Are We There Yet? – – Does “There” Exist?

What is success?  It seems the Dog Agility Blogger Action Day topics keep swirling around these deep, thought provoking subjects.  You can see what others have to say here:

I’ve been chewing on this one for a while.  Success is such a personal thing, so here are my personal thoughts…

I started agility with a shy little boy who was afraid of everything…judges with floppy hats, kids near the ring, a breeze that blew from the wrong direction at the wrong time.  Success running Duncan meant keeping him happy, never showing disappointment to a boy who tried his best for ME, despite all the worries in his mind.  Learning to respect his weird little quirks took time, but once I accepted the good, shrugged off the bad and stopped asking for perfection, running him became a complete joy.

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And yes, I know those weaves weren’t quite right…but who am I to discourage antics with enthusiasm?

Fast forward a few years, to Dunc’s little brother, Desmond, a completely different beast with an entirely different yardstick of success.   The DesMonster wouldn’t care if the judge was waving his floppy hat while driving a Zamboni, he’s out there to play with ME and the agility toys.  My challenge is to never take those gifts of enthusiasm and freakish love of running with me for granted.

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I like competition, and love that we can compete against ourselves and our own goals.   Some of those goals include qualifying for certain events in the next year, and that meant laying down some consistent, Q/point gathering runs.  We don’t have a ton of trials, so we don’t have a lot of wiggle room for mistakes.  I began to second guess my handling choices that put a lot of trust in my boy, even though he’d earned the right to run that way.  I felt old habits try and sneak back in; of choosing the safer handling path, maybe not necessarily the right path, just to get through clean.  And I felt disappointment and negativity creep into my thoughts after nailing down 19 tough obstacles, just because I’d mishandled and we’d dropped one single bar.   I watched my boy’s ears droop when I was disappointed in myself and he saw my shoulders slump after a run.  What the heck was I doing?!?  I’d learned the hard way this didn’t work for Dunc, it certainly wasn’t okay for Des, either.

That broke my heart.  If you’ve read any of my ramblings before, you’re familiar with my fierce desire to protect Des’s joy.  And here I was, taking it from him.  Bad handler.  Deep thoughts and some serious mental browbeating ensued.   Time to refresh my definition of success:

Run With Joy.

Period.

We have time.  We’re both still learning.  And I want to enjoy each run on this adventure.

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So what does success feel like?  The completely cool part of this sport is that it can be something different for everyone.  I have no business defining success for any other agility freakazoid but myself.

My goal is pretty simple:  To grin at my bouncing maniac after the final jump, no matter if we smoked it or left a smoking yardsale of agility equipment in our wake (which isn’t out of the question).   To find the good in each and every run, and reinforce those good things.  This boy is bloody brilliant to me.  To me.  And that, my friends, is what really matters.  If I can run the course the way I believe it can be handled, or can hardly wait to take Des out to the field to practice, can smile and clap and holler for my friends and their own brilliant pups, well THAT feels a heck of lot like we’re on the right track.

We’re going to fail.  A lot.  The trick for me is to remember to learn from those failures without being afraid to fail again.  And accept that sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I will still fail at protecting his joy…but with practice I can get better at that, too.

There’s a lot of noise that can get in your head in this sport.  And sometimes I’m pretty bad at blocking it out.  But I’m pretty good at big, blunt reminders. And one of those comes from a quote from big wave surfer Jay Moriarty, who lost his life while free-diving at age 22:

“We only get to do this once, and it’s not for very long.  So enjoy it.”

Considering I’m having a birthday that ends in zero this year, maybe that’s a good reminder to reflect and remember that one day, I’ll be even more crotchety, sitting on my porch, my turbocharged motorized scooter nearby, hopefully with a pup at my feet and watching the neighborhood kids dare their friends to run up and touch my front door.  And what will I remember of my success?  Ribbons?  Challenges?  Or something else?

I know with certainty that the memories from these years I will treasure above all will be of a crazy bark, a leap into my arms and the unapologetic joy that makes up the amazing little dude I get to call my teammate right now.  That I loved, and was loved, unconditionally.  That I forged a bond with another creature far beyond what many people ever know is possible.

That’s what I’m going to be thinking about next time we step to the line.  I have this time to do this sport, with this boy, in this moment.  And when I put his leash back on, I’m going to be smothered in slobbery kisses.

Success.

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Digging In with the DesMan

It’s apparent that I’m absolute crap at writing about my recovery from fusion surgery and Des’s debut in agility.  I have a reason, but not a very good one.  Each time I’ve sat down to write about the positive strides I’m making in my return to normality from getting four screws installed in my back, I worry I’m risking the wrath of the cosmic monsters and I’ll experience some epic joint setback.  So…I’ve been quietly drinking gallons of milk, sweating and swearing my way through rehab exercises and getting out there to play with the DesMan as often as possible.  As if I could resist this face??

Desmond, South Jordan, UT, May 2013.  Photo by Randy Gaines.

Desmond, South Jordan, UT, May 2013. Photo by Randy Gaines.

When my husband was on the Helena Hotshots their crew motto was “Opera non Verba“, which loosely translates to “shut up and dig“.  So, following that wisdom, since I can’t seem to find the words to explain how Des and I are doing, I will simply show you.

As you’re about to see…he and I are DIGGING this agility thing!!

For those who can’t view the video with music, here’s the same video in a version that should work for you.  I hope you enjoy!

The Global Agility Movement?

We’re participating in the Dog Agility Blog discussion today – with many great blogs all discussing the topic of the “Internationalization” of agility.  Check out the all the surfing goodness here:

http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/internationalization/

A Merlie perspective on the ‘internationalization’ of agility…

DesMan - ready to travel?

DesMan – ready to travel?

International Agility – FCI, Worlds, EO, what does it have to do with my trialling with my Merlie boys?  Well, in the last year or two, quite a lot despite our feet staying firmly in our own little neck of the woods.  We’ve participated in several online courses with students from all over the world, focusing on international style handling.

With Duncan, I admired international handlers from afar and studied the gnarly European courses and puzzling moves.  You see, Duncan has always been a teammate who ran for the love of me… (and some cookies) not especially for the love of the course.  But while he can open up and fly on flowing courses, I learned to love the challenge of finding him a way through a technical course.  Pinwheels were a drag, wraps were a cause to throw on the brakes and I’d earn Dunc-glares.  So, I threw myself into learning how to handle efficiently, and find ways to preserve his hard-earned speed as often as possible.  While I’m not always successful, when I cross the line with a grinning Dunc after a twisty course, I feel we’ve truly done something special together.

Duncan and me at the gate

Duncan and me at the gate

Desmond, on the other hand, drug me into the international school of agility handling, and in no time at all, I was converted.  Being able to train and practice with friends and teachers locally is irreplaceable, and I count many fellow competitors from the region as dear friends.  But in addition, the cool part is that my agility community now also crosses the country and spans the world. Being able to bounce ideas off others also trying to push their boundaries well past what most of us see on the weekends is hugely motivating.

Desmond doing his SuperMan thing...

Desmond doing his SuperMan thing…

So what about the moves and skills?  After many moons of teaching Des to collect, to extend, to wrap and slice, I’d love to actually test those skills on U.S. courses.  While I may harbor distant thoughts to competing internationally, that may just not be logistically possible for me…or many others like me.  Until recently, it seems these super technical courses have only been seen a few times a year at WTTs or various venue regional/nationals, which is still something many teams can only manage once in a great while, if at all.  Why not offer some international-style course options like USDAA Masters Challenge or AKC’s rumored  ‘Excellent C’ for everyone to run if they choose?  For those who want to give it a shot, let’s push our boundaries and challenge our team skills way past our comfort zones.  Surprising things can happen…eventually that might become our comfort zone.  Or at least, a place that doesn’t scare the crap out of us while being scope-locked on the course map.

And for those who worry that the venues will become too difficult or exclusive for the EveryDog, I don’t think that’s going to happen.  I too, run an EveryDog, and I will continue to run and play with Duncan on courses that bring us joy, twisty or not.  There is a place for courses that are difficult, that make you think, to puzzle and walk the path a dozen times, to employ that handling move you’ve rehearsed a thousand times in your back yard…just as there is a place for fun, but challenging courses that can be run by everyone.

I get it, not everyone can run as hard and fast as they may have once done.  (I now have the hardware to prove it myself)  Some handlers blow my mind with their amazing connection and skills at a distance, or ability to flow like water around a course.  A gray-faced teammate wagging his way around the course with his beloved handler will always bring me to tears.  But that’s the beauty of agility; there’s something for everyone.  And Des and I vote for more course options for back sides, wraps, and pull-throughs.  Why?  Because I like a challenge, because it’s tough and because my legs still work.

And maybe…just maybe…after falling victim to our share of traps and NQs, someday we’ll get to experience rocking a monster course, look back, and spit in its eye.

Road to Nowhere? Who’s Car Are We Taking?

For the past year, Desmond and I have been taking online classes from Silvia Trkman.   We began with some puppy Tricks, went on to our first Foundations class, spent most of the summer Running Contacts and just yesterday finished our second round of Foundations.  It’s taken a buttload of hours, we trashed two pairs of shoes and countless holee rollers along the way.  Before my surgery we hardly missed more than a day of training in a row, and I was back on the field two weeks after, having interpreted the Dr’s direction to “walk daily” quite loosely.  Thankfully, my husband understands when I run outside at all times of the day muttering things like “diabolical weave entries” and leave old envelopes with scribbled sequences in random places around the house.

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Des and I aren’t done by far, but finishing this class made me reflect on how far both Des and I have come in the last year.  And how many MB of disk space I’ve devoted to video of the speedy merlie.  (I now have a 1 TB hard drive!  A terabyte!!  That seems like insanity to someone who still has floppy disks in a drawer somewhere.)  And…I just dated myself.  Awesome.

After sorting through that digital pile of video, I put together a compilation of our work since last summer.   For anyone following my long overdue fusion posts, all the shots with snow were post-surgery.   Make sure your speakers are on and I hope you enjoy!

Rock on, little DesMan.  You are a joy each and every day.