Agility Spaz

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Good Sportspersonship

In the latest e-mail sent by the agility club I joined this year, the Powers That Be asked for nominations for this year's "Good Sportsmanship Award." A few names immediately sprang to mind, but things got complicated when it turned out two of my favorite sportspeople had already received the award, and thus can no longer be nominated. I'd nominate my agility instructor, about whom I wax rhapsodic, but I don't know whether that's good form, since the people who've won so far don't appear to be teachers in the conventional sense. I'll probably go ahead and nominate the fourth person who came to mind. The more I think, though, the more people I want to nominate, so I'm settling for a mass nomination right here. Really, it's more of a love letter. Be still, my heart.

Club members, I love you. I have loved you from the first moment I watched you and your dog (dogs!) play, whether on course or off. I love the way you joke with one another, I love the way you're always training, I love the way you know how to set up the guylines on your tents so that multiple tents can be crammed next to one another without causing an epidemic of tripping by dogs and humans alike. I love your gear, your vehicles, the way you display your ribbons, the attention paid to the care and watering of baby pools for our fuzzy teammates in hot weather. I love the way you play hard no matter what the Midwestern weather gods throw at us. I love that when the worst of that weather marches through, you're the first people to call and find out whether I'm okay. Not my mom, not my brother, not my colleagues -- you. I love the variety of toys and treats you use, the various and sundry pouches in which you keep them, the exceeding cool water dispensers and crates you provide for your partners, the debates about the relative merits of various canine sports drinks. I love how lightly you wear your learning, how readily you share it with others, how much it takes to get you down, and the fact that no matter how badly you're doing or feeling at the moment, you're always, always good to your dogs. You are all good sportspeople, in my book. But, since I was asked, here are my top twenty nominations (more or less in order of encounter):

Sportsperson #1, for laughing when I thought she was a judge, and for helpfully explaining the way trials run, when Viva and I were at our first one. Her kindness to her dogs is an inspiration to me.
Sportsperson #2, for her integrity, which is evident in her teaching, and was obvious from the first time I saw her working with one of her dogs, way back at that very same trial. I still worship the ground she walks on.
Sportsperson #3, for sharing her tent when I showed up at my first agility camp with no shade for my dog. For being so nice that it took me a couple of trials and her triumphant return from NADAC Championships to realize just how good she is. For her pragmatism and her extraordinary hospitality, not to mention the no-nonsense attitude. I am still in awe.
Sportsperson #4, for not laughing at me when I showed up at my first agility camp. Thanks for letting me know just how far Viva and I have come in a year!
Sportsperson #5, for being Team Viva's most enthusiastic cheerleader. She makes me believe in myself.
Sportspeople #6-10, for not making me feel like a total fool when Viva and I joined a class with trainers and dogs far better than we were. Miss V. and I learned so much, not least from their examples but certainly in part because of their support and warm welcome.
Sportsperson #11, because it is impossible not to have a good time around her, whether in class or at a trial.
Sportsperson #12, for her training rigor and clear-headedness despite being, like me, an agility novice.
Sportsperson #13, for her ever-ready video camera and marathon ring steward sessions.
Sportspeople #14-16, for coordinating volunteers at nearly every trial I've been to, and doing so with grace and aplomb. Thank you!!!
Sportspeople #17-18 (who happen to be mother and daughter), for emergency advice on handling the triple jump when Viva had a yard sale at one of our first AKC trials due to our inexperience.
Sportsperson #19, for general wisdom and equanimity, and always coming off course happy with her dog.
Sportsperson #20, for being as thrilled about my accomplishments and Viva's as she is with her own and those of her dog.

This doesn't begin to count trial secretaries (in a category all their own), people who move impressive amounts of agility equipment in equally impressive trucks, judges, world-class handlers with world-class dogs and friendly, next-door-neighbor attitudes. Thank you for letting Viva sniff your dogs' butts. There are too many of you great sportspeople to number, really, so please take this as an ode addressed to you all. It is an honor and a privilege to train with you, trial with you, celebrate with you. Your camaraderie means more to me than you will ever know. Thank you for who you are, how much you do, and how much fun you have doing it. Viva and I are in your debt.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Expletive Deleted

I lived a quintessential Agility Spaz moment over the weekend. For the first time, I was whistled off of an agility course. Back before my first trial, I spent a bit of time reading up on all the reasons I could be expelled (being convinced, in my spazness, that any of them could happen to me at any moment). Dog leaving something of its own on the course? No, that hasn't happened to me yet. (Not at a trial, anyway. At a seminar, among people I did not know very well -- er, umm, yes.) Toys or treats on course? No, I assiduously check my pockets before every run. Touching the dog? Not 'til we're done. Foul language?

Ahh, foul language. Before you pass judgment, let me assure you that I don't berate my dog. It's always my fault. If it's not my fault from a handling perspective, it's my fault from a training perspective. (Except for the dead rabbit ten yards upwind of a NADAC Tunnelers course. The dead rabbit was not my fault.) Plus, Viva was doing fine. Shot-out-of-a-cannon doing fine. She held a beautiful start line stay to begin our first ever AKC Excellent course (JWW, for those keeping track), then suddenly bore a striking resemblance to a rapidly moving freight train. I swear she was paying me back for running a border collie last weekend. She flew out of the first tunnel ahead of me (third obstacle, for those keeping track), making me wish I'd led out even farther than usual. This led to the first implementation of a "Plan B." Well-executed. No problem. Except that she's still running as quickly as I've ever seen her go, thus ensuring my inability to execute a front cross on the landing side of the sixth obstacle. Result? Second implementation of a "Plan B." Three obstacles later, she shows no sign of letting up. Third implentation of a "Plan B."

My brain apparently has the capacity to benignly execute two "Plans B." Following the third, I lost any semblance of grace under pressure, completely forgot which obstacle came next, and uttered two words. Rather loudly. First word: "Oh." Second word: one syllable, four letters in length, beginning with the letter "s." This was followed by the judge's whistle. Twice. Oops. Foul language in the ring. In the heat of the moment, I suspect that -- even if I had remembered there is an AKC prohibition against swearing -- it would not have dawned upon me that I had sworn. I gave what I have begun to think of as my signature Agility Spaz "deer-in-the-headlights" look at the judge, who kindly informed me that I was excused. Really, she was quite kind. Thus the tale of how Viva and I blew a perfectly good (and fast!) run in our first foray into the world of Excellent. How do you explain to your dog that she's being carried off the course because her teammate's on-course vocabulary was ill-chosen? With her Toss-'N-Treat, I suppose, and extensive belly-rubbing. Sorry, buddy!