Saturday, October 11, 2008

Competitive Dog People

Both dogs were wonderful in their agility classes today. Petunia is a prodigy--amazingly good despite my klutzy handling; Buddy was asked to demonstrate everything first in his foundations class, which was flattering. But what really mattered to me was that both dogs behaved just fine around the other dogs in class. At the end of the day, what makes me happy and peaceful is feeling they're okay in the world of humans and dogs outside our own home.

I love our trainer, who is all about making everything positive and fun and isn't totally competition-oriented.

I'm not too comfortable with those competitive dog people: the ones who adopt dogs for competition, who talk about their dogs' physical structure as a strategic competitive asset and their energy in terms of "drive."

I bought a couple of books on agility training for dogs with "issues" (both basically good but published by a company who must have a line-editor who did not major in English in college. The syntax and usage bug me now and then. (For example, in both books the author uses "that" instead of "who" when referring to people--two different authors, mind you; it's the editor for sure.) One is Control Unleashed and the other is Shaping Success.

Anyhoo, beyond the editorial glitches what alienates me as a reader is each author's emphasis on agility as a performance sport moreso than as simply a fun activity. CU does gratefully have a passage that entreats dog owners not to push their dogs into a sport they don't seem to love. But SS is especially for and about serious competitors. And the author describes her iffy underdog's impressive lineage (from flyball and obedience champs) in a way that I understand but don't really relate to. I realize there are good, conscientious breeders in the world but I don't much enjoy reading about purebred dogs because so many millions of dogs are killed every year--dogs that deserve a decent life and aren't adopted while breeders keep breeding and breeding more dogs. And choosing a dog as if it were a bottle of wine . . . okay, I know the author doesn't mean it to sound so boutiquey but still the author loses me when she tucks little sniffs of disappointment and dismay into her narrative about how this dog that somehow should have been more perfect because of its parents ended up being unpredictable and challenging. As if she or the dog is more heroic because the unexpected behavior is coming from a purebred dog . . . I dunno.

As I think about Petunia possibly competing in agility I worry about it being stressful--exciting but in a bad way. She seems so triumphant and engaged during her little practice exercises in class. I want her to be able to feel that way more often. But I don't want to get ambitious about all this. I don't want competition to be the goal. I don't want to get swept up in P's promising potential and become one of those snobby conformance people. They exist in obedience and in agility too. People who expect perfection from their dogs. I'm just not into that. Rules and structure only matter to me because they seem to be needed for a reconcilable household. But heaven help me if I ever consider it essential for my dogs to pick up metal dumbbells in their mouths or win ribbons.



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