She’s just a shelter mutt. She’s not a breeding dog. Why do you even bother competing with her? It’s not like the titles mean anything. You’re not trying to prove breed-worthiness. Not to mention she’s fearful and dog reactive. Is it worth the stress you’re putting her through just for some extra letters, ribbons, and awards?
There are several reasons why I compete with Risa. I got Risa with the hopes of her being my competition dog. I wanted to do agility with her and the shelter worker who had spent the most time with Ris thought she’d be a great agility dog. We hit a couple huge snags right away that kept us from trialing: her fears and her dog reactivity. There was no way I was going to be able to take her to a trial and have a good time together when I first got her. Even once she knew many different behaviors and was prepared for the obstacles in AKC rally she still wasn’t ready for the competition ring. Heck, for years a CGC was completely out of the question. Yet I still dreamed and ached for the time when we could compete together. I knew she’d be amazing. I’d seen what she was capable of. I knew she enjoyed performing in front of an audience as she shined demonstrating behaviors and tricks in her obedience classes. She also seemed to enjoy showing off her freestyle moves in the demos we participated in. I wanted so desperately to compete with her. To show the world what she could do. To prove that even a “worthless shelter mutt” could do whatever she put her mind to.
So I worked hard with competition as our goal. I built up her confidence in new places. I gained her trust. I helped her overcome her fear of people, dogs, and novel items. It was a long journey. It had its ups and downs. She wasn’t cured. Her issues were still there just better managed. She learned how to cope. After almost four years together, I finally decided she might be ready to trial. As canine musical freestyle was her first love, that’s where we started. And we’ve never looked back. 😉
The titles she has earned are proof of the hard work we’ve done together. A way to validate our journey. A way our progress can be measured and proven. They are a reminder of what I thought we may never achieve. No one who knew Risa as a 2.5 year old dog would likely recognize her today. I laughed at the thought of her earning a CGC when I adopted her and found out exactly how fearful she was. I’m not sure the me from back then would have ever expected Risa to earn so many titles in a variety of venues.
But it’s not really about having something to prove. At the end of the day, it’s about fun. I like trialing with Risa. I get to meet a lot of like-minded people. I get to spend a weekend with my dog. Working towards trialing has strengthened our bond together. Besides, I love training new behaviors and working with Risa. I might as well have a goal for my efforts. It forces me to be a better trainer knowing I have competition and a strict set of rules to follow in the ring.
Does Risa get stressed when we trial? Sure. But so do I! Even when I competed in sports in high school I would get stressed out before an event or a game. I can’t remember how many times I felt the stress and pressure of performance when I was getting into the blocks at the start line. Or how often my muscles would freeze when someone passed me the ball and I went to take a shot. But the rush and joy of the sport kept me coming back for more. It was too much fun to get out there and do something! It was worth the stress beforehand.
Despite the stress Risa feels from the show environment, she loves to trial too. Once we get in the ring, it’s just her and me. That is where she shines. And that is where she wants to be. She has shown me that time and again. I do my best to keep her stress levels low before and after ring time. The more we compete, the more comfortable she gets. The more fun we both have.
Whenever I think of titles and what they mean to me, I’m always reminded of this:
What is a Title Really?
Not just a brag, not just a stepping stone to a higher title, not just an adjunct to competitive scores: a title is a tribute to the dog that bears it, a way to honor the dog, an ultimate memorial.
It will remain in the record and in the memory, for about as long as anything in this world can remain.
And though the dog himself doesn’t know or care that his achievements have been noted, a title says many things in the world of humans, where such things count.
A title says your dog was intelligent, adaptable, and good natured.
It says that your dog loved you enough to do the things that please you, however crazy then may have sometimes seemed.
In addition, a title says that you loved your dog. That you loved to spend time with him because he was a good dog and that you believed in him enough to give him yet another chance when he failed and in the end your faith was justified.
A title proves that your dog inspired you to that special relationship enjoyed by so few; that in a world of disposable creatures, this dog with a title was greatly loved, and loved greatly in return.
And when that dear short life is over, the title remains as a memorial of the finest kind, the best you can give to a deserving friend. Volumes of praise in one small set of initials after the name.
A title is nothing less that then true love and respect, given and received and recorded permanently.
By Sandy Mowery
And that about sums it up.