a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Now What?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Now What?

SUMMARY: Losing it about agility. A longish and introspective post.
Friends know that I've been saying for several years that I'm doing too much agility and I miss my old life and I'm going to cut back on the agility.

Well, I have...from a high of 23 weekends in 2003 down to 18 last year. Last year was tough because a couple of those weekends were because the dog or dogs were injured or other oddball reasons, and I was sad and frustrated at the time.

But, as weekends have gone by, with and without agility, and has the "without" weekends have at first hurt but then became gifts of free time, I have come more and more to realize:

  • How much I hate getting up at 4 in the morning.
  • How much I resent agility taking almost all my vacation days.
  • How stressed I am trying to get in full weeks of work around agility weekends; there is no time for me, ever, it seems.
  • How much I like being around my house and yard with NOTHING SCHEDULED except maybe a movie with a friend.
  • How much I can catch up on, or just relax and enjoy, in a weekend at home.
  • How relaxed I feel during the week when there's no trial the following weekend.
  • How much I enjoy doing things OTHER than agility, like I always used to BEFORE agility.
  • How much happier I am to have money to spend on something other than agility once in a while.
  • How tired I am of fine-tuning dogs' agility performance. I mean, I *tried* to start Boost right, like with Susan Salo's approach to learning jumping. Maybe didn't do as much of it as I should have, because at some point she started knocking those bars, and now it's drudgery for me to try to fix it. I know all the advice that says that you should make ways to make training fun for you as well as for the dog, but, well, OK, it isn't.
  • How crushed I was at deciding--because of Tika's on-again off-again pains and aches-- not to take Tika to the nationals in Performance although she'd had an excellent year...and regretting it and regretting it and regretting it... until she came up injured at that trial just a couple of weeks after when Nationals would have been, completely justifying my reluctance to go. And suddenly it was like I'd been let free from something I'd thought I was chasing. Of course it helps that the USDAA Nationals aren't within driving distance any more.

I've felt that I was coming to this point for a very long time, and I'm starting to think that I'm actually here: I want most of agility out of my life.

We'll see how I do when the USDAA trials start coming fast and furious later in the year. I still want to do some, just REALLY not 18 weekends a year of it!

Which leaves me with the question: So, what do I do with these crazy driven dogs who love agility for so many reasons? I mean, I love agility, too. I've developed such an amazing rapport with all of my agility dogs that I never had with them as pets--and I was pretty close with my "merely" pet dogs. Agility keeps me physically active, which is crucial for me. It burns off their energy. It gives us an excuse to really focus on each other individually. And I've met so many wonderful people whom I now consider my friends--although I almost never see any of them except at agility events. Because they're all always doing agility! There are a lot of laughs and good times in agility.

I'm thinking that, if I take a weekend and don't do agility, I should do somehting else with them. Like, drive an hour to a park where they can run off leash and spend 2 or 3 hours hiking and drive back. Of course, there goes half a day of my weekend right there, and it might very well be a solitary effort rather than with dozens of friends who are all interested in each other and each other's dogs.

Conversely, there's a lot of pain in agility. Dogs die. People's goals are thwarted (mine, too). People and dogs injured. This is all really a very small part of agility, but at times now it feels constant constant constant, and maybe that's a sign of where I am, that the pain grows instead of simply being dips in the background from which one recovers.

I had decided not to do any agility in March... easy enough because it's just 2 of the 4 or so CPE trials I had figured on doing for the year... and now I find that I am looking towards the 4-day trial in April both with excitement (it's a big, fun, exciting event) and trepidation (it's four frigging days of agility).

I dunno. I'm trying to take some time off from agility. I'm trying not to think "but my dogs are getting older and their agility lives are short." I'm trying to remember that, by the time these dogs are gone (gods willing), I'll be in my mid-60s. My arthritic knees aren't getting any better. MY life is going to be short enough, no matter how long it is. I have so much else I want to do in my life and I'm not getting it done.

I think I'm thinking out loud. I think I'm coming to where 230 weekends of agility competition (not to mention seminars and fun matches and classes) over 14 years have just worn out their welcome.

I started agility classes for something fun to do with Remington because he needed more exercise and more of a mental workout than simply tricks and playing in the yard were giving him. It certainly did that. I had never intended to compete, just keep going to classes every week for the fun. Don't know whether I could go back to just that.

Anyway--feels like I'm at a crossroad and I'm not yet entirely sure which direction I'm headed. There will be agility--heck, Tika and I could try again this year for Top Ten!--heck, Boost might actually someday earn a Jumpers Q and her MAD title! (I've almost given up on a championship)--but, like any addict, I'm trying to find a way to do it in true moderation without going cold turkey. Don't know whether that's possible.

Ah, well, yes, Scarlett, tomorrow is another day!

List of competition weekends and number of runs each

Click to see larger images.


  1. I appreciate this introspective and thoughtful post. I have some of the same issues including how much agility, the cost of agility including $, time and health. It's all a balance dance right now. I trial mainly during winter months since my dogs don't run well in heat but still - it adds up. It's nice to know I am not the only one trying to figure this stuff out. (And I'm already in my 60's, retired, and humoring a knee!)


  2. I think it's more common than most people might think. My experience with agility people is that they are smart, active, involved people, and agility has just become the focus of so many of them, which means lots of people are leaving lots of things behind. I could imagine worlds in which I'd be happy doing agility so much of the time--but I think it involves a world in which I didn't need to work full time to support myself.

  3. Wow, lots in there... I felt a bit of a pang at "I want most of agility out of my life", but was glad/hopeful about the "most". I do enjoy reading about your trial results and seeing the rare Boost or Tika video. BUT! Your life and this blog are not about what I want, are they? Besides, I'll enjoy reading about whatever it is that you and the pups are up to.

    What to do with the four leggeds... Flyball can be fun -- most dogs love it, and there is the social/team aspect. And! Once the dog is trained, takes very little upkeep. But, it's not for everyone, and definitely can get boring -- same damn thing again and again, and again. Very different from agility that way. Plus hardly any exercise for the humans. I once heard someone refer to flyball as "bowling dogs". And T&B would be just as happy I'm sure with a great hike.

    Anyway, I definitely hear where you're coming from and can feel your burn out. That list of trials and runs blows me away. I'm exhausted just looking at it. I too am starting to cut back on agility, and with every run I don't sign up for, there's another $18 in my bank account. Qs feel good, but having money in savings, or to spend on *other* things (like saving up for a 70-200mm 2.8.... dreaming and drooling here...) is also a good feeling. As is sleeping in past 4am.

    Yes, many good things about taking it easy on agility. Getting cheezy again here but I hope you remember that you're free to define/redefine what you want agility to be in your life.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  4. Hard decision. I know I love the once a week thing with Katie, and I have no desire to compete. But I also love my walks in the park with her, and that's FREE! LOL So I get what you're saying. You for sure are going to have to figure out what to do with them to expend all that energy though... maybe you could TEACH agility so that you get in return free access to a agility club? Or something?

  5. Muttsandaklutz: I wouldn't take up a *different* dog sport if I were cutting back on agility. The point would be to do non-dog things again, and more of them.

    Dawn: Teaching agility--probably not what I want to do if I'm trying to cut back on agility. I have thought about teaching off & on for several years, and keep coming back to not wanting to spend my time helping other people learn to do things right when I'm not even spending my own time doing it.

    Long walks/hikes with the dogs are lovely. Just, around here, they take so much time to get to somewhere off-leash, so by the time we get home, they're rested and ready to go again. A 6-mile hike doesn't do the mental tiring out that agility does.

    Ah, well, anyway, this is a work in progress.

  6. I'm taking the liberty of reposting some comments from where this appeared on Facebook:
    Mary S:
    Ellen, I've only been doing this a measly 3 three years; only competing for 2.5 of those measly 3; only volunteer some of the time at trials. And I'm already feeling somewhat the way you feel.

    For me, I think it's mostly that I have a full-time, demanding job, and no matter how much pleasure I get out of weekly classes, or seminars, once I get there after a long day's or week's work, and a long drive, and no matter how much pleasure I get out of a long weekend trial, after a long, long drive - it's really too much. And last year I only did USDAA trials in our region. Well, one ASCA trial - but I would have liked to do ALL the ASCA trials. Financial worries, well, are worrisome, as well.

    Yet, I look at that 4-day trial in April, and think, "You should just do two days!" but I every time I sit down to fill out a trial entry I end up entering everything for both days, and then, even when I *know* that no matter what other super-human middle-aged ladies like you do - just setting poles for 3 classes is too much for me, try to do it all, anyway.... See More

    Balance. Like timing and position, not one of my strengths, but you have motivated me to commit myself to figuring out what is the right balance of agility and other parts of my life.
    about an hour ago ·

    oh my - I'll have to read this one. same same same.
    44 minutes ago ·

    Pretty crazed here -- full time job, 4 dogs. Am cutting back to those venues with the ROI (good footing, points to be had) and 2 runs per day per dog..... I used to go every weekend... Not this year.... This year it's about ROI -- Can get the same points at fewer trials if I pick carefully.... plus better experience all round for the dogs if I stick to the good places to run (indoors or very good grass such as WAG or places that aren't 100 degrees when you get there!)
    43 minutes ago ·

  7. I cut back on trialing last year and barely noticed. In fact I enjoyed the trialing that I did do more because I signed up for only one day of the weekend or maybe just half days so I wasn't exhausted by Monday and I remembered each run better rather than the whole weekend becoming a blur. Cutting out the Tournament classes in USDAA saves a ton of money too. I love competing but I don't let it take over my life because I have other hobbies and interests.

    Can you do more agility practice rather than focusing on trialing? (Is that even a word?) That way the dogs get the fun and mental stimulation of agility without the huge time and money suckage. (Now I know that's not a word). I play stupid games a lot with the dogs too to tire them out in addition to their physical exercise. I get down on the floor with them and make up games with their various toys nearly every day these days. I have almost no space for this but still I manage to wear them out mentally.

    I'll bet if you experiment with cutting back you'll eventually work out just the right balance to keep you and the dogs happy.

  8. I've taken to liking the occasional one-day trial. It's so hard to decide, though--I'm driving 2 hours one way & setting everything up, then maybe I need jumpers Qs which are on sunday and snooker Qs which are on saturday-- well, you know the drill. Anyway, I am working on convincing myself to try more one-dayers (pretty sure that's not a word, either), although there's still the taking time to pack and prepare and getting up at 4 a.m. thing.

  9. Its sounds like you need a break. Its probably hard where you live because you can do all different trials. Here there is not much choise. Here you can be hard pressed to find a trial that isnt at least 4 hours away. So that limits things for me anyway. So, take a break. Go hike some of the beautiful parks that are in this country, take pictures, go to the beach. Have fun! Diana

  10. I'm an agility one dayer, I work a million hours a week so agility is this little fun thing that gets squeezed in there. I practice in little spurts on friends' fields, if I can leave for work early enough, and do a big practice on my day off. The night I take class, I also teach classes earlier in the evening. I only have some Sundays off, so try to go to trials whenever I can on a free Sunday. I think I've been to about 6 trials on 2 days in my whole agility career! Once 3 days of Regionals! You just get used to it. I am planning a big coup this spring so I can do a couple whole weekends, CRAZY! So I can't imagine going to that many whole weekends of dog shows. It blows my mind. I think it would burn me out, too.

    I did leave behind a whole other life to fit in the agility. I tried to make a blog to show my non agility friends how cool agility was and they would all come and join me but that didn't work. They just thought it was weirder. I definitely don't get to hang out with my husband as much as I'd like to since he doesn't like agility. I feel bad sometimes when I do take a Sunday to go to a dog show that I should have been working, and I let my clients down.

    In the normal agility scheme of things, I think I spend a teensy fraction doing agility stuff. I am taking some classes right now and I've hardly ever taken any other classes than my weekly one. The things I'm learning! I do have to get up early in the morning to get everything in my life done. I like coffee.

    I like going to trials to try and test out what I've taught my dogs, we get a lot fewer opportunities for Q's. We are a long ways from any metallic titles. It helps me learn to get over my ego. It's good for me, I guess, I really like is just practicing, if I quit trialing I would still love to go and practice and set up weird gambles and work on front cross training and just run courses really, really fast.

    Getting the dogs out to run on the beach or in the forest, or even on a long leash walk by the sea, always the highest priority, and even though some days I have to really squeeze it in, it is the best part of my day. Doing some agility practice, next best. Doing anything with the dogs, always the best part.

  11. Maybe the trials to get rid of are the ones that are 2 hours away? When I go for a day or a 1/2 day those trials are usually 45 minutes away, one is 1 hour 20 minutes. If I'm driving 2 hours I'll stay for the whole day but those were the trials I cut out first, I think I did 1 or 2 last year and I slept overnight in the car for one of those.

  12. Ellen. Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Sure. It is all what you want.

    I agree that the sport can take up a huge part of our lives. But so can other hobbies. I think the thing is, "what do you get out of it?" Maybe if you pick a venue (either CPE or USDAA) and do that, it would limit the number of trials and you could still get titles.

    The one thing I feel most important is to live life finding the fun and joy in things. I remember running Tazz when I first started. He hardly ever Q'd. My friend who started her dog at the same time had her ADCH in a year and I was barely out of Advanced (and I went to all the same trials she did). People often asked me how I kept going...and believe me there were times when I asked myself the same thing.

    But then, I would really watch Tazzie and see that he was actually happy (maybe in a slow way) but happy none the less. So my goals with him changed. I don't have a goal with Tazz to Q. My goal with Tazz is to run as fast as he wants and have joy.

    So, maybe take a few weekends off, but don't have regrets or question yourself. Just enjoy it.

  13. Pasting more comments/discussion from the facebook posting-- I have more responses after these.

    Leslie M (Johann the dog)
    I so understand...but have to say that having to be off agility for work, life and dog injury reasons for way too long...I am soooo missing it! Can't wait to get our butts to a trial. Time off really does give you a new perspective and helped me better understand what priorities are right for me and my relationship with my dogs. I want to have fun ... See Morewith them and I've missed the 'connection' on the course that we have when we're out there. Balance in everything is good. You make good points! BTW - I want one of those Saturday afternoons when I don't have any thing to do...but am wondering...the older you get the less you have of those days?
    Yesterday at 4:43pm ·

    Ellen Levy Finch (taj mutthall)
    Sure seems like that to me. How did I ever have time to lounge around and, say, read 5 books in a weekend and go hang around with friends doing nothing?
    Yesterday at 5:00pm ·

    Maralise H.
    I read it from top to bottom and totally get it. In my short time in agility, I am aware I am addicted. I love my weekends at home, and booked myself in Feb knowing I'd be off the entire month of March, and I am welcoming it like an old friend.
    Yesterday at 5:30pm ·

    Mandy B
    Ellen, I so hear you. I only have one word for you - scentwork. Seriously, if you want something that will burn their energy, is fun and low commitment, that is it!
    Yesterday at 5:37pm ·

    Ellen Levy Finch
    I'd love to do the scentwork. Have been waiting for a seminar that's not too far away and not on a weekend that's already booked. Hard to come by!
    Yesterday at 5:54pm ·

    Mandy B
    More options coming all the time as people in the Bay Area get hooked on it. I know a couple of "trainers in training" right now!
    Yesterday at 6:05pm ·

    Ellen Levy Finch
    I could also get back into doing a lot of tricks. The only things about scentwork and tricks is they don't give *me* the workout. But, yeah, Rem loved his tricks but it was never eough.
    Yesterday at 6:07pm ·

  14. Still more comments from the facebook posting:

    Ellen C.
    Try having a dog that is ambivalent about agility and would likely prefer obedience, tracking and nosework, and one that is nuts about herding. But my talent is in agility and I'm so not about to give that up even if we don't do it that often, even if I also get to get real familiar with a sheep pen.
    Yesterday at 7:09pm ·

    Kathleen C
    Agility IS an addiction. I had to take a few months off last year because I was selling my house and moving (and Cindy got injured at the May trial) and at first I really missed it but then I liked having time to do other things.It's hard because I have goals that I would like to finish with my 2 terriers before they are too old ( 12 and 14 old? ... See Morenot for a terrier! )But after years of competing with multiple dogs, 3 ADCHs + and a fortune spent, I'm thinking about scaling back!
    My herding dogs really love herding more than agility,
    and going for a hike or to the beach is really the best thing ever for them!
    Yesterday at 7:10pm ·

    Ellen C.
    One thing I've pointed out before and want to bring up again is that the way you've come up with being able to afford to trial two dogs is to work full time at the scoretable. This makes for exhausting long days for you (I know how late you work sometimes). One way to do a gradual cut back is to not be a full time volunteer (I know Karey is going... See More to kill me for suggesting that since you are so good at it, but she's not on FB so that's her loss.) You've been burning out and agility is not a real addiction (I think), you can just cut back and be ok. It would be a shame to lose you entirely.

    That said. Let me know if you want to go to Yosemite again.
    Yesterday at 7:27pm ·

    Joan G.
    Even though I've only been at the for 4 years, and actually have little in the way of titles to show for it, I know a few things that put it in perspective for me personally. It's about balance. Too much/too little agility is no good. Adding classes and a little bit of practice..competing once or twice a month is perfect. Just cause a trial is ... See More4 days doesn't mean I need to enter everything with both dogs. I can do less, not break the bank and still have loads of fun. And even when we have a crappy day, agility makes me happy. VERY happy. My dogs love it. My agility friends are the best friends ever. Maybe Ellen, less is more.
    Yesterday at 7:40pm ·

  15. And more of the facebook postings (I have a limit on #of characters in a comment):

    Karen G (Kidz and Dogz)
    Try balancing a full-time job, 2 kids, teaching classes 2 nights a week, judging at least 6 weekends a year and showing at least 12 weekends a year, trial sectretary for 5 trials, ballet mom, girl scout mom, etc. etc. So yeah...I too get grumpy when I don't get a single day in at least 2 weeks to sleep beyond 5 AM. However, I did have a forced ... See Morebreak from agility when I lost all 4 of my dogs in the span of a year. Talk about a downer. I didn't get back in the ring as a competitor until 3 years later and I relished every single moment. Durnign my hiatus, I felt out of sorts and out of the loop. I judged, but missed the camaraderie with my fellow competitors.
    I totally get why you would want a break though...totally. For me, having kids made me realize there IS more to life than agility! They've forced me to have a different perspective on life and for that I am greatful. I listen to all the tales of all the trials and seminars my friends have gone to and I feel some pangs of jealousy, but as I'm sleeping in until at least 7 AM, I chuckle happily to myself when I realize that I'm in bed and they're NOT! :)
    11 hours ago ·

    Barbara S.
    Awww....Ellen...everything in moderation. That even goes for Agility. I guess I'm one of those that has never been truly addicted; but maybe that's because Sheila (my first Agility dog) has not been "Championship Material" :-) and we've not practiced as much as we should have. And Jersey has always been a little crazy.
    But having said that: ... See Morethere's so many other things I enjoy with my dogs, one of which is hiking. So, if you need a hiking buddy during one of these weekends when everyone else is doing Agility, let me know :-) or join Steve and me one day up in the mountains! Nothing beats hiking with the dogs offleash...love it even more than Agility.
    (P.S.: and Sheila is now 7 and is still missing a Standard Leg for her MAD!!!)
    11 hours ago ·

    Katie M
    Good post! The problem with agility is that it's such a demanding sport, on every level. It rewards extremism. I'm still searching for my own middle ground.
    11 hours ago ·

    Ellen Levy Finch
    Ellen: Sure, would love to do yosemite.

    Karen: But we all KNOW *you're* crazy. ;-)

    Barbara: Sounds great. And I know there are other agilitizers who like to go hiking with their dogs. Just takes more organizing and coordinating. Hey, I'd be glad to trade a standard Q for a Jumpers Q! Boost amazingly has a ton of Standards. And Pairs. ... See More

    Joan: "once or twice a month is perfect"--well, on average that would be 18 weekends a year. ;-) Which I'm deciding is too much.

    All: Sure, I tire myself out on weekends competing and working. I don't mind that part. I've been to trials where I don't work and I go nuts. Really. But in any event, the point isn't how tired I am after a trial. The point is that I'm spending the weekend at a trial, the week before it preparing for it, the day after unpacking and all that. If I'm there, I'm not somewhere else doing something else. Working more or less doesn't change that, nor does it change getting up at 4 a.m. [or taking off friday--vacation--so I don't have to sit in traffic or get up early].

    Also: I think that if I were forced to stay away from agility because my dogs were injured (or deceased suddenly :-( ) or not interested and I needed to do something else, I'd probably miss it terribly. I'm lucky right now to have a choice, and believe me, I realize that!
    10 hours ago ·

  16. Last of facebook comments (for now anyway):

    Ellen C.
    Elf, let me know what in Yosemite you'd like to see. Unfortunately as a day trip you can't sleep in. (Working on the transporter but hasn't happened yet.)

    Barbara: You probably have figured out that having a dog really good at agility is its own curse. Especially if you lose them.

    Could someone sell me a PI Standard Q so I can get away from the 4 paw rule? The Watson curse (getting into Master's Gamblers before getting a Starter's Standard title) was intended for Gail's Pic, but it might happen to Trek as well. ... See More
    9 hours ago ·

  17. And back to me, now--

    You all are the best! What great comments and thoughts, and support, too. Here I thought I was posting a basically boring, possibly whining sort of post that no one would bother to read, but apparently it resonated with a lot of people one way or another. Who knew! And thanks.

    Elayne: Going to trials less than 2 hours away. I've actually thought about this strategy. The challenge is that that limits me (if I stick with USDAA and CPE) to 7 trials, all from the last weekend in April to the first weekend in September -- basically, 4 months -- and nothing the other 8 months of the year. So that's a good base to start with, then maybe try to pick one every 6-8 weeks the rest of the year. That might be OK.

    Team Small Dog: Funny about thinking of trials as just another training opportunity. I think that (sorry, CPE), that's sort of how I feel about CPE trials. A relaxed environment where I can work on whatever I feel like working on and although titles are nice, I'm not driven to them. So, of course, those are the trials I'm less likely to go to. :-/

    Vici: Yeah, I have mostly limited myself to USDAA, and do some CPE for the fun of it and to support the venue, which I believe is a useful one. My best attitude with my dogs probably comes right after they're back at agility after an injury, when I SO VERY MUCH appreciate the fact that they can run and have fun. I love the way their eyes light up, their ears perk up, their bodies tense for an explosion of energy. I love the way Tika gets so excited that she grabs my feet at the end of the run. It's only after I get complacent about my dogs just being there that I start to focus more on whether we're *achieving* anything other than just fun.

    But, still, it really is how many weekends I spend doing it, and how much I've realized how I like NOT doing it more often than I used to. As I said--a work in progress.

  18. I vote for scentwork too! In fact I'm in LA right now learning more about it. I'm going to be starting classes in Livermore in the next month or two (probably too far for you). The cool thing is how easy it is to tire out the dogs at home or in a local park all on your own!