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Chasing Ribbons

Chasing Ribbons

I’ve been thinking a lot about the quest for titles and ribbons. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with dog competitions but felt it my obligation to my dogs to take them to the places they could go and achieve the things they could do. With me along as the weak link at times, of course! 🙂 I chose “working” dogs for a reason and so it’s my job to do something with them.

I’ve been criticized for not reaching the heights I could have or spreading ourselves too thin so our training is lacking in one area or another. I can’t disagree. I have very very good dogs who excel in a lot of things. BUT. I would rather not “win” a race and still have fun with my dog than sacrifice our relationship for the sake of a title or a placement.

My dogs and I have done a lot and had some pretty good successes in a lot of areas of dog sports and competitions. (Read my bio for more info about our experiences.) Suffice it to say we’ve had a lot of fun along the way. I still stress about trialing but that’s normal. I am still disappointed when we don’t do as well as we should. That’s also normal. But if I never stepped to the line or onto the field the real tragedy would be that we never tried. So maybe we were under prepared at times but who cares, really? I still have good dogs. And we tried.

I had an epiphany several months ago regarding the quest for Zen’s Elite Championship. He’s a super search dog who I enjoy competing with and I so wanted to play in the next level, the Summit League, where I know he would shine. But I had the realization that I was trying too hard to get there and it was causing me stress about how many points we could get at each trial. Silly worries, really. But it was taking the enjoyment out of it for me.

With Emmy as the first NW3 Elite dog, my frustration was that we had to wait 3-1/2 years for the K9NW Elite Division to become a reality. In that time she went from a super driven dog in her prime to a super driven dog in her senior years. She achieved her ELT2 title but it was there that I knew her competition days were over. She had the desire and the talent but no longer the stamina to make it happen beyond where we were. So we played in class where she still showed us her tremendous heart for the game and that she still had the chops to conquer some of those challenges better than the younger dogs. 🙂

With Zen I realized that I was trying to get somewhere, not thinking about the limits to what we could do after we arrived. So I stepped back to look at the bigger picture. I’ll still travel with him occasionally for certain events but I no longer have that burning desire to reach the big ribbon at the end of the rainbow. We’ll get there when we get there and it will be wonderful! If we don’t, we don’t. I don’t have to prove it to anyone. Especially not to those who see us as a marker for their own success.

As much as I appreciate the accolades and those ribbons I am really not that impressed by them. Showing off a truckload for one weekend of trials means little to me. BUT tell me that your anxious dog rose to the occasion with a smile on his face or that you earned them because your teamwork came together on one particular search or on one particular day. THAT earns my respect. THAT makes me nod your way and know that you and your dog are playing the game together. Ribbons or not, it doesn’t matter. But you did it as a TEAM.

I spoke to a dear friend at the last trial who shared with me and lamented that they were less than 2 points shy of their Elite Championship. She’s so supportive of her lovely little dog and so deserving of this title. But I told her how wonderful it was that she now has another opportunity to play with her dog in the next trial. And I meant it.

Another friend who did happen to achieve the Elite Championship title with her sensitive dog did so by truly caring for the needs of her dog 110% along the journey. THAT is an achievement to be celebrated! I know how much this meant to her and for her dog to reach this pinnacle of success that seemed so out of reach.

Emmy was one of the “original” dogs in K9NW, way back when. I like to call them “The Olden Days” when we were all friends in our small little world before things exploded out of control and it seemed a new trialing organization was developed every month. I don’t care if people choose to compete in other venues, it’s their choice in how they play with their dogs. Unfortunately too many are still chasing the ribbons and titles rather than appreciating what it takes to get there. All of our “original” dogs are either too old or gone now so the achievements they have are by being pioneers at the forefront of a game we hopefully still enjoy with the next generation/s of dogs. It’s unlikely any of them will reach that Championship title but in all honesty they ARE the Champions and deserving of the recognition just by being there from the beginning.

There is no shame in working towards titles or ribbons but if that’s your top priority, in my very humble opinion, you’re missing out on so much more.

By Kimberly Buchanan

Kimberly Buchanan CNWI


  • awww I finally got time to read this. And now I’m in tears ;(

    Reminds me how special Taku was in his dog re-activeness and how we were truly a team. He knew I’d keep him safe and not put him into bad situations. He loved nosework even if we had to hide behind a building or vehicle so we didn’t have to face what made him fearful and could scoot in and game the game!

    He went as far as getting his NW 2 title but the little guy ran out of time to get his NW3 title, he was able to give it a shot a couple of times.

    One (yes one of many) occasions that made me smile so big that I Iit up the room was when he did his very first PSD trial and Q’d in all 5 elements! Also placing in a couple of first and second places! And he handled his fears so well that day… with his handlers help. Man I miss him!

    Our new pup, Kai, is almost 8 months old and we are training in Nosework, dabbling in Barn Hunt and are going to give Agility a shot, tho I know I won’t be able to run with him cuz of my breathing. But we are gonna have fun with it all 🙂
    Team Kai and Terry (aka) K A T

  • Doris Maly

    ‘thoughts on chasing ribbons’
    I recently competed in our 1st Elite trial. I had heard horror stories about how difficult Elite had become, so was prepared to go in trusting my dog and have fun, interesting searches, not sweat over “points”. It turned out that our score was in the average range of all competing that day. I was thrilled that our team did well and we had a good time. We may never place in the ribbons, but our objective it to be a good team and have a good fun search.

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