Pumping the Brakes on Dog Sports
I originally posted these musings in the Brags section of the Community Forum. Perhaps it is strange that I posted it there but I think it's appropriate. Dog sports and the brags that accompany them are in some ways one and the same. Dog sports, while a chance to connect with your dog and challenge your hard work together, is also about the achievement. Everyone has a different goal or perceived achievement but their accomplishment is a brag nonetheless.
That being said, even though dog sports are so fulfilling, and a truly special way to engage with your dog, for the 2019 calendar year, I am taking a sabbatical from dog sports. I might do a little tracking with Saga, and training is still part of my life with my dogs, but as far as the competition ring goes, you'll only see me there doing academic research and socializing. Neither my dogs nor I, will be in the ring.
This does not come as a criticism of the ring, competition or dog sports. My decision is not influenced by any person, experience or organization. What fueled this change of pace was some reflection on my part while organizing the piles of ribbons and certificates that has slowly taken over various parts of my house. As I was stuffing another certificate onto a shelf to hopefully preserve it from being spilled on or bent I realized how little they had come to mean. At that moment it was a hassle.
I know it sounds terrible. When I stopped to think about it, it felt terrible to me too. I paused and looked at my dogs, many who have been my competition partners for nearly a decade. My seniors, now retired who will likely never received another certificate or ribbon. Who honestly probably don’t even care as long as we go out and do something, anything, fun. So I stopped right there and went to work taking down all the vicariously hung certificates that took up residence on my walls. Yes, I was that weirdo that hung up a lot of my certificates, at least I used to. Some were covered in a decades worth of dust. Some frames were missing glass or barely holding together. They were not loved. They had become an overgrown checklist instead of the accomplishments and testaments they honored.
I retrieved an old binder containing the rules for CDSP (from 7 years ago when I was a rep for the organization), each page in a protector. I removed all the printed rules pages and slowly took apart all the framed certificates. With honor and compassion long forgotten but now renewed, I slowly slipped each certificate into a protector and ordered them based on dog, rank, and importance (to me). I smiled with each and felt pangs for ones that appear to be missing. My own fault for not taking their arrival more seriously. Then came the anxious tingle that there were more, in storage and within the databases of 2 venues, waiting to be printed. I didn’t have enough protectors, nor frames, nor wall space. And I had not appreciated it.
We have amassed a lot. So much to be proud of. Yet it had become routine. Go out, qualify, maybe place, title, update their names on websites, maybe post brags, store ribbons, rinse and repeat. What was once a special moment for me and my dog had become an extension of my career and my life…burdensome and a form of resume building.
I realized that in the past year my dogs had earned almost 10 titles. I think I posted brags for maybe half of them. It wasn’t that I wasn’t proud. I was… in the moment. Tracker retired with her ARCHX. Journey was the first New Guinea Singing Dog to earn new off leash, Barn Hunt and Nose Work titles. But it felt like I was checking off a box, not accomplishing something, and certainly not having a moment with my dogs. I celebrated but the elation wasn’t there.
After sorting all the certificates I chose the 2 I was most proud of from each dog (living and since passed) and framed them. They hang on my staircase. I then made my way to my office to address the ribbon issue. I have a wall in my office covered with about 70% of my ribbons. It's about 6’ x 7’ and it is completely covered. You can see it in some of my behind the scenes videos. I smile when I look at it. I smile and recall the trials, tribulations, and testaments of those events. It fills my heart. And then there is an overwhelming pang for the ones still in storage. I could have something made from them. A quilt or something. And I probably will in a year or two. I do love the curtains in my colleague’s training building. We’ll have to see where I am in a few years. But the pangs come from wanting to honor all those times together. Never wanting to take away how much they mattered in the moment. How much they shaped me, my relationship with my dogs, and my future.
Upon finishing my clearing, cleaning, honoring and preserving I promised myself to consider how I was going to move forward in dog sports and why. Instead of treating it like a checklist, like a bar to knock higher and higher, how would it fit into my life in the future. After weeks of meditation and soul searching I’ve decided I’m taking a break. I want to figure out what dog sports means to me now. Do I want to continue in the sports I know so well? Why? I seem to only want to title in the sports I don’t know. I want to earn a tracking title. And I might attempt that this year or next. This seems to be the only sport that takes my breath away at the moment. The rest, I don’t know. I might be done. At least for the next year or two.
I realize the purpose of dog sports for me was to have new experiences and grow with my dogs and I did. I grew in ways I could never imagine. Dog sports helped make me the successful person I am today. They taught me innumerable lessons. And now I need to grow with those lessons and return at a later date to learn new ones. But for now application is the name of the game. Application, rest, and appreciation.
If you are a competitor, why do you compete? What lessons have you learned? How have you grown?