A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

We’re participating in the Dog Agility Blogger Action Day today.  Check out all the tasty blogs on the topic of Improving Agility Organizations here:


Let’s keep it simple; how do I make my own agility community a better place?  Well, there’s lots of ways, but at it’s most basic, what can I ultimately control?

Me.  Me and my own actions.


I wanted to run agility even before I knew what agility really was.  I was the kid running the family dog over hedges and flower pot jumps.  Decades passed, work and life happened…but then a busy merle fluff ball named Duncan came into my life.  Like many agility folks, I found agility simply to save my sanity.  Dunc needed something to do, and after completing basic obedience classes, I was looking for something a little more…<ahem> interesting to keep us busy.

Once we were in, I didn’t just dip my toes in the agility pool; I jumped and dug in, with both feet and a shovel.  I knew agility was IT.  My yard began that curious transformation common to our kind, sprouting PVC statuary, with neglected gardens gone shabby at the edges.  Months passed, we trained and prepared diligently, and I loaded Dunc in the car to go to our first trial.

I set out my crate, settled Dunc in his nest, and grinned at every person I passed.  How could I not?  I loved dogs…I loved this new sport and figured everyone around would share in that joy.  A few smiles were returned, but for the most part, it was Dunc and me…in our little setup, so nervous that I’d make a mistake epic enough to get us banned.  (and dude, pleeease don’t poop in the ring…) Granted, we didn’t have the most spectacular debut; Dunc was timid and worried, and kept pace with his shuffling handler only two weeks out of back surgery.  But when we earned our first Q, I wanted to high five everyone in the place.  A few people smiled.

By the end of the day, I found myself grinning less, finding it harder and harder to start up conversations with strangers.  I began to doubt myself.

And then the most wonderful thing happened:  another competitor who had the most elegant handling and wonderful dogs stopped to compliment me on my cute little dog who was trying so hard.  And then another came by to scratch Dunc’s ears, and another gave me a dazzling smile as I headed out of the ring.  Those small kindnesses filled me back up with joy, made me feel welcome.

Joy!   Photo by Randy Gaines

Joy!   Okay, a much later joy…but we got here with the help of small kindnesses from others.
Photo by Randy Gaines

In the years since, I’ve tried to repay those kindnesses.  How often do we see someone set up on the fringes, looking a little lost, smiling shyly, asking to say hello to your dog?  How often do we turn inward enjoying time with our friends, watching for our favorites?

Have I forgotten how gut wrenchingly nervous I was to to walk onto that field?  Would everyone laugh at how bad we were?  Would we get a big “F” on our first agility report card?  There is so much time, love and energy is invested simply in stepping to the line that first time.  I think I live in an area with some fantastic and friendly agility folks, but it’s never wrong to pay another compliment, say hello or admire someone’s teammate…especially if they’re struggling a bit.  Or online, if I like a blog, a video or a post someone put together with a diabolical challenge, a nice comment is most likely much appreciated by the person who went to the trouble putting it out there.


It really isn’t hard to talk to a new person every day, notice something special about their run, and make sure they hear it.  If their dog refuses to leave the start line, jumps every contact, zooms around the ring or takes off with a numbered cone, laugh with them, and share your own disaster stories!  Sure, that woman may be gone next month, having decided agility wasn’t quite what she wanted.  But she’ll have good things to say about your club to others.   Or…your new friend might just go home and rototill that wayward garden into an agility field.

Gardens blow.  Agility fields rock! Photo by Randy Gaines

The garden bit the dust.  Agility fields rock!
Photo by Randy Gaines

While there’s a lot of debate in the agility world about what’s right and what’s wrong…when it comes down to it, the heart of agility is about loving the time we spend with our treasured pups.  We all have the power to notice someone, to compliment them, to help them to find that first agility grin.  And when they get their first Q?  A high-five wouldn’t be out of place.

And that lady with the dazzling smile?  Since then, we’ve shared thousands of miles, countless laughs and conversations about agility’s most fascinating subject…

…poop, of course!



27 thoughts on “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

  1. Pingback: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood | Dog Agility Blog Events

  2. “roto-till that garden into an agility field” LOVE IT!
    My heart always goes out to the beginners. I smile, nod, compliment, I ACKNOWLEDGE them. I think a lot of people get so caught up in their own competitiveness, that they forget what it was like.
    Great post!

  3. My favorite post of the day. Thank you.

    One of the best way to reach out to new competitors is to gate steward the novice classes. Know they might not be where they need to be, might be late going in, might need a few reminders, and are going to be nervous. Smile, reassure them, and wish them good luck.

  4. Great post and one of the reasons I love competing in my area. We LOVE seeing new people at trials and all are taken under many wings to help make sure their weekend is awesome. It’s so great that you’ve found a game that you love doing with your pup 🙂 AND I can totally relate to turning your yard into a PVC garden!

  5. Thank you so much for this blog post! I’ve read nearly all of them on this topic and yours resonates with me the most. When it’s all said and done, we’re just a bunch of people playing a (rather expensive) game with our dogs. Let’s enjoy our time together!

  6. Great post and I fully agree! I love talking with the novice handlers and their dogs- the more people who come into the sport the better and I also remember feeling the way they did so like to be there to help, encourage or listen. It brings me back to that feeling of so much excitement that we all had when we started out- it’s great! Thanks for the post!

  7. Great post! I feel lucky that for the most part our agility trials are filled with many examples of great sportsmanship. When someone Qs you’ll hear everyone almost everyone watching cheer. I’ve only been competing since last September but I’ve met people who have complemented me on my dog (seeming out of the blue) and I always try to say something when I notice someone do something in the ring that I think was a huge deal (not necessarily Q, but maybe work through it with a nervous dog, make the decision to walk out if their dog needs to, high-five them if they just FINALLY hit their down contact, etc). There are of course always a few bad apples, but they are easily outnumbered.
    I there was one trial that I hung at before competing myself that did something really cool that I’d like to see again. It was a fundraiser to repair the roof on a local training barn, and one of the things they did was institute a swear jar. If you said something naughty while in the ring you had to put in two dollars. Eventually people were getting called out for “Impure Thoughts.” It was hilarious and everyone took it with good humour, it kept the atmosphere light, and that jar was looking pretty full by the end of the day.

  8. Great post. I did something similar years ago when I went to an AKC (only running standard) and didn’t realize I’d be there for the ENTIRE day before I ran. I knew virtually no one. It was a long day. But after that first run I was so excited. HOOKED!

    Recently I was in your old stomping grounds for a show having gone down with a friend. I only knew her. But everyone was super nice and I got great compliments on my dog (which always makes me smile). I would hope we’re like that up here too (Oregon). Come test us out! ahahah

    Razor and Rumble

  9. Hi Hope — though I didn’t get to see your runs last weekend in Moscow, I DID get to admire Desmond’s scribesheets! I was your Trial Secretary… wonderful post, thank you for articulating this important information.

    • Thank you, Ellen, and thank you for all you do! I agree with what you said last Friday…no matter what, enjoy each opportunity to run with our pups, no matter what those scribe sheets say!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s