“If you aren’t learning you are dying”

I am sure I have seen that quote somewhere before but for the life of me, I can’t find it who gets the credit for it.

I do love the quote, each of use has to make a decision in our own direction, no matter how much we would like to think it is possible; nothing can stay exactly the same; we are either moving forward or going in reverse. Ideally with each lesson learned we continue to grow forward (it is called “experience“:)).

Hopefully we get these little lessons every day of our lives as we train our dogs. But for me, certainly the biggest epiphanies have come while at the biggest agility events. I remember getting two while watching the 2003 USDAA National Steeplechase finals. At that time I was running only my Jack Russell Terrier mix “DeCaff.” She was the second dog I had trained to do a running contact but I had never tried it with a Border Collie; too big a risk . . . so I thought. But sitting watching the 22″ class finals in 2003 I made two big decisions. First of all my next Border Collie would have a running A Frame at the very least (my next BC “Encore” was born the following year and she was the first Border Collie I trained to do running contacts). My next thought was; “agility is no longer about the speed of the dog but about the tightness of the turns while at speed.” That is when I started working on my my “check, check” and “s-w-i-n-g” verbal cues which have brought the skill of tight turns at speed to each of my dogs since that time.

This year’s FCI World Championships was no different. Some of my goals where met, others fell short, but either way lessons where learned. In this blog I have included videos of my runs along with some random thoughts . . . truly random thoughts as they pop into my mind.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

~ C.S. Lewis

What a great photo. Showing 3 of our 4 “large dog” team handlers who need bi-focal glasses in order to read the course maps. This may be the last time we see a sight like this; with so many brilliant young dog and handler teams coming up I predict the average age of the Canadian World Team handler is about to drop. I keep telling myself I am 25 years old so I know I can still fit right in:).

Do not permit what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

~ John Wooden

Our large dog team had the best performance to date at this year’s event, tying our 8th place over all finish from 2008. With the new FCI format (of running 4 dog and handler teams but discarding the worst score) it allowed us to finish up scoring 5 of 6 clear rounds. Feature and I ran anchor on the team, a place I am very comfortable running and Feature rose to the occasion. Heading into our first team run we  needed a fast but clear round as one of our team dogs had a bar down. Goal set and made, Canada goes into the final round sitting in 10th place, a medal wasn’t completely out of the question. Feature and I took the floor for our final team round in the same position, with one of the dogs head of us having faults, we needed another fast clear round. Alas we were one brick in a wall away from  that and a bronze medal:(. That wasn’t just “another brick in the wall” it was pivotal for me, telling me “something needs to change” if I am going to be competitive on the level I want, note taken plans are in the works. Here are Feature’s two team runs.

If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.

~ Jim Rohn

There is risk in agility for all of us. Some dogs may lack strong enough obstacle skills so their handlers may not be able to trust these dogs to independently hit a weave entry, stay weaving while they run off or nail a contact in competition. For those handlers, the risk lies in how far they dare to stray from their dog’s side while driving them around a course. Happily I don’t think of my dog training skills as a risk. My risk comes in the form of wondering if  I “can get there” when handling my fast dogs. You see I am proud member of the 30 – 30  club.  I am more than thirty years older and 30 cm shorter than most of my competition (who mostly can run like the wind!). No excuses, we all have risks to take and that is where mine lines. This year I had an aggressive handling plan for jumpers, one I felt confident in but, alas, it was not to be our day.

Here is Feature’s individual jumpers run.

The best competition I have is against myself to become better.

~John Wooden

Occasionally in the past, while competing at a “big event,” I have felt the paralyzing fear of failure take over my body as I tried to handle my dog around a course. I hate that feeling. It encouraged me to look for the “safest” route rather than the “best” route for my dog and I. It was like a momentary infection that took over my voluntary muscle actions and prevented quick movements or decisions. Like something had a hold of my feet, forbidding them from leaving when they should have, or stopping words from coming out of my mouth or preventing my brain from flowing in a logical progression forward.

It was as if I had been infected with an ultra short term disease; something that was gone the moment my dog cleared the last obstacle. The disease was gone but I was always left with the empty after effects of regret. I am happy to report that rarely, if ever, happens to me any more. I think the key for me has been focusing on the present and not thinking about or caring about the outcome. I love my dog, I love this sport and every run is just another opportunity to do something I love with a dog that I love. Doesn’t get any more complicated than that.

Failure will always be a possibility in everything we do but those possibilities should never paralyze; rather they should energize, giving us what we need to run from failure and towards success.

Failure I can live with, regret . . . not so much. I live my life hoping to avoid thoughts that start with the dreaded “what if . . . “

Risk without recklessness is a key ingredient to success . . . certainly in dog agility but possibly in everything in life.

This picture was taken as I run along the dogwalk in Feature’s individual agility run. That look you see in my eyes is one of realization as my feet are sending the message up to my brain suggesting it “moves to plan B . . . we aren’t going to make it.” I thoroughly enjoyed the ride even though no medals were won. Here is Feature’s last run at the 2012 FCI World Championships.

Easy to say if Feature had a faster handler she would not have had that wide turn out of the first tunnel or she would have been driven down the dog walk over those last two jumps with power rather than with her head up waiting for late verbal cues. Possibly Feature may have won that round with a faster handler. But that is a moot point for me. It isn’t about the winning it is about the doing and doing what I love with my dog that I absolutely adore.

Today I am grateful for for Feature for being an amazing teammate, for John Hill for these fabulous pictures, for Johnnie B. for sharing the trip with us, for Lynda Orton-Hill for always being there to help out, for Dr. Leslie and Carol S. for taking such great care of Feature, for my human team mates on the 2012 Canadian team, for Jane & Andrea taking care of things at home so I had no worry  and for Sharon and LB for having the trust to send Feature all the way to Canada as a wee puppy all those years ago. She is an amazing dog and it has nothing to do with her abilities in the agility ring. So love my Peach Pie!