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A quest for perfection

Pretty colors!

I’ve competed a lot. I’ve trained and trailed and in many dog sport venues: Agility, Herding, Obedience, Tracking, Rally, Schutzhund, K9 Nose Work, French Ring, Dock Diving. We’ve had quite a bit of success, of differing degrees, and when it all comes together it is an exhilarating thing! When it doesn’t go as well as hoped, it’s a time for assessment of our teamwork, our training and just plain working through those trial nerves. People always say I look so calm when I step to the line of an agility course. Inside, my nerves are screaming and I’m just trying to practice some relaxation to remember where the heck the course is supposed to go!

I have a love-hate relationship with competition and performance in general. I have played in a few bands – concert band and swing/jazz band – since I began as a kid learning the saxophone. After my move to Southern California I found a community group and enjoyed participating for many years. Practices could be arduous and frustrating at times but the pressure for perfection was so much less with practice than it was during performances even when I wasn’t being paid to be there.  It was still a lot of fun until it wasn’t and I’m firm believer in only investing my time in things that bring me enjoyment. And by then I had dogs to train! 🙂

“Can I just please have my breakfast?”

In dog training and trialing the pressure to do well can come from the quest for titles and ribbons and a desire to get to the next level. All the cool kids are doing it! 🙂

I’ve always said I would prefer to not qualify but have a good showing and solid teamwork with just an *oops* than to get a “dirty Q” where we barely scraped by. That works in Agility when there are many opportunities and one day you get a bad call, the next you get a gift. It’s harder when the trial experiences are infrequent. When one doesn’t title it means trying again, possibly many months later, hopefully better prepared.

In our current culture of K9 Nose Work the trial opportunities may be few and far between and often require a great deal of travel and expense. A lot of expectation and hope hang on us each time we step to the line of a search. It’s easy to say, “Well, I just need to go back and train <more><better><harder><smarter><etc.>” but the disappointment when we make a mistake and miss out on that ribbon or title can take many forms. We tend to forget about those good moments and there are undoubtedly a lot more of those than the “oopses.”

Coloring is good! 🙂

Just like any dog sport, our dogs aren’t the ones to sign us up for trials. They’re not the ones who care about the ribbons. It doesn’t matter to them that they missed a hide or you misinterpreted their “look” for “The Look.” They don’t care about perfection, they just live in the moment.

We work hard. We have a lot invested. We want to be one of the “cool kids.” But our dogs just have us and what we do together and they probably already think we’re one of the “cool kids.” Or maybe that we’re just very foolish bipeds who should be delivering faster and more rewards. Dogs are like that.

Either way we should add to our training program the ability to let go of that quest for perfection (well maybe just a little) on trial day and embrace the experience when we have the opportunity. Practice “being the dog” and it will probably be a whole lot more satisfying! 🙂

By Kimberly Buchanan

Kimberly Buchanan CNWI


  • Donna Ewing

    My current dog is my ‘A’ dog in everything so I’m new to competition. I LOVE to train and learn, and yes I want to compete, but the nerves do get the better of me sometimes. My classmates tell me I always look so excited and happy to step up to the line . . . when training! We’ll see this weekend what I look like at our first NW3 trial!

    • Good luck, Donna! Just try to keep it in perspective: It’s not brain surgery, nobody will be harmed if something doesn’t go perfectly and if your dog loves to search your dog will enjoy the day. Go along for the ride and you may just come away with more than you expect! 🙂

  • Really enjoyed reading this!
    For me it rings true about being one of the *cool* kids.
    The trial for our 2nd try at NW2 I had a little melt down.
    No I didn’t blame Taku… I blamed myself for not *getting it*. For one thing I get *stage fright*.

    A lot of the times I have to remind myself that I am doing this sport so I can have something to do with my little reactive guy and have a good time.

    We’ll get there, just maybe out on everyone else’s timeline.

    • Yeah, it can be hard when your peers are advancing and because of one or two little “oopses” (or a total meltdown! ) you don’t get to move up with them. I’ve seen such a marked improvement in Taku since your first lesson! Good work to you and those you train with to keep you moving forward. You will get there! 🙂

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