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Team Agility: One Handler's Struggle to Understand the Meaning of "Teamwork" in Dog Agility

Updated on April 23, 2013
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Kristin is a dog agility instructor and competitor with almost 20 years in the sport.

A dog's view of "team" and a human's view of "team" can be vastly different.
A dog's view of "team" and a human's view of "team" can be vastly different. | Source

This video shows both the ups and downs on the road to success in the exciting sport of dog agility.

You Are a Team

“You and your dog are a team. Run as a team.”

I’ve heard it over and over. Aslan and I are an agility team. We’re supposed to run like an agility team. Feel like a team. But the fact is, I’ve never felt equal to Aslan. Yes, we both run together, and we’ve had success. But a team?

Aslan is a fast little 12.5 inch, nine pound Sheltie. He’s mister personality, and his personality shines on the agility course. He loves agility. He throws his little body around the course with great abandon and joy. Because of his love of the sport, people love to watch him. And his speed and talent have been intimidating…at least to me.

I’ve always felt an unequal partner in our team. When we would go in the ring, I had the distinct feeling that it was the Aslan show, and that my part in the whole thing didn’t really count. Yes, I showed him, clumsily, where to go, but I was definitely not up to his quality. I knew if he had the ability to choose, he’d choose to run with other more talented handlers.

In short, I was bringing my dog down.

It’s depressing to be on the short end of a partnership – to know that no matter how hard you train, your physical obstacles would always keep you from being the handler your dog deserves. I'm not alone in this, I know. Whether in agility, other dog sports or dog training in general, one of the most popular sayings is, "Great dog. Shame about the handler." One of the first things an intuitive, new agility handler learns is that the mistakes are almost always the handler's, not the dog's.

Aslan and his owner celebrating after an agility run.
Aslan and his owner celebrating after an agility run. | Source

To learn more about the exciting sport of dog agility, click this article "What is Dog Agility? Agility Information for Newbies."

I can’t run fast. I’m no athlete, yet my dog is. I was bringing my dog down.

Aslan and I entered a three day show this last weekend. I wasn’t feeling very good a day before the show, and by the last day of the show, I was more than exhausted. I knew I had the choice of leaving for home and not running Aslan on that last day, or letting someone else handle him. I went to the show hoping to get the best handler in my area to agree to run Aslan in Masters for me, and knowing my physical limitations, the handler agreed.

Aslan has run for this handler before in practice, and they both clicked. The handler has a fast 12 inch dog as well, and Aslan has loved to run with him.

Even through my exhaustion, I was excited for Aslan. Here was my dog’s opportunity to really shine with an experienced, great handler. Finally, my Sheltie would be freed from his lesser partner and able to run using all his talents.

The first run was jumpers, and it went very well. Because of my physical limitations, I have trained Aslan to be comfortable working pretty far out from me. At one point in the course, Aslan took a wrong course because the handler went a little farther into the pocket between jumps than I would have. Still, all in all, a beautiful run.

It was hard sitting there on the sidelines watching my beautiful Sheltie run with someone else. I wanted to be out there having fun with my dog. But, this was best. This was Aslan’s chance to run with an equal. I was excited to watch them go in the Standard class.

From the beginning of the Standard run, it was obvious to even me that Aslan was wondering why I wasn’t on the course with him. Usually very focused on anyone who has treats or is willing to run him in agility, Aslan was at the start line looking for me instead of at his handler. Then the run began. The handler did his best, but Aslan was uncharatristically unfocused. He missed jumps. He missed an obstacle discrimination. He even went up to the judge and barked at her after she had raised her hand marking a mistake, bringing laughter from the crowd.

Aslan "herding" stuffed sheep he won for first place finishes at a recent agility trial.
Aslan "herding" stuffed sheep he won for first place finishes at a recent agility trial. | Source

And that’s when it hit me. Aslan missed me. He didn’t care that the person he was running with was more talented than I was. He missed me. He missed the way I handle him. He flat missed my presence.

Over the months and months of training, Aslan and I have formed to each other. My style has become his style. He understands my nuances, and I understand his. I know when he will be sucked in by a tunnel, and he knows what a slight turn of my shoulders means. I know by the look in his eyes when to call him back to attention, and he knows by the pitch in my voice when I really want static contact.

I knew then that I wasn’t bringing my dog down. Indeed, out of everyone in the world, I am best suited to run Aslan. No one knows him like me, and he doesn’t know anyone else like me. Yes, it probably wouldn’t take long for a talented handler like the man who ran Aslan last weekend to develop a better handling relationship with him than I have, but the fact is, unless I have more physical difficulties, that won’t happen.

And Aslan, like all dogs, showed he doesn't care about success. He cares about love, loyalty and the "team" that we are. What is important to him is, in the end, far more meaningful than a blue ribbon or title. What is important to him is a simple moment in time playing agility with his best friend, and I'm so blessed to be that best friend.

Aslan and I are stuck with each other. I’d say that’s lucky for both of us.

Because, see, we’re a team.

A Tongue-in-Cheek Video of Aslan's Rock Star Life

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    • agilitymach profile image

      Kristin Kaldahl 5 years ago

      Thank you Au Fait!!! All great advice there!! I decided to do the 30 in 30 Challenge, and when I'm done, I plan on going back and reworking my hubs. I will then examine links and groups and much more.

      I appreciate your comments and will re-read this in a few days when I go do my re-writes on my 30 hubs.

      Thanks for dropping by!!!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      This hub looks pretty good to me, and though I wouldn't normally have a lot of interest in dog competitions, like so many people I do love to watch the different animals and see their personalities shine through.

      IMO you made this hub very interesting and easy to read. It's well laid out with none of those huge block paragraphs that make a person's eyes glaze over as if they are about to embark on reading the the U.S. Tax code instead of a hub. ;) White space is important when writing for the Net so that people don't get discouraged even before they begin to read. You've done well with this concept.

      I recommend you read hubs from lots of different hubbers and before long you will see what is appealing and you will learn who is most successful and why. This hub looks good.

      The one thing I would suggest is using groups. Every little bit helps when you're looking for more readers. Check out my hub on groups. Also, learn about adding link capsules and how to work with capsules in general. You can learn more about this by seeing how other hubbers have utilized capsules and by reading all about capsules in the Learning Center.

      Link capsules are great ways to advertise your own hubs to your current reader and hopefully keep them on your subdomain reading more. Also, advertising other hubbers hubs that are related to the hub you place the ads in will help you, them, the site, and basically everyone is better off. Always link to hubs of your own or other hubbers that are relevant to the hub your linking from.

      By 'sharing the love' so to speak (promoting other hubbers great hubs) you benefit by bringing more traffic to this site, to yourself, as well as to other hubbers you admire. You also build a network, which is important in promoting your work and increasing your page rank, which in turn affects your page views, which in turn influences how many clicks you get.

      Learning to manipulate capsules is not hard, but when you're just starting out there's so much to learn. I'm still learning. There are a lot of hubbers here who can be really helpful. I'd name some here but I'm afraid I'd forget and leave someone out, and we are limited to some extent on space here as well . . . ;)

      Make good use of the Learning Center, use the search box at the top of every page to ask questions you may have if you're having trouble finding answers in the LC, and feel free to ask fellow hubbers for help.

      You can always ask me, and if I don't know the answer I will most likely know who does and be able to point you in their direction. Most people here are great people and very willing to help. Lots of them know way more about this than I do, but it takes time to learn who they are, so if you need some help with that, just ask.

      So far you seem to be off to a great start. Welcome to hubpages!

    • agilitymach profile image

      Kristin Kaldahl 5 years ago

      Thank you Helena. I think you are absolutely right. Regardless, he does prefer running with me over everyone, and I prefer running with him too!! Thank you for dropping by.

    • agilitymach profile image

      Kristin Kaldahl 5 years ago

      Thank you Ari!! I appreciate you dropping by.

    • agilitymach profile image

      Kristin Kaldahl 5 years ago

      Thank you Mhatter99!! I'm so pleased you dropped by. :)

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Heard about this. Thank you for the explanation.

    • agilitymach profile image

      Kristin Kaldahl 5 years ago

      Thank you Dale!!! I appreciate the votes, and you dropping by to read. :)

    • Dale Hyde profile image

      Dale Hyde 5 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

      Most informative and insightful hub! Thanks for publishing. I do enjoy such hubs that educate the reader!

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • agilitymach profile image

      Kristin Kaldahl 5 years ago

      I'm a big fan of the little guys too. My other sheltie, who will have his own columns posted later, is a bigger, faster guy. But the little ones are so cuddly!!!

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Aslan is absolutely beautiful. The interest on his face reminds me of my dad's sheltie. She was small too but not quite that small. I think she would have enjoyed agility. I like the small ones better. They are so much more graceful.

    • Helena Ricketts profile image

      Helena Ricketts 5 years ago from Indiana

      It's funny how much they know us and we get to know them as time goes on. Aslan is a beautiful dog that obviously knows his stuff but he couldn't get there without you and my bet is that he knows it. :)

    • Ari Lamstein profile image

      Ari Lamstein 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Great hub and great video!