Yesterday I started explaining my thoughts on the evolution of ourselves as competitors. Remember Stage one was the “Romance Stage” where ignorance is bliss and we get extreme joy just watching our dog being able to do a sequence of 2 or 3 jumps in a row without going around one of them. Stage Two, the “Information Seeking” stage is where our drive to improve starts to shine through .
Today I follow up with my thoughts on Stages 3 and 4.
Stage Three: We Compete. In this stage we have an awareness of other dog and handlers and their talents. We are now“competing”. Our self esteem and enjoyment of the trial may now be linked to how well we placed at an event or if we got our “qualifying score” or “double Q” that day.
We start jonesing after clean runs, wins and titles like a junkie seeking his next fix and may suffer sleepless nights re-living mistakes or failures that haunt the person we have now become.
Here in this stage, it is easy to forget ,as Zig Zigler says, that “failure is an event not a person” and although we still love our dog we suffer disappointment in him, even calling him names such as a “bar knocker”, “shut down dog”, “pokey-potato”, “wild lunatic” ( or maybe worst), should he not consistently perform at the level we have come to expect from him. We may now stray from our previous training path or coach to find “something or someone better” because second place is now not good enough to satisfy our craving for perfection.
Stage Four: The Trophies are in the Closet. Here we concentrate only on the execution or the mastery of our sport. Outcome goals, although they may exist, are never much of a consideration at or near any competition. We have moved to a mental place where we enjoy the sport for how beautiful we can make it with our dog. Competing never results in dissatisfaction with the dog regardless of the outcome and all disappointments are experiences we learn from and then dismiss.
Our goals are now focused on the harmonious performance of a dog and handler team maneuvering with an effortlessness that allows two minds to appear to be functioning as one.
I believe it is possible to be competing in this last stage without ever performing at the “elite” level of the sport. I don’t believe there are definitive boundaries between any of these stages. Some people may dwell longer than others in one stage, some may skip a stage altogether while others may find themselves bouncing between two stages for years. I think your relationship with your dog can dictate how you evolve as a competitor.
I also think that ultimately, people who never reach the last, more harmonious stage of competition, will move on to other sports or hobbies seeking that what they desire in some other outlet of their life.
I can honestly say, as much as I love to win (and I do love to win), there is no greater feeling of success than that which you get when the artistry of what you are doing becomes so much a part of why you are doing it, that the mastery is very obvious to all that witness the performance.
Today I grateful for existence of peaceful success.
Yesterday I had one of the happiest dog trialling days that I have ever had.
The sheer joy in being able to run my two mature dogs, without any signs of past injuries, the exhileration of running my young dog at her first Champ. event, these were magic moments.
I know I had a huge grin on my face, just for the feeling of connection with these wonderful furry friends who always give their best to me.
I ran without putting any pressure on them or myself, just to run with them was a God given gift that I will always treasure.
If this is Stage 4 – I LIKE IT:-))
How timely! I’ve also been ruminating lately on what you describe stage 4 in this article. I suspect that all these stages might be repeated every time we train a new dog, to some degree. While stage 4 may be the penultimate goal, I also think that we should never wholly abandon stage one (I often envy those happy Novices!) . Maybe retaining some elements of stage two can also be a good thing, because isn’t that where the real learning occurs? Now if we just find a graceful way through stage 3,.. 🙂
I really agree with your stages. I think I’m just now reaching stage 4. I think I’m finally to the point where I don’t worry or kick myself when things don’t go well – we have something else to learn and there will be another chance to try again.
Crate games question – we’re playing alot of “Yer in, yer out” right now. What’s the best way to let the dog know you’re finished – you don’t need to go back to the crate anymore? I thought about just telling them “Yer done!” and leaving it at that.
I too am happily at Stage 4 and while I celebrate our Qs I also celebrate our small successes just as much and honestly, a run that resulted in a happy dog and happy handler IS a success!
I loved this post. I think I went through most of stage 3 in Comp. Obedience. I think this also explains why I can feel really good about a run where we didn’t Q, and not so good even though we did Q. It’s nice to Q, but the Zen feeling of working as one was not there. Was in the wrong place etc felt more choatic, not like a dance. I believe that’s what I love. When there is no crowd, judge timer, just me and my dog dancing.
I am in Stage 4 with my first little dog. I now call our team “In Sync”…that is exactly what it feels like when we run agility together. However, I am in Stage 1 with my new little girl. She is just beginning and we are following your tips/training suggestions and have studied and are implementing information from all your DVDs 7 writings. So far, with the combination of Susan Garrett’s teaching and the intelligence of my little dog, I don’t think we will spend too much time getting to Stage 4…but I’m enjoying this time with her and am definitely NOT runshing it. Thank you, Susan!!!
This is awsome thank you.
I remember an article in Dog Sport interviewing Lucie D from Quebec with her dog NItro ( medium dog on Cat team) and she was trialing and the lights went out in the arena with only enough natural light for the judge to continue judging, it was only after she had finished the course, played with her dog and told him how proud she was when someone mentioned the lights going out….
talk about a togetherness and teamwork,
I aim for running agility with the lights out and it’s just the two of us each time every time….
Brilliant Post. Highly valuable. I think you have some stage 4 blog poster in you now 😉
Another topic to discuss is teaching dogs how to fail beyond It’s Yer Choice. I know you mentioned that years ago.
What a great break down of the evolution of the competitive nature! I fall into a sort of subset of Stage 3 in which I suffer disappointment in myself, but not my dog. I chastise myself for failures (even though this is the spur I need to learn and improve) and call myself things I can’t repeat here. I have so much pride in what my wee girl can do and feel frustrated when I fail to direct her correctly. However, I don’t find myself wanting to change coaches or overall training goals. My failures make me want to work even harder with our coach and fine tune our training path (there’s always room to reassess). Second place is not good enough, because I know my dog is ready for first — it’s me who has to catch up! Our goal — a Stage 4 relationship. Thanks!
I’m such a stage 2, SEEKING information and trying to learn as much as I can (though I am competing). This can be quite a frustrating stage to be at especially if you are a perfectionist like me (and a bit impatient) ;o) + a book-worm. There is a lot of information out there and I want to read/see all of it.
So it feels like I’m moving in slow-motion. But even though with baby-steps I am getting a better dog-trainer every day.
Thanks for sharing, the information is greatly valued for this stage 2 info-maniac!
These words are SO true! Although I have goals away from competitions I almost never after a run realize that I have reached them and am far more focussed on criteria for my young boy. My older girl and I run a course and it gives me goosebumps almost every run. She knows where she is going and I know how to tell herr thanks to a “system” and a clear set of rules for myself and her. Her confidence is very high and sometimes when I miscue I do not correct myself and let her take the wrong obstacle since it was me being a bonehead and I don’t want her thinking I did not mean that path when I got lost. She just keeps getting faster and faster and more sure of her job as I am. My boy and I nevre go offcoure but I have to adjust timing and I know that will come also.
This is great Susan!! I reread things like this over and over…such valuable information!!!!
When you define the stages the way you have it’s so clear to me that I’ve definitely spent time in all of them and that I’m still bouncing around. Happily I spend most of my time in Stage 4 but I have to admit to having travelled to Stage 3 with my young dog recently. After a wake up call I’m back hanging out in Stage 4 again 🙂
Wow, I think I have another thing to thank my dog for, I already thank him for eliminating my ring nerves as he just wouldn’t run if I was nervous, he is super soft and sensitive and if I was nervous he would know, so I just don’t get nervous.
I didn’t realise I can thank him that I seem to have skipped stage 3 completely also as he wouldn’t run if I pressured him to place better either so I never worry about being competitive, we just try to have a lovely run although sometimes doing well can be a side effect to one of those runs anyway. Every run I do, I hope for it to be one of those beautiful smooth runs where we seem to read each others minds, it is just the most amazing feeling and the reason why I am constantly trying to improve my dogs training and my handling.
I think I jumped almost straight to stage 4 with my malinois girl and now that I am losing her I am so very grateful that we did and that I have so many very happy memories of runs that were only successful in our eyes because going in I would have very clear criteria in my own mind on what would count as a success on that specific run 🙂
I feel like I am stuck in stage two, almost fearful of sticking my neck out and trialing with my peers. My logic is to work on foundation to the point that I have consistent maintainence of criteria. Am I being too much of a worry wart and should stick my neck out there and keep my criteria as “work in progress”?
These two paragraphs are worth re-reading:
“I believe it is possible to be competing in this last stage without ever performing at the “elite” level of the sport. I don’t believe there are definitive boundaries between any of these stages. Some people may dwell longer than others in one stage, some may skip a stage altogether while others may find themselves bouncing between two stages for years. I think your relationship with your dog can dictate how you evolve as a competitor.
I also think that ultimately, people who never reach the last, more harmonious stage of competition, will move on to other sports or hobbies seeking that what they desire in some other outlet of their life.”
You hit the nail on the head here, Susan. Smashed it right through the board in fact!
I’m happy at stage four. I’m nowhere near mastery but the fun for me is definitely the feeling that my dog and I are working as an efficient team. Results are nice but results certainly don’t dictate whether I’ve had a good day or not.
“Pokey potato” ! LOL ! Susan, that has made my day !
I can only imagine my dog calling ME that — would be well deserved sometimes!
I can’t help but think of your saying “Wouldn’t you rather be loved by a weiner !”
Actually, although my dog loves me, he might also call me “Miss Sloppy Handler” — so humiliating ! this is what resulted from the “You don’t appear to be having any fun” syndrome. It came from trying NOT to look like “You try too hard to be perfect”. This can do bad karma things to your concentration!
I really enjoyed reading your thoughts which hark back to that early post on: what difference is there, if any, between you and a champion.