Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Just what is "Success"?

Success is a difficult subject on which to pontificate. It can mean so many different things to so many different people. As life has shown me, success is even measured differently from dog to dog -- and the measure of success will undoubtedly change numerous times over the span of a single dog's lifetime.

Luke was my first agility dog. In the beginning days of our agility career there is no doubt that there was only one measure of success in my mind -- the qualifying runs (Q). It was likely at one of our first (NADAC) trials that I learned of the "big award," the NATCH. Instantly this became the end goal; the reason we were doing agility. I took this game called agility far too seriously and gosh darn it, why wasn't my dog getting there faster???

Then Luke was diagnosed with Addison's disease in October of 2009. When you fear you will lose your dog, your perspective tends to change. If my memory serves correctly, Luke had everything he needed for his first NATCH at that time, save for six or seven Chances Qs. Upon diagnosis, not knowing anything about the disease, I didn't know if we'd ever do agility again.

Luke did return to the agility ring, and in only a few short months he had returned to his previous fine form (only faster, thanks to all the weight he dumped when he was sick ;o) ). While I still placed altogether too much pressure on myself and my desire to be a Champion, my attitude towards Luke, agility and this thing we call "success" had changed and I was simply grateful that we were able to still play this game together.

Those last few Chances Qs came together rather quickly and Luke earned his first NATCH in July of 2010. That was a pretty special day and I felt pretty successful for a number of reasons, but mostly that we kicked Addison's ass and came back to meet our (okay, my) goal. Luke has gone on to complete a total of four NATCH awards (one Chances Q away from five!) and two Versatility NATCH awards. At 10 years old, I am beyond thrilled with his achievements in life. We reached another goal at NADAC Champs in 2013 by making the finals. You couldn't ask for a more awesome first agility dog.

Kaiser had the dubious task of being my second agility dog. He had big paws to fill, following in Luke's footsteps -- and this is where I learned humility and that every dog is different and you cannot expect them to fit into a mold.

While he was my second agility dog, Kaiser was my first Klee Kai. That in itself lent itself to more challenges than I would ever have anticipated (perhaps I should have done more research?). Kaiser was absolutely brilliant in training. Distance work seemed to come naturally to him, so I figured he would be a stellar NADAC dog from day one and would sail right through the levels to earn his NATCH in record time (because yes, success was still measured by that Champion title).

What to think, then, when we spent nearly the first year chasing him out of the ring and begging him to trot nervously through courses at trials? It was such a trying year that had Kaiser been my first agility dog, it is quite likely that I would have quit. This is where I started to have a different view of success. Now success was no longer measured by the Q, but by whether or not my dog stayed in the ring with me for an entire run. Success was when my dog was happy to be in the ring with me.

We celebrated each of those small successes and I learned not to take this game called agility so seriously. Eventually those small successes built into larger successes and Kaiser became a real agility dog! He has won several classes at NADAC Champs (my own shortcomings kept us from larger success in that realm), has now earned two NATCH awards and one Versatility NATCH, and is now starting his journey to the PACH in AKC.

Even with his impressive list of achievements, I still measure Kaiser's success by his happiness in the ring. If he's not happy, we're not having fun, and that's the most important thing to me. He tries his little heart out and I just want to do right by him.

You would have thought that I would have learned my lesson in humility and what success was really all about by the time Secret arrived. Alas, I had all sorts of preconceived notions flitting about my head regarding border collies and their capabilities in agility. The weight of my dreams was on Secret's shoulders when she arrived, and it was a heavy load to carry.

If I were to measure success by total number of Qs or percentage of clean runs overall, there is no doubt that Secret would be my most successful dog yet! She managed to get her NATCH (despite hating the Chances class with a hot, fiery passion) in under two years and sailed right through the lower levels in both USDAA and AKC. Qs have never been a problem for Secret -- happiness in the ring has been.

At the end of every run with Secret I measure our success by her happiness and speed during that run. Some of my favorite runs with Secret have been non-qualifying because she was so HAPPY and driving forward that she took an off course obstacle! We celebrate those moments and hope for many more of them! Secret will be five years old in a few months and I am amazed by all that she has achieved. But mostly I am just happy with the fact that she is enjoying herself in the ring now. We still have our moments and some runs are faster than others, but we are a team out there and to me, that is success.

Kizzy's arrival has taken me back to those early days with Kaiser, but to an even more challenging level! Her agility journey is just beginning, but she's again teaching me about those teeny tiny measures of success (like staying in the ring). Kizzy has a few Qs under her belt (miraculously!), but I hardly even count those. They are certainly not a measure of her preparedness to move on to a higher level.

With Kizzy the true measure of success will be her desire to interact and play this game with me at trials. I am sure that we will get there, it will just take time. But until then, it's just another great lesson in humility.  :o)

Ultimately, I still love awards. I still have goals of Champion titles for all of my dogs. But it is no longer how I measure success. Success is in the relationship we have with our dogs, as that is more important than any title or trinket.

Today is another great Dog Agility Blog Action Day! To see what others have to say on the topic of "Success," please visit this link!


  1. LOL.. I wonder if it's the little dogs that are more likely to do runners from the ring? We have a couple of those moments here too. ;) Good post, I enjoyed reading about your dogs and hearing how your view of success is coloured by the context. :D

  2. It's funny how our perspective changes along the way with different dogs or challenges.
    Making sure that the dogs are having a good time, giving it 100% and are happy to play the game with me is where the success lies. After having watched enough of your runs, I know what you mean about Secret's running - sometimes she just seems so pleased and happy that you can tell it was a success - who cares if the run was clean!

  3. There is nothing better than a dog who is happy to be in the ring. To work on this when you could easily be just happy with Qs is an admirable thing!

  4. Such a well written post!

    PS: I love Kaiser. If you didn't already know.

  5. Anyone who manages to do well in agility with a spitz type dog is successful in my book. I tip my hat to you!

    1. Totally agree! I haven't met a Klee Kai before but the Shibas in our area have a fan club cheering for them! Spitzes are the coolest - with a mind of their own :)

    2. Thanks to both of you. :o) For some reason I never gave it a second thought when I decided it would be an awesome idea to get a Klee Kai. Perhaps because I hadn't seen too many spitz breeds in agility and didn't know what a challenge they could be? lol That said, the agility community has been so supportive. We just started AKC last year and there isn't a trial that we go to where people aren't asking about them. People will stop to watch Kaiser run and then come up to talk to us after to ask questions. I love talking to other handlers with Northern/spitz-type dogs and sharing stories. It's not to say that other breeds don't come with their own challenges, but it's nice to have someone to commiserate with. Ha!

  6. I love that every dog teaches us something different. Great post!

  7. This was great. Ditto to pretty much everything!