots of attention.

    Reply

  3. debra n Snap says:
    Friday, March 18, 2016 at 3:20am

    Susan, you know me – I read your posts and then look at how it is applied to my field of ‘fun’ Search and Rescue! It’s the same for us too – Yes, I train a lot as well and both my Snap and Puff (my puppy) love it! No, we don’t compete, but we do win when we find someone! Great post! Thank you!

    Reply

  4. Kim says:
    Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 12:52pm

    Those who compete have a sense of competitiveness…whether it’s against themselves or others. Competitiveness creates champions because they WANT to compete. But sometimes competitiveness also creates unhappy people and unhappy dogs because they favor the need to compete over taking the time to train all the foundation skills either they or their dog needs. And I think those are the people that you are talking about here. But many of us who say “I do agility for fun” don’t have a competitive bone in our bodies and many of us don’t bother with going to trials. That doesn’t mean that I don’t properly train myself or my dogs. I take exception to the suggestion that those of us that say “I do it for fun” somehow don’t train agility properly. Training myself and my dogs to me does not mean that it will lead to competition. Agility to me means enjoying creating a bond through training and understanding with my dogs, which I believe is something we all share, whether we choose to compete in the sport or not.

    Reply

  5. Teresa says:
    Friday, March 4, 2016 at 3:27pm

    I had the sniffing dogs. I was the clapping handler. When I found out about Recallers five years ago my dog training perspective changed. My dogs are happy and are having the time of their lives now! When I look at video or photos of us running Agility, I can see how happy they are. I am approached at Agility trials by other handlers that comment on how happy my dogs and I seem to be and yes we are having fun! I train Agility with my dogs because it is so much fun to see and take pride in the joy we have all found in the sport! I have always been obsessive in training my dogs but, now I rarely see an NQ at a trial. Learning how to be fun for and around my dogs because of the methods I have used including Handling 360, Puppy Peaks and Recallers and now Agility Nation are a huge part of our transformation.

    Reply

  6. Donna says:
    Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 12:44pm

    And I’ve had “having fun” used as a dig at me recently. I have a wonderful BC who stresses when I stress and then sniffs (my fault, starting to work on fixing that by signing up for H360). I came out of a Standard run, quite happy with his performance (we’ve had sniffy poles recently and he gave me a nice set) and this woman (who doesn’t even compete currently or even recently), said to her friend while I was standing there, oh well he’s never gonna be a world beater, but he has FUN… said with every bid of condescension imaginable. Luckily for her I”m a positive trainer and just ignored the behavior and walked away.

    Reply

  7. Bonnie Norris says:
    Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 7:52am

    Thanks for pointing this out. When students come to me and say “I just want to have fun,” that translates to me as “I don’t want to take the time to figure out how to communicate with my dog in a successful way that mutual understanding and joy.” In other words, a cop out. Very much in the same way as breeders who say “I’m not a breeder and only bred this litter for fun.” It’s shirking any accountability to the dogs. My experience has been the more work we put in to our training, the more fun our dogs have. 🙂

    Reply

  8. angela says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 10:28pm

    Great blog, it always annoys me when people act as if “having fun” and “playing at a high level” are two separate entities.

    Reply

  9. Jan Burroughs says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 9:56pm

    Let’s face it, there are many levels of athletes in agility for both dogs and handlers. Sometimes the “just having fun” comment is a way for a handler to accept they and thier dog will never be the fastest or have a high Q rate ÀND THEY DO NOT CARE! Fun is simply being out there navigating the course without injury to self or thier dog. I run 3 dogs, one has vision problems so I only run in NADAC because she has fun… and another who is ADD and has always had a great time…loves to show off with some extra credit jumping.. and one who Q’s everything and has fun with each additional challange. I have just as much fun running dogs that never Q as the one that does.. I smile every run…

    Reply

  10. Sarah Jane says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 9:49pm

    “So if you hear someone saying “I just do agility for fun” ask them if both they and their dogs are having fun every time they train together.”
    yep, I *just* do it for fun and yep, me and my dog have an absolute blast every time we train. We’ve been doing dog agility for three years and we both love it. When we’re training, all the stress of my life melts away and I can’t think about anything but the present moment: the happy, relaxed, confident body language my dog displays, the way she flies over the jumps and accelerates through the tunnel: yep, *just* fun.
    I know that it is fun because we’re still doing it, week after week, getting faster, tighter, stronger, more confident and…we’ve never entered a competition. Never gone to a “fun match.” Never had the slightest inkling to muddy what is *just* fun with competition or the ideas of winning titles or ribbons or whatever it is goes on with agility champions on the weekends. I’ve had trainers beg me to take my dog to shows. I’ve been told, “she’s more than ready! you need to get her out there!” But I won’t, because that doesn’t sound like the most fun. Why would we pay $20 to enter a competition and get one run when we can pay $10 and have as many runs on the equipment as we want? My dog loves agility, she loves pounding down the A-frame, she loves snapping through the weaves, she loves the suspense of riding the teeter to the ground. And I love seeing her do it, so I maximize the amount of times she gets to.
    The title of this blog post got my fur ruffled because although I’ve certainly seen wrong ways to do agility, sincerely doing it for fun, for the pure joy it brings to us and our dogs, simply isn’t one of them.

    Reply

    • Mirka says:
      Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 11:50am

      Even though I trialed with some of my dogs, I completely agree with your point of view. Trials and competition might not be in someones interested and it does not mean they are not having fun training, running and having their way of connection on the course.

      I have a client who is coming to agility with her 10 year old king charles girl. She shows up ever week after week for class and guess what – she is seriously doing it “just for fun”. They will not be winning medals or entering trials but they connect and they are both smiling and having fun.

      I think that’s what every sport is about. Not only agility.

      Reply

    • Nancy Woodham says:
      Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 6:04pm

      Well said!

      Reply

  11. Dorothé says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 8:09pm

    Agility has to be a sport for having FUN with your canine partner as it’s a “non-paid” sport and it does require the purchase or building of various obstacles with the love you put into the sport. If you would be practicing Agility for money then you would be on the wrong course.

    Reply

  12. Dawna says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 6:34pm

    Dawna says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 6:33pm

    I started agility to have fun with my dog and enjoy the exercise and activity it offered us both. I found myself becoming much to concerned with getting in to the ring and competing after the sudden death of my trainer and sister in law. I felt the need to meet the goals that we had set. Until my brother, also a competitor and trainer told me that everyone, including my trainer would be prouder of me for doing what was best for my pup and our team than they would us meeting any goals. I have started playing again and relaxing. But I also have learned the absolute need for my pup to have clear, consistent cues! I started working from the beginning again with the jump cue and have seen amazing changes in drive and attitude in just a couple of weeks! If I keep my cues clear and consistent my pup runs happy!
    Thanks for the help!

    Reply

  13. Dawna says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 6:33pm

    I started agility to have fun with my dog and enjoy the exercise and activity it offered us both. I found myself becoming much to concerned with getting in to the ring and competing after the sudden death of my trainer and sister in law. I felt the need to meet the goals that we had set. Until my brother, also a competitor and trainer told me that everyone, including my trainer would be prouder of me for doing what was best for my pup and our team than they would us meeting any goals. I have started playing again and relaxing. But I also have learned the absolute need for my pup to have clear, consistent cues! I started working from the beginning again with the jump cue and have seen amazing changes in drive and attitude in just a couple of weeks! If I keep my cues clear and consistent my pup runs happy!
    Thanks for the help!

    Reply

  14. Jill says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 6:21pm

    I’m glad you wrote this. There are two sayings in dog sports that make me cringe every time I hear someone say:

    1) …and remember to have fun with you dog!

    First off, I always have fun when I’m with my dog, win or lose, Q or NQ. If we fail or I get frustrated – that’s on me. I got into the ring before we were ready or more training in general is needed.

    2) Trust your Dog!

    There isn’t anyone I trust more than my dog when it comes to trialing. If he screws up it’s because “I” screwed up.

    And finally, yes if I’m going to do this than I want to kick ass and do my best at it. If not, then I’ll just go to the dog park and hang out; after all, competing is about challenging yourself to do better IMO.

    Reply

  15. Francoise says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 5:15pm

    I SO agree with you, Susan. The BEST agility compliment I have ever received was given to me many years ago by a complete stranger. She told me that she loved watching my then competition dog and myself run because it was so obvious so that we had so much fun out there on the course. I am still at it and have been able to instill the joy with my 2 current agility partners, Puppy Peaks and Handling 360 have and are still helping ????

    Reply

  16. Kelly says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 3:03pm

    It really is all having fun!
    But what if my dog does show signs of stress, which he tends to do if we’re somewhere besides our regular training facility? Can I help him overcome that? Or should I start looking for another activity that we can BOTH enjoy?
    I appreciate your input,
    Kelly

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 6:29pm

      Of course Kelly, you can bring joy to a dog that current stresses…however I would do it outside of agility ring first with games that he loves. Only asking him to do agility if he can function. For many dogs the opposite happens…the joy of agility gets so strong that the dog doesn’t stress in environments he used to..so keep doing agility in environments where the dog functions well and go to agility trials to play outside of the ring until you can blend the two together.

      Reply

  17. Shandlyn says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 1:42pm

    I needed this today. I haven’t even started trialing, and I already find myself telling people who ask that “we’re only doing it for fun!” as if doing it for fun AND to win would be such a horrible thing!
    I’ll continue to train, play and have fun with my dogs – it’s the best part of my day. 🙂

    Reply

  18. Karin says:
    Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 1:06pm

    Great point! I’ve been guilty of saying that phrase, and in many ways, it’s been an excuse for me. And you’re right, in that, we may not have been having as much fun as my friends who are phenomenal competitors. But all that is changing since signing up for H360.

    Reply

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