Dec 2, 2011

What motivates you?

Don't you love when something pops into your head and you HAVE to write about it or you won't be able to sleep? Well, love may not exactly be the right word ;) but here I am anyway. On my soapbox of sorts tonight. I have a bit of a pet peeve, and it's a two-sided one.

"I just do [insert dog sport here] for fun." and its cousin, all the variety of ways to imply that if you compete you must be in it for ribbons / winning / titles / fame / [insert selfish stereotype here].

I know some people like the latter, and I'm sure you do as well (regardless of your chosen venue(s)). Frankly, they're probably some of the unhappiest people I have ever met... and in my experience they're in the minority (for which I'm grateful). For the most part, when I attend agility trials (my primary sport of choice), I see people who adore their dogs more than might be considered sane by non-dog folk, and are there for the fun of it.

Let me repeat that. That the majority of people I see at agility trials are happy and adore their dogs regardless of whether the bars stayed up, the contacts were touched, and certainly regardless of the color of the ribbons earned (if any).

Three of my dogs are retired from agility, but they were certainly never candidates for new land-speed records when they were competing -- often experts at coming in exactly at (or less than 1 second over) course time. My young dog, on the other hand, has more speed than she or I know what to do with and the learning curve has occasionally been known to provide comedic relief. I admit, I have been lightly chided by a well-known seminar presenter because I tend to find my dogs' naughty behavior amusing and have a hard time stifling a giggle when they do something creatively naughty. ;)

I do agility "for fun" just as I do all the venues I try with my dogs. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. If I can't find joy in simply taking part in an activity with my dog regardless of anyone else's opinion of it (judge included)... then I need to find something where I can. My joy is in those moments where it feels like everything just flowed together (even if it was to an off course jump or caused a refusal), where the problem we've worked on has even the tiniest breakthrough, or where I almost get there fast enough to do what I wasn't sure I could. I enjoy getting Q's, placements, earning titles, etc. -- and I'll be the first to admit I get a goofy grin on my face seeing how much under course time my young dog was because it's so novel to me... but that's not why I'm there.

If I truly just wanted to run around with my dog on equipment, I can do that at home -- so yes, there is indeed more motivation to it than that for me. That motivation, however, is the course; the environment. A test to see how well our skills hold up against the test of generalization, and if our teamwork can solve the challenge created by someone else. Even if I pick a course designed by someone else to set up at home, I still may subconsciously pick a course that plays to our strengths or tweak it so it's not as intended. I want to see how we handle what someone else came up with. And regardless of the outcome, I hug my dog, process the information, and return home to train based on that information. That's all failure is really... information. Information about what worked, what didn't, and what you need to explore further.

So yes, that is my advice to you tonight. Find your personal joy in whatever it is you do - not dependent on someone else's opinion or the results. Set goals that further your personal joy... goals that you can obtain regardless of other people. Take the "personal-ness" out of failure... failure in training, failure in a trial, failure in whatever it is you do. It didn't work - so what? Failure is an informative event -- not a character trait. It gives you an opportunity to grow and further your and your dog's teamwork, training, and joy.