As the sport of agility has evolved, so has the definition of success. In the early days any Q was celebrated and so were many of the personal Qs, as we used to call them- you know, when you finally get the weaves on the first try or have a successful lead out. Now the sport is more refined and goals are likely to involve championship titles, yards per second, tighter turns, and national rankings. This isn’t all bad, agility is definitely a more exciting sport than when I began competing in the 90s, but we shouldn’t forget to celebrate the small victories too.
I love agility, but have always identified myself as a breeder first and an agility competitor second. My PBGVs are never going to be the fastest or easiest to train agility dogs, but I can’t imagine changing breeds. I also can’t imagine making breeding decisions based on success in the agility ring; rather than breed type, health, and hunting ability. A good PBGV should look and hunt like a petit, enjoying agility is just a bonus. Showing and hunting my dogs means weekends spent away from agility, but I feel like that is time well spent.
Running the breed that I do means accepting limits about how far we will go in the sport. Agility is competitive in our area and almost everyone is faster than my girls. We are the kind of agility team who has a big pile of green ribbons but very few placements. Earning a MACH to me means getting 750 points, the QQs are the easy part and we have plenty to spare. As courses become more technical and judges wheel tighter and tighter, we will probably eventually be pushed into the preferred classes and maybe out of the sport altogether. I hope agility will remain an all breed sport and that course times won’t become unattainable for a healthy well trained and conditioned dog of an non- traditional breed.
It’s easy to say that success should be something you define for yourself, but we should remember to respect that we all have different goals. It’s frustrating to be excited about a personal success only to have the moment squashed by a snarky comment about how someone else did better or about how easy it must be with a particular type of dog. Everybody has different challenges. Agility is not an easy sport, even if the best teams make it look like it is. I think ranking systems are changing the sport as well. Making the invitational or having a top ranked dog of a particular breed can be a great goal, but there are factors besides the dog that can play a big role in these numbers. Agility is no longer seasonal. In many areas it’s possible to trial every weekend of the year and a lot of Thursdays, Fridays, and Mondays. Even with the most consistent and willing dog in the world, not everyone has the time or money to attend every trial. Defining success completely by the number of MACHs a team earns creates a system where many talented dog and handler teams will be limited.
In the end, we all need to be able run the right dog for us on the level that we enjoy. Hopefully agility will remain a diverse and accepting sport for a long time to come.