As we all now, agility is addictive! When starting out with this sport, I don't even think I would have called it a sport, but that's exactly what it is. I thought this was just going to be a "fun little hobby to do with my dog." If anyone had told me back in September, as we began our first class, that I'd ever want to enter a trial I would have told that person they were plain-crazy. And now, a little over 7 months later, I know that I definitely will enter. The question is just when?
How do you know as a new agility team when you are really ready to enter a trial? I have thought about this a great deal lately because, in some ways, I am just so impatient to finally compete. I am not sure exactly why this is. I guess it feels like that's when we will have reached some marker of success on our agility journey. Logic and reason tell me that it does not matter when we trial or if we ever trial. But, my heart screams out for us to get out there and earn some rewards! I guess Clementine gets her peanut butter and treats and now I want my ribbons (and maybe even some Qs).
I've talked to many of you about this decision of when to trial and I found it interesting that there seem to be at least two camps of thought on when to first trial. I've heard from some that an agility team shouldn't enter a trial until they are more than ready to do so. Then, there are those who say "what the heck? Just go for it!" and suggest not having expectations for the first trial but using it as a gauge to see how we do as a team in the trial environment and to help direct further training. When making my final decision about the March trial, I took all of this and more into consideration. I found all the advice I had received to be valuable and I could see the truth in the differing points people had made. I wavered back and forth many times.
In the end, the advice that I heard repeated and what rang most true for me was to do what I thought was best for Clementine. I also heard repeated how SCARY and nerve-racking the first trial can be (of this, I have no doubt). When I took a step back and looked at my dog, I realized that she literally could not care less about when we first trial. This was all about me.
I was ready to trial but agility is about a team and I needed to look to the most important member of my team to find my answer. It's not for lack of practice that my team isn't quite ready. I take Clementine to the field any chance I get. Sometimes I feel like we might be "in the way" as we aren't at the level of many others at run-throughs and practice sessions but we just keep showing up.
We have already learned so much on our agility journey. Clementine is having a blast! She doesn't even know what a trial is. She just enjoys going out to the field, playing with her mom, visiting with pup and human friends, and learning new things while enjoying tasty treats! We've certainly had our challenges and she has had to overcome some fear; but we are getting there. I see her confidence and understanding growing. It is so rewarding to see this transformation take place. And that is the real reward in agility, I think. Many a human may be too competitive and too flawed to realize that the real rewards of agility have nothing to do with trialing, Qs, titles, or ribbons. The real rewards are the ways the sport of agility enhances this beautiful relationship that we, humans, are so blessed to have with our canine teammates.
So, the question remains: Are we ready? And the answer is: I'm still not sure. Come out in April and see! Maybe we will be running or maybe we will be cheering for all of you from the sidelines. I'm going to leave it up to Clementine!
One final question: How did you know when you were ready for your first trial? Looking back did you make the right decision about that? Do you wish you'd waited or trialed sooner?
Tell us about it in the comments!
& (more importantly) Clementine