I got a note from a student recently that was thrilled with her performance at a weekend trial, earning her first ever “double Q” in an AKC trial, the first step toward her MACH, gathering a boat load of mach points in the process as she was 18 seconds under time and 1.9 seconds faster than the 2nd place dog. She send me the video clip of her two runs. Now this dog was raised in our program, taught with a nose touch on his contacts and his nose touch in the trials that I have seen him in have been lovely, I tell you that in preparation for what I saw on the video. In the first one, a jumpers run I saw the dog lift his bottom up and down in place twice as she walked out to her lead out position. Other than that the run was beautiful. However that small movement , I know will lead to a broken start line down the road. How can I be sure? Because I have seen it over and over and over in the more than 15 years I have been coaching people in this sport. Next was her standard run. The start line was similar, however only one movement not two, but this time it was not up and down movement, it wasa slight creep forward, again all with the handler walking away, with her back to her dog. The handling execution was beautiful I am proud to say, good choices, great timing, great execution. The dog hit the seesaw first and was not even given the chance to nose touch as the handler released him the moment his paws hit the ground. His running A Frame was lovely as he flowed through the course. The second to last obstacle was the dogwalk, again I expected a stop with a nose touch or two at the end. The dog paused in the middle of the yellow and looked up at his handler, who, without hesitation, released him on to the last jump and her first double Q.
As a coach this was a tough video to watch. I am thrilled with the handling and several other moments of brilliance but I had to put a damper on the celebration with a warning of what I know will come next. I hate to be the voice of predicted doom and gloom. I try to do it gently (okay maybe not, but I take no joy in it, really). Written in our school on the white board at the front of the classroom (I really need to get a permanent sign made up as I have re-written this dozens of times over the years) is this great quote from Zig Zigler: “The main reason for people’s lack of success in life is their willingness to give up what they want most of all, for what they want right now.” Read this quote again and then go and write it at the top of your current goals setting sheet. It doesn’t matter if your goal is a MACH, or to lose 25 lbs or to be the best mother you can be. The truth is we fall short of these goals when get too wrapped up in living for this moment and not looking towards long term success. I really want to lose weight but I am really hungry and this candy bar is right here in front of me. . . . giving up what you want most of all for what you want right now. Many of the dog’s trained with us start with a dog walk performance that takes around 2.0 seconds. If it is a Border Collie it may be a few tenths under 2 sec, if it is a Golden or a Doberman, it may be a few tenths over. If criteria is not maintained in the first year or two of trialing, these times get closer to the 3 sec mark or over. You give up what you want most of all, “to be fast” in order to try to win the immediate race, in order “to be fastest today.” I have had students tell me “I want to be on the world team, so I had to blow off my contacts for the year to get me there.” Personally I wouldn’t want to be at the world championships without great contacts. Perhaps your journey is not to be on the world team. Why not see if you can make it there while maintaining great criteria? Does that mean you wait for 2 or 3 nose touches in the finals of big event? No of course not, but it does mean you don’t rip your dog away from the end of a contact before he has at least driven to his 2o2o position. I remember when Encore earned a place in her first USDAA Grand Prix National finals, she was 2 years old. The night before the run I asked myself “was I going for the win or going for the investment.” Going for the win with an inexperienced, 2 year old dog, would mean this dog would get a chance to learn “when there are big crowds, the rules are all gone.” I could have gone for the win and possibly gotten it, but then what would my future have been with this young dog? My decision was to make sure I got clear nose touches on my contacts and set this young dog up to realize it doesn’t matter how big the crowd is, you still have to do your job. There are many fast dogs out there in agility. What if I had gone for the win with this 2 year old dog and fell short? I would have ended up not getting what I wanted right now plus would have taken a step in the wrong direction of what I wanted most of all. With Encore now being a five year old dog, I do have the ability to release her as soon as her paws come to the ground as I made that investment when she was younger to give me multiple nose touches in the ring. However, even when I am going for the win, I still have discreet criteria that I look for before she gets that release. That is how you ensure long term success with a stopped contact. I know I will hear from those of you that compete in Europe with the lament “but we have a win-out system, we can’t do this and win!” Well I have found there are excuses and there are challenges. Excuses give you a reason to be mediocre, while challenges give you a reason to find a solution. It is up to each of us to decide either to find solutions around our own obstacles or to become comfortable with mediocrity.
Looking at my student’s video, I asked her if she felt the day was a success? Of course the answer was “yes.” What if the dog had knocked the last bar? Could she have given me the same answer? No, because not only would he have not earned that double Q, but suddenly the start line performance and her lack of criteria on the contacts would have been more apparent. However, if she had maintained criteria on her start line and all of her contacts she could have looked back at the video and been beaming as it would have been a great investment in this young dog’s future, even with that knocked bar at the end. Certainly with 18 seconds under course time, there was time to spare and she could have enjoyed both.
There are many times I have “won” a class but I would view the round as a “loss” due to my lack of execution as a handler. It will make me examine the video tape and go home and work hard to improve that skill. There are other classes I have “lost” perhaps because we weren’t the fastest that day or maybe a questionable call by a judge, yet I know I have won because we executed a flawless brilliance together that day. Your success in the ring should never be rated as your outcome compares to other competitors or the clock, it should always be how you have done compared to the best that you could have done. Viewing the sport in this way will pretty much gaurentee you will never look at your dog with disappointment or frustration and you will never lose your love for competing. Never allow the outcome on the score card determine your sense of accomplishment for the day or how hard you should work the following week.
Today I am grateful to know that we all have choices and that the consequences of our choices become the building blocks of our future success.