A while back I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell which talked about how people achieved success. I was frustrated while reading it, because he only featured folks who had achieved financial success. There are so many other aspects of living one could use when measuring a successful life. I like the idea of the country of Bhutan, which instead of using a “gross national product” measurement to calibrate success, use a “gross national happiness” measurement.
At the last trial I was at, one of the competitors brought a non-agility friend with her. I overhead the friend comment, “this is kind of like playing the slot machines, isn’t it?” The competitor replied, “yes, it sure is – variable reinforcement”. This exchange affected me immensely. I love to gamble. I also hate being broke, so I have adapted several strategies to limit my gambling to make it a special treat instead of a money sucking habit. In that moment, I realized that chasing those agility goals was not a whole lot different than feeding money in a slot machine hoping for the big score.
I spent the first 3 years of my agility “running” a white boxer. Mostly I was running after him, as he was extremely stressed by the trial environment and rarely stayed in the ring. When he did, it was usually agility freestyle. So when I started running my next dog, I felt I had finally achieved agility success the first time we RAN a jumpers course in USDAA and she was connected and running with me the whole course. What a rush that was. I still count that run as one of the most satisfying ever.
I don’t suppose anyone would say I achieved a lot of success with that little dog, Breezy. She was fast, but there was huge holes in her training. I did a lot of NADAC in the beginning and she learned very well to go straight to the next obstacle in front of her. Which did us no favors in the much twistier and more technical AKC courses when we switched to doing mostly AKC. So I am sure that if anyone remembers her, they do not remember her as a particularly successful dog. But what they don’t know was that I was going through an extremely stressful time in my real-life career. The whole time I was running Breezy, I worked for a woman who was a tyrant and a bully. All week long I could do nothing right. But on the weekend, I could go out with Breezy and she would run her little heart out for me. It made little difference to me if we Q’d or not, because anyone could see that little dog loved running agility, and she would turn herself inside out if I asked her to. But that little dog had a bad back, and the same week my wicked boss announced her retirement, Breezy’s back gave out for the last time.
When I started running Hannah, I felt a lot of expectations to do very well – to be a “success”. No one can doubt that Hannah loves her some agility. But if success is measured in championships or trips to nationals, we have certainly not met that criteria. It is so funny, when I was looking for a puppy and I mentioned to people that I wanted another dog just like Hannah, they looked at me like I had a third eye in the middle of my forehead. I am sure they were thinking “why the heck does she want another crazed maniac”. Because I love watching Hannah run. I love her intense desire to play the game her way, even if it frustrates me. To me, having a dog like that makes the little successes along the way even sweeter. We are coming to the end of her career, I know. She will never be a multiple-MACH dog, or a national champ, but the good times we have had I will remember forever. That is what success is all about.