Posted by: allstaragility | June 4, 2014

Thoughts on Success… and Cake!

I pondered quite a bit on how to approach today’s Dog Agility Blog Action Day topic of “Success”. With all the possible directions I could go with it, I chose to narrow the focus to a topic I feel plagues many agility competitors… Cake leads us to inappropriately measure our success in running courses clean!

Follow my logic on this one… We humans are social creatures and we seek the approval of others. We are also operant. To us, cheers and applause are the people version of clicks and treats. Consider the environment in which we compete; teams who have a clean run get applause. I am pretty sure this means we are conditioning ourselves to want to run clean (especially when MACH cake is involved- that is celebrating at least 40 clean runs!). Is this a bad thing? YES! Just as cheering for a clean run tells that team they were successful, the lack of applause (and cake) for errors on course tells a team they were unsuccessful. Yes, that innocent looking cake can have a profound impact on how we allow our success to be measured…

To explain further, when I was young, I was very introverted. It is funny how dogs can be a great equalizer and a larger-than-life, 20″ Sheltie named Derby had that effect on me. As quiet and shy as I was, he was the undisputed opposite. This made going into the agility ring a terrifying experience since all I wanted to do was get around the course and all he wanted to do was bark as loud as possible, telling everybody “hey, stop what you are doing and watch my mom make a fool of herself!”

While clean runs were still infrequent, we finally started growing as a team and I was learning more about training and handling than I ever thought I needed to know. I had to dig deep and bring out an inner confidence in myself in order to set performance criteria and stick with it in competition. We had some breathtaking runs sprinkled among a bunch of implosions. A defining moment for me was at an AKC trial where somebody finished a MACH with their dog. It was still a rare occurrence in those days and this person (who no longer does agility, by the way) was notoriously cruel to her dog. If there was any relationship between that handler and dog, it was based on intimidation and fear. Yet here was all this fanfare because they reached the ultimate “success” in agility by earning the coveted MACH. As they were rolling out the celebratory cake, it brought selfish tears to my eyes because it wasn’t fair for a person like that to be regaled when I had been working so hard on building a positive relationship with my dog. That was the tipping point where I became determined to define our own success in start lines and contacts rather than let others measure it for me in Q’s and MACHs.

That was probably the best thing that could have EVER happened to me in my journey. With each dog came new markers for success. Steady as a rock, Skye allowed success to be measured performing under stress in more intense environments. Soft, reluctant Zoom showed me success came with finding the right combinations of buttons to push. Bode (who has ETS) proved that success can sometimes be winning the game in your own backyard instead of at competitions. Solei read the definition of success and measures mine by how I can continue to improve as her handler. C-ya… well, it is funny how things tend to come full circle and we are currently back to measuring our success in start lines and contacts. Oh, and with a lot of laughter…

So what is the point to all of this? I can see the beginning of the end of MACH cakes. We need to recognize the successes we all have in each and every run. I would like a “Holy Crap, She Actually Stayed At The Start Line” cake. Or maybe “Wow, That Was A Freaking Nice Dogwalk” cake. Perhaps you would prefer, “I Am Not Sure What That Move Was Called But It Totally Rocked” or a “Way To Go For That Cross! Even Though You Ended On Your Arse, That Took Guts” cake. Is there such a thing as too much cake? OK, how about “Yay Us” cupcakes instead? I think we could all go for that!

The sugar high from all that cake got me thinking if I could go back in time and write a list of advice for finding success in agility for my shy, introverted self some 17 -odd years ago, it would probably look a bit like this:

1) You might as well get over your fear of looking stupid or silly. Seriously, we are all in the same boat running around the ring screeching and clapping at our dogs. You WILL fall on your butt in public (sometimes twice in one day!). Oh, and just so you know… a naughty little split-faced dog will bite your crotch at the end of a run right in front of the USDAA live stream camera. You will probably even survive that.

2) Don’t compare your progress to that of others. It will either make you feel 4″ tall or give you a big head. Neither of those will help you run your dog any better. You are not Linda, Ann, Stacy, Nancy, Silvia or Daisy (people you will meet later). Just focus on being the best YOU instead of trying to be like others. You are not good at impersonating others, trust me.


3) Whatever you do, give it a 100% effort. Don’t be a half-ass trainer or handler. Being your best at agility deserves full on moonage (figuratively, please. Nobody really wants to see that)! No matter what, be proud of the effort you give. No Ragrets, you know what I am sayin? Yeah, I know “ragrets” is spelled wrong. It is from a funny movie you will see someday…

4) Forget trying to impress friends. They are not a Grand Jury determining your fate. True friends want you to do well, but they really don’t care what titles or how many points you get. They just want to support you and see you having a good time with your dog. By the way, they want the same thing in return, maybe with some cake and alcohol, too.

5) People who are not your real friends will talk smack. About you. Take it as a compliment. Rubber and glue, baby!

6) Stop worrying about what your instructor thinks. While she would really like to see you go out there and just throw one down, she is not an executioner (well, at least not until your next class). She knows your goals and personal struggles and will find something to celebrate with you no matter what. [Since you don’t really have a regular instructor right now, this is more of a note-to-self that you would like to try to be that kind of instructor, someday.]

7) Don’t be afraid of failure; you need it to continue improving. Believe in yourself and be bold, but embrace the fact failure will happen. Disclaimer: Do not hold me personally liable for the dogonoscopy you may get while attempting an ill-timed blind cross. I said be bold, not foolish!

8) Find success in every run and training session. Even if you take your dog off a course for breaking a start line stay, you can still pat yourself on the back for sticking to criteria! I think that deserves a piece of cake!

9) Don’t dwell on mistakes. Most likely, your dog has already forgiven you for taking him off course after breaking that stay. Get over it already. Training running dogwalks will eventually help you with this one, too. Have fun with that!

10) Realize that taking steps backwards are OK. Construction zones may have detours, but that also means progress is being made… yada, yada, yada. Stays, on the other hand, require practicing a lot of sitting still. Not unlike the rush hour traffic you will experience when you move to KC in about 15 years… Gotta love impulse control exercises!

On the plus side, when you are doing all that practice sitting still, it is a good opportunity to eat cake and raise a glass to toast all the successes yet to come (it is called proofing). Cheers!

Are there any secrets to success you would go back and tell yourself ? If so, please comment! Read more blogs on Success at: http://dogagilityblogevents.




  1. Lori you covered so many secrets. I think two I learned have to do with waiting. With our Milo one secret for his success was Flyball – he learned confidence and to come out of his shell by playing that game and that transferred to agility. With Flyer I learned to work on just playing together and not worry about “training agility” until we had a better relationship – that delay has made the agility part so much better!

    • Great additions, Steve! Reminds me that I did a lot of tracking with Zoom which really boosted his confidence and help us read each other.

  2. Love, love, love these comments! Yes!! So, not looking forward to Hoot biting my crotch 🙂

    • Crotch, boobs, tummy… they are all fair game, Mary!

  3. Thank you for the inspirational words and thoughts. You brought good tears to my eyes!

  4. I really enjoyed this! At one early point for my dog Rip, I could have eaten cake when he didn’t get scared by the leash runner or scoretable behind him!

  5. Lovely and well written and TRUE!

  6. Great post, Lori. Have felt many of these things myself. And I will be smiling to myself the next time I see a MACH caKE!!

  7. Ah, cake. Cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems.

  8. Awesome post. I am now hungry for cake.

  9. Luckily, I don’t like cake much but I love this blog. I have always tried to make the competition be against myself. Trying to outdo my personal best. But sometimes I’m out there with my dog just to have fun, other times it’s all about training and sometimes it’s about the elusive Q needed for an ATCH. But then last year happened. It was not a good year for me, I tragically lost one of my agility dogs and then the other suffered a serious injury which, at the time, I was told he would not recover well enough for agility again. But just two weeks ago, after fully recovering from his injury, I was privileged to walk back in the ring with him again. What a great day it was. We didn’t Q one single time but it was the BEST day I ever had in the ring. I loved seeing the great big smile on his face as he finished a course. Every time I think about it I tear up. So sometimes, it’s just about being in the ring with your favorite partner and teammate again. Don’t ever take for granted.

  10. Wonderful post. This is the journey that I found myself on with Merlin about a year ago. We turned to duck herding to build our relationship and confidence. We continued to work on our agility skills, but at some point I just said screw it, we need to stop giving a shit about what anyone else thinks or says behind my back. Retrained how I handled him. Reworked his foundations. Stopped thinking about anything else besides having fun. Every time I can step to the line with him, it’s a success in my book. It shows in the joy in his face.

  11. Loved this! Too often I see handlers obsessing over how to handle a piece on a course to the point that they forgot that this is a game they get to play with their awesome dog! Getting so wrapped up in making the run perfect and getting that “Q” has turned them into a nervous, jittery mess. I wouldn’t want to run for them like that, why would their dog want to? Q’s are great, but I agree with you on everything you wrote–especially the the cake for the really nice running dog walk–heck, yeah, I want one of those! And I almost choked on my coffee reading the “dogonoscopy”. That’s awesome, although, I don’t think I ever want one. I recently got to watch you in person at the North Central Regional and it gave me goosebumps to see you and Solei out there. You two definitely deserve cake for raising the roof on such fun runs that are chock full of team work.

  12. This was CAKE.

  13. Well done. Cake for you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: