I've been to an agility show today, and the actions of one competitor is playing on my mind.
Their dog made a mistake on one of the pieces of contact equipment and they yelled at it in a very threatening way "Don't you ever do that again!" before getting their dog to complete it again.
They then added insult to injury by berating the dog by holding its neck between their hands and telling them off whilst staring into their face :(
"Violence begins where knowledge ends" Abraham Lincoln
I know this is why some of the dog trainers I admire and respect don't wish to be involved in agility training anymore. Which is a shame because their knowledge about training might help avoid incidents like the one I witnessed.
Because this sort of thing unfortunately happens a lot when things don't go the way people would like when they're competing in agility, for various reasons such as competitiveness, embarrassment, frustration etc.
But essentially the way to solve it remains the same. And it's through better training, and taking responsibility for your dog's level of understanding.
During one of our runs today Jade went into the wrong end of a tunnel and we were eliminated for taking the wrong course. Who's responsible? Jade or me?
Easy! Me of course! Either because I didn't give her the correct information about where to go in time, or because I haven't proofed her understanding of changing her line whilst out on course.
Likewise when she made a mistake and took the weave poles instead of the tunnel in one of our other runs I thought she was over aroused and had missed the cue. When I asked her to do it again and she made the same mistake I realised there's a weakness in her understanding that when she's on the wrong line she needs to correct herself to find the right piece of kit.
Two simple mistakes which happened in a split-second and caused two eliminations. But guess what? It doesn't matter.
Jade and my other dogs don't choose agility training - it's something I teach them to enjoy playing, it's just another training GAME. Remembering it's only a game is important. Whether it goes well or badly doesn't influence world peace or create/ lose a cure for cancer. The result really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.
What DOES matter is my conduct when I'm playing the game - for both my dogs and for the people I influence, such as my children watching or those I teach. Because it is my reaction to both success & failure which determines whether I win or lose.
It only takes a split second to make a bad decision. Sometimes because we're struggling with other stresses and it isn't the person we want to be. I wish I could say I was perfect and had never yelled in frustration when I couldn't communicate what I wanted from a dog, but making mistakes is part of being human.
What I do know is that we should make a decision about the sort of dog owners and handlers we want to be and work as hard as we possibly can to achieve that aim. Let's be the sort of people our dogs believe us to be. They hold us on high pedestals - let's try and be worthy of them.