It’s no secret that canine freestyle is my favorite dog sport. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge, the creativity, and the uniqueness of the sport.
But I think I need to be honest about it with myself: I’m really struggling to find joy in it right now.
There are a multitude of reasons why. I think the first one is that it was Risa’s sport. Of all the fun things we did together, freestyle was her favorite. It was her joy of the sport that got me involved with it in the first place. Had she not been so talented and enamored with the activity, I never would have pursued it. It was a sport that just clicked for both of us and we shared a bond on that stage that is hard to repeat. She’s been gone for 4 years now but her loss is still apparent. Freestyle just can’t be the same without her. She was that special.
That’s not to say that Kyu is not talented and enjoying participating in freestyle as well. But it hasn’t been easy. He’s been sick for so long that any sport training has been a major challenge. With a sport like freestyle, already so challenging for normal dogs, it’s been really hard to get into it with him. I’ve had to put training on hold with him for months at a time. Sometimes he’s sick the day of competition and can’t perform at a high enough level. Sometimes he’s sick leading up to a competition so I can’t prepare him well enough. He’s been so up and down over the last 4 years that it’s been hard to put in the necessary training or know who he will be when I step into the ring with him. It’s been like having a different dog every single time and that’s insanely impossible to prepare for (him and me). It’s hurt my motivation as well; why bother to train for a routine he might never perform? He is, fortunately, been fairly stable since August (a new record!) so it’s possible that I will have a more consistent partner going forward. But it’s impossible to say for sure. His illness has not been easy to manage.
It’s also been challenging to grow the sport. I’ve been trying for over a decade to grow the sport in my area and, while I’ve had some success, it still feels like a hopeless battle to bring more people into the fold.
I thought hosting trials would help increase interest. It’s much easier to convince people to participate in something new if they don’t have to drive 5 hours and require a hotel stay to do it. I had a few years with several local participants in addition to my friends from out of the area but I still haven’t gotten the increase in participation and interest I’d hoped. It’s a lot of work putting on a trial and I haven’t often received the level of help needed to run it. It is a lot of stress on me to maintain the standard I’ve set for myself especially with trying to do it all on my own. While lack of help and interest is part of why I’m stepping back from hosting trials for the time being, the main reason is that my heart hasn’t been in it lately. I don’t think it’s fair to anyone (myself included) to try to host a competition when I’m really not motivated to do so.
I have no intention of quitting on freestyle. It’s still my favorite dog sport and I would miss the incredible people and friends I have met through it. But I need to step away for a bit. Kyu is not ready for his next routine; I have several behaviors I still need to teach plus we’ve been focusing on agility lately given that he’s finally healthy enough to compete and I’m not sure how long that will last. Kyber has a nice foundation starting for freestyle but I’ve been spending more time getting his over-arousal issues under control and working more on general life skills instead of sport ones with him.
So I’m taking a break. I will go back to working on freestyle skills with the boys over the winter when working on other sport skills (like agility and disc) is more challenging. But I don’t have any competition aspirations with either yet. Maybe by the end of next year Kyu will be prepared to attempt to earn his Intermediate title and perhaps I can try for a Novice Skills Test with Kyber. I also have a wonderful, fun idea for a brace routine (two dogs, one handler) with both of them I’d love to give a try. 🙂