There are a variety of reasons for participating with your dog in agility. Here are some that come to mind:
- To spend time with your dog engaged in a mutually enjoyable activity
- To improve your dog’s physical and/or emotional fitness
- To spend time with friends and likeminded individuals
- To improve your dog training skills
- At trials, to see how your dog’s performance compares to the other dogs’ performances on that day
- At trials, to test your dog’s skills at a particular level or on a particular type of course (Gamblers, Snooker, etc.)
- At trials, to qualify for a major event (regionals, nationals, international team selection)
- At trials, to earn qualifying scores toward a title
- At trials, to win
None of these motives are “right” or “wrong,” just different. What motivates me to get up at the crack of dawn, travel for hours, and spend a chunk of change on entry fees for less than sixty seconds in the ring is not necessarily what motivates you, and that’s a-okay!
I’m not going to analyze each of these reasons here, because I don’t want to inadvertently imply that some are better than others. No one goal is more wholesome than another. I encourage my students – all of my students, even those brand-new to the sport – to have goals and to clearly identify what they are so they have something to work toward and stay on the right track.
If you’re an agility newbie and are participating in weekly agility classes to spend time with your dog doing a mutually enjoyable activity, it behooves you to make sure agility is as fun for your dog as it is for you by bringing rewards your dog likes and focusing initially on exercises and obstacles that your dog enjoys and does not find demotivating. Otherwise, you may start to grow dissatisfied with the sport because part of your motive is not being met – your dog doesn’t seem to enjoy agility, so it’s not a “mutually enjoyable” activity. (I’m pleased to report that, in my experience, this is rare – if the class is well-taught, usually everyone is a happy camper!)
In my experience, entering trials willy-nilly without considering what your goals are can result in a lack of satisfaction during or after the trial. For example, if your goals are to spend time with friends and to earn qualifying scores toward a title of your choice – let’s say you’re working on your AKC Excellent titles – driving 4 hours away to go to a USDAA trial that none of your friends are attending may not be satisfying.
If you’re new to agility, consider what your motives are for participating. What do you want to get out of this sport? Identify what you need to do to achieve those goals: enroll in a class, build or purchase equipment for your backyard, purchase books and videos, etc.
If you’re an experienced competitor, have you identified your goals? What are they? (You can share them in the comments if you’d like, or you can just mull this question over in your head.) Are you choosing classes, seminars, and agility trials that support these goals?