Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Recalibrating Success

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.  - Winston Churchill

Several months ago I wrote about how I was defining success, and as Murray has become more confident in the ring, I've realized that I need to recalibrate what I consider to be a successful run.  Except this time, it's all on me.  Because The Murr is pretty gosh darn awesome these days.

The Murr and I participated in our first BIG agility trial in April.  USDAA Regionals was just a hop, skip, and hourlong drive away and we were pumped.  Despite the proximity, we were going to share a motel room with our friend and her dogs as a "test" for Cynosport (because having The Murr wreaking havoc on the inhabitants of a motel room for a week would surely dissolve even the best of friendships).  The whole week preceding, I couldn't wait.  PVP team shirts arrived and were gorgeous.  Everyone and their mother was going.  There was nothing to worry about!

And then we started off shaky.

Our first run was Team Jumpers.  It was perhaps the most technical course of the morning, and counted towards team rather than individual accolades.  We were starting with the little performance dogs, which meant Murray would be up before most.  As people from other rotation groups started gathering over by us, we realized that this was the course that everyone was sweating.

We started our run alright, but as Murray entered the weaves at 6, there was a handler tugging with her dog right alongside the fencing.  Like, right alongside the fencing.  Which caused Murray to exit the poles and go investigate, which caused me to worry that he'd start barking and possibly leave the ring.  Fortunately, I got him back and we restarted the weaves, finishing in a "well at least we got a time" time and with not a lot of confidence.  All day that first day, we had bobbles throughout, mostly due to indecisive handling - no Es, but nothing that I was particularly proud of.  And nothing that was doing justice to The Murr and the level of effort that he was exerting.

The next morning, I said to my roommate/friend that I had regretted entering Regionals PSJ (performance speed jumping).  Now, I love the PSJ class - the emphasis on speed, the A-frames (Murray loves his A-frames), and the small purse that we occasionally earn.  But Murray's PSJ Qs have generally come from less competitive trials - we had never gone head-to-head with any of the super-fast dogs, as most had earned their PSJ Qs early in the qualifying period and then refrained from entering the class.  Although I try not to focus on the Q, I wondered why I spent $30 on entry fees to run a course that we had no chance in hell of qualifying in, given the dogs who would be undoubtably setting the time.  I could have spent less than half of that fee to run in PII Standard where it would be my dog versus the SCT clock.  

As we walked the course, I knew that we (a) had no chance in hell of making time unless every fast dog Ed, (b) that every fast dog wouldn't E, as there were limited off-course opportunities, (c) had to take every risk imaginable and just go for it.  Not to Q, because we had no chance in hell, but to have a respectable showing.  We joke that The Murr likes to "anger run," meaning that when he's mad, he runs faster.  He gets mad by getting wet and by getting riled up.  In reality, the "anger running" is more a result of any stress energy that I have being diffused by this game of pissing him off, but anger running is catching on as a Murrism, so we'll leave it at that.  We went to the hose, wet him down, and then a couple of friends and I got him revved and MAD.  To the point that one of said friends remarked (in response to Murr's barks) "oh shoot, I'm leash running for him.  I don't feel safe now."

We went to the line, wet and mad and ready to go.  I did sends that I would never do at a trial (because ohmygodrefusalohmygod).  I never for a second doubted that he'd do anything but accelerate and take the obstacles in the lines that I ran towards.  We both left everything on the course.

Because some of the other 8" dogs were in other rotations, we had no idea where we stacked up, but it didn't matter.  Murray had one of his most fantastic runs ever - solid weaves, excellent commitment, and nice ground speed.  I had seen the super-fast dogs run and they all got through the course clean and were running even faster than I had seen them do in local trials.  So success on this run was the run, not the outcome.  Imagine my surprise when the results were posted and The Murr made it to the Finals.  He had the slowest of the qualifying times, but was only a few seconds behind dogs that usually run a good 15 seconds faster than us, with handlers that were running as aggressively as possible.

And as much as I said that earning a Q fell into the "no chance in hell" category, both my instructor and I knew that getting a Q in the Finals was REALLY REALLY REALLY in the "no chance in hell" category, as the criteria is cut from 25% of the top 3 score average to 15%.  But that was okay.  We were going to leave it out there and run!

I felt that our experience in PSJ at regionals was the utmost of success, Q or NQ (and ultimately NQ).  We were running like we train, taking risks I usually cop out of, and just going for it.  Because, yes, agility is a timed event - even if I forget that sometimes.

A few weeks later we ran in AKC under a judge that we were over time with last time we had run his JWW course.  Again, it was a "behind the eight ball" sort of day - the course had some obstacle discrimination, it was hot as heck, no tunnels (Murray's accelerator), and a very efficient small dog line wheeled.  So all we could do was "not wuss out of it" and go.  Wet?  Check.  Getting angry?  Check.  And again, a fast run for the little man.

I spoke to my instructor following Regionals and said "that was too much damn fun, I just need to do this and risk more failure."  She looked at me like "duh", though commented that there wouldn't necessarily be more "failure" as we know his capabilities.  My dog is trained to do backsides, and obstacle discrimination, and some distance.  But it's me holding him back from his full potential when I wuss out at a trial, playing things safe to salvage a Q.  By just going for it, and assuming that if I don't take every risk in the book that I won't be able to complete the task, agility is far more fun.  Recalibrating my measure of success, not for my dog, but for me as his teammate and handler, is the real way to improve our team and continue on this path with much enthusiasm.

**This post is part of the Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day.  Check out more posts here.**


  1. Awesome! It is funny how a shift in *our* attitude can make such a huge difference. Changing from "I can't get a front cross there" to "I *will* get to that front cross" and pushing ourselves is transformative. I told one of my junior handlers her new motto should be "Run Fast and Front Cross" to help her shift her attitude to one where she pushes herself to get out ahead and keep moving.

    Besides it is so much more fun to go for it than it is to be cautious!

  2. I really enjoyed this post -- hearing of your experience and seeing the videos -- it's evident that this new attitude of yours is inspiring greatness in your dog! What a lovely team. Playing it safe is no fun for either member of the team. Keep pushing and keep being awesome. :o)

  3. Awesome post! Stop trying to Q and just RUN is my life philosophy (normally), and it's waaaaay more fun that way!

  4. wow. 'the murr' is so much fun to watch! congrats and thanks for suggesting an attitude adjustment... good idea!

    1. Thanks! He's a silly one but I love the little guy more than anything!