In many ways dog agility is similar to other team sports. Only harder. Dog agility is like playing doubles tennis with a partner who doesn’t speak the same language, has never heard of the game before, doesn’t know how to hold the racket, and needs to be reminded of the rules multiple times throughout each game. If you are me, every ten seconds your partner also needs to be prevented from dashing off the court and jumping into the bleachers. Where she will promptly steal someone’s lunch.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been a little down about this whole dog sport business lately. It’s not Shiva’s fault. She’s a super talented dog who could probably rack up the titles if she had a more dedicated and experienced handler. A handler who is better able to read body language and faster on her feet. A handler with quick reaction time, whose brain doesn’t short out at the worst possible moment. A handler who has the energy and drive to match Shiva’s. Basically, a handler who is not me.
I’ve been hesitant to write about any of this because I hate to be a downer. Also, I am kind of afraid of the comments. I am scared people will agree with me and tell me it’s okay to quit if I want to. If I read this, I am afraid I will twist the words into something that was not intended. Then, if I do stick it out, they will reverberate in my head the next time I stand on a start line.
A part of me, the part of me that felt like bursting into a hysterical mess after our last fun match, wants to hear that giving up does not make me a loser. That, in fact, it is the thing I should do. Another part of me, the one who doesn’t want all the work we’ve done together to mean nothing, really, really doesn’t.
The thing is, agility hasn’t been a whole lot of fun as of late. Yes, I still love the sport itself and I definitely love working with my dog. What I don’t love is the stress and inevitable frustration when Shiva ignores her recall for the 586,970th time. I love reading course maps and strategizing. I don’t love not getting to put my plan into action because my dog runs away at the start line. I love hanging out with friends and cheering on members of our club. I don’t love standing alone in the parking lot, wondering if my dog even cares that I exist.
It’s not about Qs. That isn’t even a remote concern. I just want to trust my dog and actually finish a course again one day. Maybe show that we have been working together for three years and kind of know what we are doing. It’s happened before. We’ve had some good runs. Honest.
It’s just been a very, very long time.
Because agility is a sport that relies so much upon one’s connection with her dog, it’s pretty hard not to take it personally when it looks like your dog doesn’t know you are alive. Off the agility course, I do think we have a decent relationship. Her recall in the “real world” is pretty nearly perfect. As good as it can be. When practicing at home, Shiva also responds very well. She rarely tries to take off even when off-leash in our unfenced yard. Most of the time, I am pretty sure she likes me. But when we get on the agility course, all of this comes into question.
Maybe it’s agility she dislikes? I hardly think that’s true. Or maybe we need some sort of relationship boot camp?
This past Saturday, we had the best class we’ve had in a while. It could not have come at a better time. On the edge of putting away our weave poles forever, Shiva pulled off the best recall we’ve had in that space for a long time. I was so thrilled, I almost wanted to carry her off right then, finish it on a high note. I didn’t and fortunately the class ended well anyway. It made me feel a lot better, though I am still uncertain of our future in the sport.
I’d like to keep going, I’d like to believe we will be able to get through a full course again. It would be great if this regression of hers is only temporary. But I am scared to expect much of anything. All I do know is, I can’t go through another fun match like the last one. It’s not a good time for either of us and it’s not why I got involved.
I wonder how hard it would be to create our own dog sport…