Call me old fashioned

I have been quiet lately, very busy and really no time to be writing blog entries. But something that has been on my mind: the future of our sport (dog agility). This is an important topic <grin>

One thing that I’ve always been somewhat opposed to is prize money. It is fun to earn some cash once in a while, and prize money does tend to add excitement to an event. However, coming from a horse background as a competitor and a veterinarian, I know that prize money changes the nature of the competition, so I am glad it is only offered sporadically. Along those lines, in my opinion it is not in the best interests of dog agility for it to become an Olympic event. That too, I believe, would change the nature of our sport. But those issues aren’t really what is on my mind (although they do indirectly relate…)

One thing that I have always loved about agility is that your teammate is, first and foremost, your beloved companion. You and your dog already share a bond that agility makes even stronger. I think that only those that run in agility can really understand <smile>. Several years ago I ran a BC that did not belong to me. This dog was world class and we were quite competitive. I know that her owner would’ve allowed me to try out for the WT with her, and I’m quite certain she could’ve made it, but I was never inspired to do so. Somehow in my heart I felt that it just would not be the same, for me, to stand on the podium with a dog that I did not share that magic bond with.

Nearly all agility competitors have some special connection with their dogs because they must overcome the challenges and grow as a team together. Coming from a horse background, this is what makes me appreciate dog agility. When I was “in horses”, I was not one of the “lucky” kids whose parents bought them a $50,000 “made” junior hunter. I was the one working to get the most that I could out of a “racetrack reject”, because that’s all I could afford. I think I was as talented as a rider as one of the “lucky” kids, but I rarely won at the big events. However, when I did accomplish my goals, it was so rewarding for me, because I knew what I had invested in the achievement.

So, where is dog agility headed? Obviously it already costs a lot to be competitive, but are we headed in the direction of the horse world where you can ‘buy’ “success”? Personally I enjoyed agility more in the “old days” when “everyone knew your name”, and we were all doing agility with the family dog. Although I do love to try to figure out ways to improve performance, I really am not looking forward to a future of shaved dogs and high-tech Speedo tracksuits. However, I will evolve with the sport if that’s what the future holds <smile> I would just like to see the spirit of development as the team remain intact and that we don’t go the direction of handlers buying “made” competition dogs in order to be “successful”. Handlers that choose that path in my opinion will be doing so solely in the interests of winning, which is not how I define “success”. I hope that being successful in agility continues to be defined by the magical connection and awareness of each other on course that can only be achieved through taking time to grow together as teammates, not by how many ribbons are won. Yes, I enjoy the “thrill of victory” as much as anyone else, but somehow there is no “success” without the road it takes to get there.

  1. avatar
    Daisy Peel02-01-2012

    My thoughts are mirrored exactly :)

  2. avatar
    Mary Ellen Barry02-01-2012

    I just love this post. As much as I’ve enjoyed “success” over the last decade or so, I do miss the good ‘ole days as well. I know there will always be some select few in any sport that will do anything in order to be competitive but I do hope our community as a whole can enjoy or dogs more than we enjoy the wins.

  3. avatar
    Priscila Blanco02-01-2012

    Totally agree with you! I’m from Argentina and started doing agility in 2008 with my labrador, growing together as a team and even getting a medal in A&C of Chile in 2010. In 2011 an injury to my back prevented me from running and even though my dog ran with another guide, which I’m grateful, and had an excellent performance, I donot enjoyed the same way. While the titles are important and serve as an incentive, the most important thing is what my dog and I learn from each other when we are competing, the confidence we have, the hours invested in getting a kind of symbiosis, that is not measurable with medals and yet it is invaluable!

  4. avatar
    nadine kern02-01-2012

    I agree wholeheartedly. I love the dance between my 4-legged partner and I and I am a better person for our challenges, accomplishments and especially our not so brilliant moments. The sport has already changed so much; would hate to see it come to dollars and cents.

  5. avatar
    Tammy Etscheidt02-02-2012

    If you look at it from a ‘marketing’ standpoint, what she’s doing is ‘spot on’. She’ll earn her little $25K off these 5 people, have them sign a waiver that states she can use their learning in on-line classes, and then make the big bucks. Keeping in mind, that even negative publicity is publicity. People are going to ‘want to know’ about what these 5 people learned.

    The world is shrinking, it’s so wonderful in some respects…..but it others it’s rather sad.

    Love the Speedo comment! G YIKES! That would be UGLY!

    Now I’ve got to go find those clippers and shave that border collie! LOL

  6. avatar
    Barb Klucik02-02-2012

    Well said, Linda. A while back I “inherited” my partner’s BC to run in agility. We don’t do that much these days, either training or competing, so it has taken us a while to come together as a team, even though she already had a fair amount of success. When I messed up my ankle and couldn’t run for a while, a very capable local handler volunteered to run her for me. No way! The fun of the game is about the connection between the dog and the handler, not the legs or titles or even recouping entry fees. :-) There is nothing to match that zing of knowing you got through something together.

  7. avatar
    Monica Land Stathers02-02-2012

    Well said Linda.

  8. avatar
    Charmaine Fedick02-02-2012

    Thank you! Enjoy the journey — a very talented trainer told me that………..and I can only say the journey is what makes this game so enjoyable. I love seeing what my nontraditional dogs can learn, what I can teach them — and yes, I love seeing what we can achieve but it is not everything…………….my love for them and their devotion to me is the sweetest part of all of this. The wonderful friends I have made in the process make it one of the best thngs in my life. Money and the greed that comes casts a pall on every sport that comes in contact with it. I hope that agility will not go through those changes…………I hope we can still love our dogs and thank them for what they do to play with us.

  9. avatar
    janet lynn02-02-2012

    I so agree, I was also in the horse game and had to work to ride. Think I did more working than riding but it was worth it. My daughter followed in my footsteps about the time things began to get out of hand with the high priced horses and the have to win attitude, I have two corgis that I love and play with in agility, Gigi has been quite successful which I really attribute to her brilliant skills and she LOVES the game. I now have my 2 year old that will be a great competitor one of these days but she’s still a puppy brain and that;s fine, She is teaching me so much. I always say I wish I had had my HARD doggie first but I have her now and we are having a blast. I won;t follow the game if it goes the way of horses shows. We will still play but probably not do much competing. The fun leaves when the competition gets too fierce and expensive.

  10. avatar
    joyce jaskula02-02-2012

    I couldn’t agree more. I love the time spent with my dogs, not only on but off the agility course as well. I recall those moments in time with them (past and present dogs) where there is nowhere I’d rather be than right there with my best friend. Of course picking up Q ribbons is a wonderful, exhilarating feeling….I love doing well… spite of feeling that I am not a competitive person by nature. But what matters most to me is this magic bond and the way we pass through life together.

  11. avatar
    Randy Roberts02-02-2012

    Kodiac is the first dog that I have competed with, so I don’t know much of the “good old days” of agility other than what I read. But, I do know of the “magical bond” that you speak of as I definitely feel that with Kodiac. I think the compliments I most enjoy hearing are when someone mentions our bond or how well we are connected. Occasionally I am at a trial where Linda is also competing. I definitely make it a point of watching Linda’s handling (easy to make time to watch since Scopey is in our jump height), but I must say that the bond with her dogs is very, very apparent.

  12. avatar
    Dawn Peterson02-02-2012

    Thank you for this post. I have a similar past in the horse show world and now do agility on a shoestring budget. Sometimes a very old, worn out shoestring. I can’t afford private instruction or to attend all the seminars I would love to attend. I just spent my combined birthday/xmas money on 2 upcoming seminars/workshops. That may be all I can do this year. I already sometimes feel frustrated and left behind, to the point of tears, because I can’t afford the same opportunities as other competitors, yet I long to learn and improve. If the sport becomes more pricey and divided between the haves and have nots, more handlers like me will continue to be left behind. My dogs are rescue mutts from shelters and my priority is to build a relationship with them and open up the opportunity for them to shine – my older dog has completed an ADCH Bronze. This is why I got into the sport in the first place. Because it was a fun, accessible activity that my dogs and I could use build a relationship around. I would hate for the sport to lose that underlying spirit.

  13. avatar
    Chris Hill02-02-2012

    Linda, I really loved your blog. It speaks so well to what is happening in this sport. I to have thought a lot recently about how the sport has changed. The friendlness and support of each other at trials these days is sadly missing at times. Winning is now is so much more important than the trip getting there. Winning is great, I love it. But I wouldn’t trade a win for the relationship I have developed with my dogs. Now only the well off have the opportunity to learn the best and most effective methods. Well I doubt that there is much truth in that. But if you can sell it some people will buy, no doubt. Thanks again for your thoughts worth a lot more than money!

  14. avatar
    Pam O'Day02-02-2012

    I totally agree with this post. I know that someone younger, more fit, correct weight etc could do a better job of running my dog than I do. I know that they could take him places that I never will, but no one will ever have the relationship with him that I have with him and that is what it is all about to me. The trust and relationship, the team and the ride is what it is all about. I too, miss the old days.

  15. avatar
    Linda Mecklenburg02-02-2012

    Tammy I feel very sad for the “five people”.

  16. avatar
    val henry02-02-2012

    Thank you Linda!!! Bravo!!! Well said!!!

  17. avatar
    wendy pendleton02-02-2012

    Great post Linda!

    I love being competitive and trying to find the best way to show my dog through the course, but its the love and connection I have with my dog that makes it special. I love our sport and hope it will always remain about you and your best friend.

  18. avatar
    Devil's Advocate02-02-2012

    Personally, I am not a top competitor and don’t ever expect to be one. I play my agility in the local leagues. The fact that some people are willing to shell out to fly their dogs around the world to compete does not take away from my enjoyment of the sport, any more than the existence of professional baseball players takes enjoyment away from the many, many people who play in their local softball leagues. Go ahead and chase prize money if you like, or buy purpose-bred dogs, or let top trainers solve your training dilemmas for you. I don’t see how this ruins the activity for those of us who don’t take that path.

    As for buying a trained dog, sheepdog handlers do it all the time, and they compete for prize money too. They also have very close bonds with their dogs and nearly always know each others’ names. Do you think the existence of professional trainers or the prize money has ruined that activity?

    We all have the choice to put our relationships with our dogs first. We can choose to learn each others’ names, watch each others’ runs, and celebrate each others’ successes. We can choose to measure our own success “by the magical connection and awareness of each other on course that can only be achieved through taking time to grow together as teammates.” We can create the culture we want to be a part of. I’m not willing to accept that external factors like prize money are the root of the problem you describe.

    Where I think agility is lacking is a focus on young people. Many of us were “in horses” as youngsters, but where are the opportunities for young dog lovers to learn and trial in agility without being one of the “lucky ones” whose parents have deep pockets? This sport isn’t just dominated by adults; the whole infrastructure and culture are adult-focused.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking post, and the opportunity to comment on it.

  19. avatar
    Johanna Ammentorp02-02-2012

    I saw this on FB and read it and totally agree! It meant so much more when I saw who wrote it. Thank you for this post!

  20. avatar
    Rob Waters02-02-2012

    I doesn’t take a thousand dollar fishing pole to catch big fish either, rescue dogs RULE! Thank you…

  21. avatar
    Bernny Sánchez02-02-2012

    Leyendo su artículo me vienen a la mente escenarios y personas, clubes y asociaciones y afortunadamente puedo compartir con usted que pertenezco a un grupo de amigos que aún nos da mucha alegría compartir un buen recorrido y apoyarnos, además de compartir un almuerzo una conversación y hasta éxitos personales, así conocí el agility y así la vivo hoy mismo.

    Sin embargo si existe en el ambiente la tentación de obtener resultados por encima del pasatiempo y la convivencia a cambio del patrocinio de alguna marca, y no culpo a quien lo hace es algo que no he vivido y que no sé si yo lo podría manejar de otra manera pues las marcas nos han apoyado desde que inicie en esta disciplina deportiva en el año 2004 y también merecen un lugar en nuestro contexto.

    Espero también que el marketing no absorba la filosofía de nuestro amada actividad y podamos seguir disfrutando de la familia, los amigos, nuestros perros y éxitos.


  22. avatar
    Linda Mecklenburg02-02-2012

    Bernny: I am not necssarily opposed to sponsorship. I am opposed to people are willing to spend whatever it takes to be competitive, placing more value on the win than the teammate.

  23. avatar
    Bernny Sánchez02-02-2012

    Entiendo, el dinero no compra el sabor del sudor y sacrificio del éxito.

  24. avatar

    I really enjoy this post. The days of running agility with the family pet are not yet gone. But perhaps the end is approaching. Remember when there was a US world team that featured a beagle? Yes, a beagle.

    So while there are veiled references to a famous agility person and the five grand running contact offering, people shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgement. Where’s the chicken, and where’s the egg? Would we have a market for 5K seminars if it weren’t for other forces at work? Will the US put another beagle on the team? How many folks reading this have given up on breeds they enjoy because they want to be “competitive”? And what about the frenzy for running contacts? How many dogs will be harmed in the process? I recently read an agility blog where folks were discussing the need for chiropractic adjustments on their dogs EVERY 3 WEEKS?????

    I used to enjoy agility with my “pets”. I’ve had some successes. But I don’t want a border collie and I don’t want to spend thousands of dollars going to seminars and forcing my dog into activities that require constant medical attention. And I don’t want to worry about ETS. Maybe all of this is happening because we are pushing dogs beyond the limits of true natural abilities.

    So while there seems to be a tipping point, maybe it’s time for a deeper reflection on what this sport is becoming. And it’s not just the seminar givers… perhaps it’s the market they are catering to.

  25. avatar
    Anne Bentley02-02-2012

    Well said Linda! I also miss the days when we spent the day at the trial, watching each other’s runs, cheering on the newbies, and feeling the comraderie of the day. I am sad that newcomers today probably won’t get to experience that. The value of it wasn’t only the nostalgic “good old days”. The other benefit was that new people could watch advanced teams and see where they were headed. The experienced teams could be mentors without forgetting how it felt to be new. The relationship in the canine/human team is not the only relationship we stand to lose in agility. IMO.

  26. avatar
    Lori Michaels02-02-2012

    Nicely said, Linda! It’s about the climb.

  27. avatar
    Randy Roberts02-03-2012

    OK, maybe I am missing something here? I have a fast dog, not because he was bred for performance, but out of sheer, dumb luck. And also because I have access to great training on a weekly basis, as well as Linda’s books, etc. However, I think that I would still enjoy the sport even if we were not getting placements. I watch people at every trial that get very excited over their successes, whether it is a “Q” that must be somewhat rare, or maybe just a successful set of weave poles in a trial setting. And, I really think that for the most part, competitors are sincerely rooting for each other. I still think that it is a great sport. You can spend the money to get a dog bred for the sport, attend seminars, etc., etc., etc., or, I think there is still a great deal of enjoyment to be had with “the family pet”

  28. avatar
    Lynn Baitinger02-03-2012

    Really nice post Linda – been catching up on your blog since our conversation at Dayton.

    I too love the thrill of victory, but those victories would ring so hallow without the strong bond we each have with our dogs. It’s that connection that keeps us coming back for MORE runs!

  29. avatar
    Kim Lacey02-04-2012

    Wonderful post. I too was not the rich kid, and understand completely. I love having great run with my dogs, Q or NO Q, I love the smile and excitement they show. Nothing but real love there.. Oh, and I could never do Speedos.. ooooo.. yes ugly.

  30. avatar
    Linda Mecklenburg02-05-2012

    Elaine said: “So while there seems to be a tipping point, maybe it’s time for a deeper reflection on what this sport is becoming. And it’s not just the seminar givers… perhaps it’s the market they are catering to.”

    I never pointed fingers at any seminar givers. *In fact what you say is my very point*. If the “market” continues to go in the direction it is going, placing the value of the win higher than the relationship with the dog (to the extent that they are willing to spend thousands of dollars), then what we all love and cherish about this sport will be lost.

  31. avatar
    Kathy Jones02-06-2012

    I agree with Devil’s Advocate-this sport will never evolve into ultra competitive win-at-all costs for me.

    I value playing the game with my dogs. As they age, we go to less competitive venues or other sports. With each dog I have my own personal goals. Sometimes my dogs make me look great, sometimes they remind me we’re not quite there yet. I’ve been around a long time and intend to stay regardless of where the sport goes. I insist on enjoying the ride with my dogs and don’t let any fad, system, new training technique, seminar presenter who won whatever change my path.
    I take what I like, and leave the rest.

    I don’t care about someone charging $5,000 for a new running contacts course. I don’t feel “less than” because I didn’t try to sign up. I’m glad I have attended enough seminars, taken enough lessons and studied my sport enough to do a great job of teaching my dog awesome contacts for much, much less than $5,000. I loved reading your post Linda. Thank you.

  32. avatar

    But how does spending thousands of dollars necessarily put the value of the win higher than the relationship with the dog? Does it then follow that NOT spending thousands of dollars makes for a better relationship? (If that were the case, I’d have the greatest relationships in the history of the dog-human bond!)

    How much one spends really ought not to (and — I believe — doesn’t) correlate with the quality of the relationship. The resources devoted to pursuing whatever kind of excellence one seeks don’t come directly out of the Relationship Bank. If there are deficits in that account, it’s not because somebody spent a lot on a seminar or a trial junket or a dog, for that matter. It’s a whole different issue.

    I too miss the old days when the sense of community seemed somehow stronger, when every run had an audience and nobody left before the ribbons were handed out. But I don’t think the loss of those elements can be blamed on anything other than the evolution of the sport. I find it ironic that everybody seems to want all of these world championships — maybe even the Olympics someday — but nobody seems to recognize what going in that direction means in terms of compromising what we all claim to love about agility.

  33. avatar
    Jan Guz02-08-2012

    Agree 100% Linda.

    I really hope that this does not become a sport for the “rich and famous”. Some of the things I have seen lately have certainly made me think that it is the way it is headed. So many people want the perfect dog, the perfect way of training this or that, the wins, etc.

    I love having my not so perfect dogs (who also have the not so perfect handler & trainer), thinking my way through training challenges, and loving ever single second I spend w/my pups!

    Even if I had the money some folks are spending for some things (I think we all know what I am talking about – grin), I would give it the BC rescue I work with.

    I enjoy the camps and seminars that I go to (even if all I can afford is an audit slot). i enjoy learning. But this seems to be reaching an “over the top” level. Seriously? Really? Is ANYTHING worth that? My sick dog’s chemo, etc. But not that!

    I love this sport, I love having fun w/my “kids”. I really hope we don’t turn into a “whatever the market will bear” sport.

  34. avatar

    I too fully agree with Linda’s post. But the funny thing is, just because you have running contacts (even if they are 5K running contacts) – doesnt mean you will win :). There are many courses, particularly international ones, where running contacts does not give you much of an advantage over very good stopped contacts (IMO). So if I were paying 5K, I would not just want the running contacts (thats all??) – I would want everything else too, jumping, turns, etc etc… ;))

  35. avatar
    Kathy Jones02-09-2012

    I also appreciate the great seminars and training articles and different instructors we have access to now. I remember when Clean Run was a black and white magazine primarily for instructors and there was very limited internet. The upside to the progression of our sport is we have so many training & equipment options, different styles of training etc. I think agility has also done a huge service to dog training in general.

    I don’t think it will ever be an exclusive rich person’s sport-but there may be an element of that. Anyone can golf, but not anyone can play/compete on the elite courses. Doesn’t mean the public course golfers are not having fun, nor does it mean they don’t enjoy their sport. It just means there are different flavors. Most CPE trials fill quickly-I don’t think it is just because all those competitors wish they were world team candidates, it’s because they like that venue. Different styles for different competitors.

    I have a breed that is super athletic, and super high drive but I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to do agility day in and day out. I’ve changed my training to include 3 other sports. I also am changing venues because I don’t think the tight twisty courses are going to be good for him long term. Do I feel shortchanged due to my decisions? No, I enjoy my time with my dog and while I miss my old venue friends, I am making new ones.I’m also enjoying learning a new sport I’ve never done.
    Our hobbies are what we make of them.

  36. avatar

    sounds like sour grapes to me

  37. avatar
    Linda Mecklenburg02-12-2012

    ? Sour grapes

  38. avatar
    Kathy Jones02-13-2012

    Are you referring to my post? Sorry, but I was trying to convey my feelings about agility/dog sports/time with my dogs. I don’t get the sour grapes from my comments or anyone else’s on this thread.

  39. avatar
    Linda Mecklenburg02-13-2012

    No Kathy. Heather said “Sounds like sour grapes to me”. I have no idea what she’s referring to.

  40. avatar

    You made some respectable points there. I appeared on the web for the problem and located most people will go along with together with your website.

  41. avatar
    Elinda Anderson03-09-2012

    Well thought out and said and I totally agree.

  42. avatar
    Laura Norie03-26-2012

    Coming to this thread a mite late, but here’s why I play agility:

    I live in a small town, only 2 trial weekends a year in this town (put on by my group), two groups north of me hold multiple trials in a year….so, I might get to say 10 trials a year. I compete in multiple other venues, so agility isn’t our only dog sport. I’ve attended a few seminars, a few classes, work with an experienced friend as my coach….and none of that is so that I can go to Regionals, Nationals or Worlds. I’ve done all that so that my dogs and I can look like we know what we’re doing and have the pleasure of “beating the course” occasionally. If we don’t beat the course, we at leaast have had some moments of beauty and brilliance!

    What I really enjoy is having fun with my dogs and hanging with my friends during trials and afterward….I really liked Devil’s Advocate’s comments about the difference between pro and local leagues. That’s exactly where agility is and should remain. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  43. avatar
    Gail Lawson05-03-2012

    I appreciate this so much! Coming from the horse world, I know what money has done for competitive endurance racing. I am new to agility with my big Alaskan Malamute – so you know I will NEVER be competitive in agility! Not the point. When we got him 15 months ago, he was afraid of men and just about everything else, insecure, no confidence. How far this big boy has come and maybe we will reach our goal of a clean run at a novice agility trial! But the journey has been and continues to be spectacular in his developing confidence in himself and trust in me–that is our success.

  44. avatar
    Jane Haynes05-03-2012

    You have hit the nail on the head. Maybe the body needs more maintenance, but the wisdom of what you say is hearty and healthy!

  45. avatar
    Sue Bricker05-04-2012

    Although I’m late to this post, I’d like to add my name to the list of those who believe that is agility “it’s all about the relationship – with your dog”. For me, a rather competitive individual, after the elation of a wonderful run with my wonderful “little girlie” PD or after the enormous disappointment of not executing to the best of my ability at a trial, it truly is all about the relationship with my dog. I always talk about the journey this crazy sport of agility has us on. After all the hours of training and the buckets of emotional energy that we all put into this wonderful endeavor, for me, it’s all about getting home from work, sitting down on the couch to watch some TV, and having PD want to just “be with me”, to want to jump in my lap and fall asleep, no matter how lumpy my lap might be. To reference a well known obedience and agility instructor’s directive to “be your dog’s cookie” … I am so grateful for involving myself in this wonderful world of agility so that I can finally say “I AM MY DOG’S “COOKIE”!!

  46. avatar

    While I agree in general with your sentiment, I recently overheard a USDAA Agility judge and competitor (with Border Collies and Border Xes) lecturing (it felt like) a local competitor with a very “off” breed (of the sort that you would NEVER expect to see running Agility) about how “it’s all about fun, and the relationship with your dog.” The competitor had just missed a Q by a fraction of a second. I was ready to call bullshit. If it was all about having fun with your dog, *my* dogs (who really enjoy agility) would be having just as much fun chasing tennis balls in the back yard, and it would be muchmuchmuch cheaper. People who abandon their “heart” breed for a Border Collie (most who choose another breed don’t choose anything other than a BC) are looking to be more competitive, let’s be honest. But then they just become one more person with a Border Collie. Which is (let’s face it) kind of boring.

    THAT said, I have always had Shelties (since I was a kid) and in general, my Shelties have more talent than I have ambition. Whenever I start feeling like Agility is turning in to work, I dial it down. But when my boyfriend decided he wanted his *own* dog–and that dog turned out to be an Italian Greyhound–I started training the dog, because apparently I am constitutionally unable to let a dog live in the house without working with it. And he’s TONS of fun to train, in a way that the Shelties haven’t been, maybe because I don’t have any ambitions for him? I am willing to walk in to the ring with him and look like an idiot because he really isn’t ready to walk in to a ring yet. And interestingly, people cheer for his mistake-ridden runs (I’m really only running him to get him used to the atmosphere of a trial and to see what he does) in a way that they don’t tend to cheer for other, better runs–who knows why. Maybe because we are clearly having a good time.

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