Posted by: allstaragility | July 19, 2010


I was reminded of a very valuable lesson this weekend that I wanted to share with all of you.  It has to do with perspective in our sport and, more importantly, being in control of it.    There are several different definitions of the word, but I think this one is most fitting to my observations:


The state of one’s ideas, the faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship.


To simplify, perspective is simply one’s mental interpretation of facts.  So what lesson can be learned about how we perceive facts as it applies to agility?  Please read on and bear with me as I think each of you will be able to see some correlation to your own experiences …

Many of you are well aware of my trials, tribulations and tears with Bode’s jumping over the last year and a half.  To give a little background, Bode had an iliopsoas injury in February of 2009 (similar to a groin injury in people).  It wasn’t so severe that it was easily noticeable in his normal gait, but did manifest through a complete change in his jumping ability.  I wasn’t sure it was an injury at first, I just thought it was due to something I missed in his jump training or lack of conditioning over the winter.

I started to question that it might be an injury when I saw a complete meltdown in performing simple jump grids.  We had also lost flow in our runs; the dog I loved driving through the course was suddenly hesitant and unsure of himself (although that wasn’t easily seen by spectators, it was just my perception that something was “off”).   Bode wasn’t always the best jumper to begin with, however this is a dog who, at 2 years of age had won Steeplechase at one regional, a Grand Prix at another, earned multiple class placements and the Silver medal in Steeplechase finals at USDAA nationals and qualified for World Team Try-outs.   I don’t mention this to boast, but to demonstrate that he was a very capable and confident dog early on (plus, I will refer back to this point later on so take note!).

To summarize the last year- after the diagnosis and rehab, I worked quickly to get him back in form by AKC Nationals, then a short month later to jump 18” at Try-outs.  It was a push, but I was confident in his ability to “bounce back”.  In hindsight, it was not a good decision for him… While he had a few good runs at Nationals, I felt like I was running on eggshells and then he really fell apart jumping those 2 precious inches higher at Try-outs.  In reality, I think this set us back probably more than the initial injury.   When I was busy treating the physical injury, I neglected to really nurture him through the mental injury (what I have lovingly referred to as his brain damage).

While the fact was he was physically fine and my perspective was that he should have no problem jumping, his perspective was much different.  In his brain, Bode hadn’t forgotten how to jump correctly; he had forgotten that he could jump correctly in the context of running a course- two completely different concepts.  He knew the skill, but his perception was that he couldn’t do it repetitively in different scenarios while running on course.    This is where my poor boy’s brain was stuck and, I can tell you, it can be a very hard place from which to escape.

My perspective quickly realigned to match his.  Our theme this last year has been bars, bars, bars, jumping, jumping, and more jumping.  I saw improvement in his confidence and less bars down but it has been a complete lesson in patience for me when I so badly wanted to move forward faster.

I ran Bode in a few more USDAA trials this summer where I saw the most progress.  I initially attributed this to having more runs per day (meaning less build up of anticipation between runs) and the more relaxed atmosphere.  Even though there were still bars, they weren’t the focus of my runs and I felt a resemblance of our “old” team in several classes where I drove him a little more (note the hint of foreshadowing here…).

Returning back to AKC equaled the emergence of “One-bar-Bode” and a 1 or 2 Q’s out of a 6-run weekend.   His jumping was continuing to improve, but still none of those precious, desperately-needed-for-National Double Q’s!  After seeing glimmers of hope for a light at the end of the tunnel, here came that dream-feeling we were running towards it but it kept getting further away.  Up goes my frustration, away goes my patience and reinforced is my perspective that my dog can’t get cleanly through 2 courses a day thus resulting in fears we won’t qualify for Nationals and will have to forego Try-outs another year.

Then came the AAAARRRRGGGHHH! moment that become an AHA! Moment.   After our third straight “One-Bar-Bode” performance of the weekend and me sitting down to a good cry over what I could have possibly ever done to the Agility Gods to smite me with such an incredibly talented dog who simply can’t “get over it” (in every sense of the phrase), I decided to change my perspective.   I was too worried about the results (bar = NQ) and not the joy of running my dog. I had become utterly sick of everything revolving around the fact my dog may knock a bar on course; walking the course figuring out how to help him the most and not pressuring him too much on runs.  Damn it, I missed just running my dog and having breath-taking moments!  Instead of feeling, “nice run, too bad about the bar,” I needed to feel “wow, that run was amazing!” regardless of the outcome.    I needed to find pleasure in the “running” and not necessarily in the “qualifying”.  This has always been my mantra I preach to students, but I had lost this perspective when worried too much about the results.

My zone has always been in “finals” mode; that place where you throw caution to the wind and do everything possible to get the most out of your dog.  Before his injury (as previously mentioned) this is also where Bode would shine brightest, but my perspective was that he wasn’t really ready for that yet…or was he?  He certainly had done better in USDAA where bars didn’t matter as much to me and I felt freer to push him. Was the improvement I saw and felt there attributed to atmosphere or the fact that I wasn’t focus on the results, but simply having fun running?

Today, with a brand new perspective (the last thing I told him before leaving him at the start line was “OK buddy, I am going to run so try to keep up”), we had one of the nicest AKC jumpers runs in a long time.  When my mind wasn’t on each jump but on getting Bode through as quickly and smoothly as possible, I believe it changed his perspective as well and took the focus of stress off of jumping.  Up went the standard course with lots of opportunities to either babysit or go for broke.  We went for it and it was, without a doubt, the most satisfying run in a long, long time.  Only after we had celebrated the “damn that was an awesome run” did I realize it was a double-Q…

Now do I truly believe today was the end of Bode’s jumping saga?  I would be delusional if I thought that a jumping issue could be solved by the handler simply running faster and I would never tell a student that.   Looking at the video, it is obvious his jumping was far from perfect and I am fully aware that this may always be a nagging issue for us.  However, I do believe we reached a very important milestone.

The lesson here isn’t about jumping, but the state of our ideas and seeing all of the data in a meaningful relationship.    My interpretation of the facts was that we had a jumping issue.  Perhaps it is something different for you and your dog (contacts, start-line, speed, etc).  Time and training are vital in working through these issues but also mentally reinforced our awareness of the problem at hand narrow our focus to that one point.  It becomes the center of our universe.  We all need to shift the state of our ideas to where we excel.  Don’t let your problems take center stage.  Deal with them, but refuse to allow them to rule over you.  Today our perspective changed from a team who has bar issues to a team who has rediscovered the thrill of making each run our “finals”.    What is it going to be for you?

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