Achievement is different from person to person. No more so than when playing the agility game with our canine friends. For some it will be about nailing elusive contact points, or hitting weave entries with the same accuracy as in training. For others it will be gaining confidence in start line control, or attaining tighter turns in tricky sequences.
That sense of accomplishment is also likely to be achieved differently with each dog you run with. What creates that rush of achievement with a young dog entering the ring for the first time is naturally different from that of a seasoned adult with many wins under their belt. No matter what the reason, that delightful moment when you reach that personally important goal is so infinitely satisfying. It’s perhaps no surprise that sportspeople become hooked as hard on that as others do on recreational drugs – the chemical rush of achievement is a hard cocktail to beat.
My personal sense of achievement is partly in the skill of my dogs, in which I have complete trust, but mostly in my ability to showcase their awe-inspiring ability to light up a ring with their speed and agility. My wonder in them has often caused me to feel inadequate in the face of their brilliance. Their lesson to me when we walk into a ring is that the beautiful light I see in them, is in all of us, it’s just dogs don’t carry around the same fears and worries as their human companions. I am finally starting to see that the way they illuminate my life is not a dampener to my own, but more permission to shine alongside them and enjoy the light that we share with the world.
Interestingly each dog I have had the privilege of partnering has taught me something different about playing the agility game. My most recent dogs have shown me what it is to fear the limelight and prefer the playground of the sidelines away from the spotlight. The youngest needed me to support her and encourage her ability to be the superstar that I know is within her. That was a lesson and a mark of faith in me in itself – that no one other than me would do, and that she had absolute confidence in me to bring it out in her. My wish for her has been to be her lovely, talented self and not to fear getting it wrong, or making a mistake. Her lesson for me has been that sometimes to inspire others you must lead by example, and actually use those mistakes as stepping-stones along the way to success. That courage is not always roaring, but sometimes getting up and being able to try again.
This has been a difficult season of agility for me as an injury to my big girl meant I had to step away from my comfort blanket whilst she recovered, and stand out there on the agility stage with my new girl who needed much more from me as a handler. Whilst I have always loved to offer enthusiastic and heady support in training for my dogs, being that person for them when in the ring has always been quite hard. Nerves are a terrible nuisance when you’re trying to do your best at something! Changing a belief about yourself is often difficult, not because of the change itself, but because we resist it. I have long resisted the fact that my precious big girl’s success had anything to do with me. Her injury seemed to be the push I needed to step out and prove to myself that I shouldn’t be in awe of her light, that I should be more aware of my own.
My precious youngster has been a happy partner to my learning, and has gained in confidence from the experiences I’ve provided her with this year. So much so that she’s not so keen on my big girl coming back to take all the limelight, and recently provided me with some of the best work I’ve seen her do – that future is looking very bright indeed.
The final lesson, and perhaps the most important one because of the parallels with our everyday lives that I’ve learned is this. That these exciting, exhilarating and memorable moments that we share with our dogs in our agility game – these moments should not be taken for granted or spoiled with thoughts of what might have been. In each moment, we can only ever do our best. Remembering that has released me from some of the demons that have held me back, because regretting any single moment from an agility run with my big girl would be a criminal waste. We only ever have this moment once. Stepping onto that startline again after her return from injury, with her vocal encouragement ringing in my ears – I don’t know there are words to capture how overflowing my heart was at that point. Thoughts of not being good enough for this lovely girl disappeared, and I finally heard her words for what they were – let’s just do this!
Interestingly what began as ponderings on achievement has actually become more a wonderment on the amazing things we learn along our journeys with our dogs. And actually, perhaps I haven’t strayed all that far from the subject, because being able to recognise the lessons our dogs have to teach us is a pretty important achievement all by itself. Today I'm grateful for my dogs :)