Many people like to reflect upon past accomplishments and set goals going forward. I encourage my students to set goals and also to realize it is okay if you end up modifying your goals, and it is okay if you, for some reason, do not achieve those goals. Goals are simply something we want to work towards. They do not define us or our dogs. And it is always a good idea to re-examine our values and why we compete and want to work towards certain goals.
All of us started in dog sports because it looked like a fun way to spend time with our dogs. Many of us were very impressed with the relationship we saw between dog and handler or the joyfulness of a dog performing a task. We admired the focus and physical skills the dog exhibited and wanted to do that with our dogs.
Once we started learning and training in a particular dog sport, most of us set a goal to enter shows, tests, or trials where we could compete. All competitive venues have their own rating system. In some venues (like rally, obedience, and agility) teams compete against each other for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. There is also a qualifying score where teams that do not place can still earn a “leg” towards a title by achieving minimum requirements. Other venues like tracking and hunt tests have a simple pass/fail rating where the team either passes or does not qualify, but teams do not compete against each other.
Most venues have ribbons or prizes or certificates, depending upon what the level. Some people like to set challenging goals – a perfect score in obedience or triple q’s in rally, or a champion tracker, etc. Others just want to qualify to complete a title. It really does not matter what your goal is, but you should be realistic about it. Perfection requires a great deal of time and effort and can become quite costly in time, entry fees, and travel.
Competition can offer something to everyone. The level to which you aspire is really personal. It should be a goal for you and your dog to achieve together. Don’t forget: your dog doesn’t know or care about titles, ribbons, or certificates. It just wants to be with you and enjoy time with you. Unfortunately, sometimes pursuit of a goal distorts the reason we are in the sport with our dogs. Exhibitors, judges, and clubs who choose to ignore unsportsmanlike behavior or dishonesty, undermine the sport as a whole for all of us. It is up to all of us involved in dog sports in any capacity to make sure our goals and actions reflect the value we place on the sport, our fellow competitors, our dogs, – and ourselves.
Going forward, make a goal to be someone who works to keep integrity, camaraderie, and kindness in the sport. Be proud of what you and your dog do and be an example to others.
Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 130 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 4 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 30 years. She is also an AKC Tracking Judge. You can contact her with questions, suggestions, and ideas for her column by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.