Beyond the Clock: Vital Lessons Learned from the Slowest Dog at WKC Agility | Pupford
May 30th, 2023
Filed under Podcasts
The caliber and talent of dogs competing at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is top-notch.
Most of these dogs (and their humans) practice, compete, and work for months (and indeed, years) to get to this pinnacle of dog competition.
On a warm spring day in Queens, I learned firsthand just how important our relationship with our dogs can be. Especially when times get tough.
Surprisingly, these lessons were taught by the “slowest” timed dog at the agility trials…
And I want to share these lessons with you because we all need some reminders about what really matters with our four-legged friends. 👇
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WESTMINSTER KENNEL CLUB DOG SHOW, A SPECTACLE
Our group of friends decided to attend the WKC Dog Show, the first dog show of any kind for our entire group.
We entered with zero expectations, except that we would hopefully be able to pet some pups.
As we explored the grounds at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City, we were in awe. From start to finish.
Dogs of every size, shape, and breed trotted around the grounds, of which many breeds I’d never personally seen (besides on the internet).
The dock diving was unparalleled. Happy pups leaping to their fullest ability, just to get their favorite toy.
The obedience trials were jaw-dropping. Dog and handler communicating with ease to follow the exact cues and directions at each step.
The breed meet and greet lived far beyond our expectations. Giving belly rubs to the biggest Great Danes & Newfoundlands we’d ever seen, then scratching the chins of the tiniest Papillons & English Toy Spaniels just a few feet away.
It was a dog enthusiast’s dream come true.
But each of those truthfully paled in comparison to what we viewed inside the famous Arthur Ashe Stadium. ⬇️
DOG AGILITY: SPEED & PRECISION
Stepping inside the largest tennis arena in the world to see an agility course full of jumps, weaves, and tunnels was breathtaking.
As the first dogs ran through their first timed trial, we all started to understand just how talented these dogs are. The athletes sprinted from obstacle to obstacle, stopping on a dime at their handler’s cue, and seemed to enjoy every single moment of it.
I’d seen some fast dogs in my life, but nothing like this. Our entire group was locked in during each run, it was sport in its purest form!
Most dogs clocked times around 45-60 seconds, and anything below 45 seconds was quick!
There were of course mistakes along the way. Missed obstacles, knocked-over posts on jumps, and other faults were common.
But no matter the time on the clock after the last jump, every single dog seemed to be having the time of their lives. They’d finish the course and jump, bark, and exclaim their joy!
Just as we had been put into somewhat of a lull by consecutive fast and efficient times, a Retriever stepped onto the course.
WHEN YOUR DOG JUST DOESN’T DO WHAT YOU ASK…
The first few obstacles went as planned! And then everything changed.
This dog seemed to completely forget where he was!
He wasn’t responding to his human at all but instead was investigating the corners of the course and seemingly trying to figure out why in the world all these strangers were watching him.
The clock kept ticking…
With each plea from his human to come back to the course and keep running the trial, he seemed to be having more and more fun defying and exploring. He even found a toy at one point somehow!
His tail was wagging, he had a goofy smile on his face, and the crowd was LOVING it. The dog was still having the time of his life.
I think that dog got more applause than the “winning” time that occurred a few athletes after.
And then, out of nowhere, he snapped out of it!
He came right back to his human and ran an almost flawless trial. He was attentive, sharp on each turn, and seemed to glide through & over each obstacle.
If you took out his 1-2 minutes of exploration, he probably would have run in the top 10-15 times (out of dozens and dozens of dogs).
And when he finished the last jump, his human gave him plenty of love, pets, and reinforcement. His tail wagged even harder than during his exploration.
As this experience unfolded, I tried hard to keep my eye on the human as well as the wandering pup.
How was she reacting?
Certainly, there was some frustration! To work so long and hard with her dog to get to the main event and see all that work “not pay off” must have been painful.
But, how she handled this potentially embarrassing situation was an eye-opener to me. I want to share those 3 lessons with you, that in turn will help you have more confidence, patience, and empathy for your dog as you aim to raise a well-mannered pup.
RELATIONSHIP > RESULTS
As her dog was aimlessly wandering around the agility course, the agility handler was doing everything she could to get her pup back in the zone to run the obstacles.
But while she certainly wasn’t very pleased with her dog’s decision, there wasn’t any anger in her demeanor.
Instead of scolding or getting upset with her meandering pup, she laughed and took the time to seemingly relish the slightly comical experience she found herself in.
And when her dog snapped back into “agility mode”, it was clear their communication and relationship were strong. She was quick to re-engage, praise, and guide her pup through the remaining obstacles.
You could see the hundreds of hours of practice shine through once up and running again.
When the pup crossed the final obstacle, the handler was there to give massive amounts of praise and love. Both of them had a smile on their face!
While it could have been easy for the human to become upset with her dog, she instead chose to look at the long-term of their relationship. It was clear that she recognized how she reacted to the challenging situation could affect their communication and connection in the long run.
I certainly could have been biased, but it felt like these two had one of the strongest bonds out of any duo in the competition. The handler put her relationship with her dog above any result that showed up on a clock.
When your pup starts to do things you feel they know they shouldn’t be, how will you react?
Will you prioritize the “results” of a training session, or the growth of your relationship by practicing, communicating, and connecting with your dog?
EMPATHY FOR OUR DOGS’ MISTAKES
Our dogs, and us as humans, are always going to make mistakes.
But what will we do after those missteps?
If the handler would have dwelt too long on her dog’s meanderings, they may have never finished the course. But instead, she showed empathy toward her dog and carried on with the task at hand.
Would the handler prefer a faster trial time? Certainly!
Would the handler prefer to make it to the next round of the competition? Surely!
Would we rather our dogs not have another accident on our new rug? Unquestionably yes!
The handler taught me, and everyone in that arena, that mistakes are a natural part of life with dogs. They are unique individuals with personalities.
And with a unique personality comes unique mistakes and shortcomings.
Dogs are arguably the most forgiving and empathetic beings in our daily lives. Can we return that compassion when our dogs make mistakes?
WHAT DOES “WINNING” MEAN FOR YOUR DOG?
The beauty of dog sports and competitions is that, unlike human sports, the dogs seem to only care about their own performance and experience.
I didn’t see a single dog sulking in the corner because the dog after him got a time that was 3 seconds faster.
No dog had negative things to say about another dog just because they didn’t end up winning.
The magnificence of my experience at this dog show, and particularly with the wandering Retriever, is that every single dog won! And I don’t mean that in the “participation trophies for everyone” type of winning.
Each and every dog enjoyed the experience. The looks of pure joy and elation after leaping off a dock to grab their toy out of the water were the same for the furthest and shortest distance jumpers!
As we often get hung up on what our dogs lack and the behaviors we really wish would just go away, we should strive to ask what “winning” looks like for our dogs.
For some dogs, winning might be running their fastest time at a dog agility competition.
For other dogs, winning might be finally not barking at the neighbor’s dog you pass on your daily walk.
For others, it might be having 30 minutes of uninterrupted fetch time with you, their human.
And for some dogs, like my pup Sunny, winning can just be a good long belly rub from her favorite people.
RECAP OF VITAL LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE SLOWEST DOG AT WKC AGILITY
If you ever have the chance to attend a dog agility or dog show (of any level), do it!
Seeing dogs have the times of their lives running, jumping, and leaping for toys is something that can’t be matched. It’s the purity of dogs and all the good they encompass shrunk down into a fun and entertaining competition.
And like the handler of that wandering Retriever showed, don’t forget that sometimes the mistakes and missteps our dogs make just might end up being the most memorable moments and lessons learned!
And as an extra note, after watching the competition I left with a strong desire to work on some new tricks and behaviors with my dogs. If you’re looking to do the same, including findings ways to improve challenging behaviors like biting, leash walking, and potty training, then sign up for 30 Day Perfect Pup!
What lessons have you learned from your dog or viewing other dogs? Tell me in the comments!