Talking about goals, setting them and working hard to achieve them is a very popular topic these days and "Since when winning World Championships was your goal" is a very common question I get in interviews. Well, it never was my goal to win World Championships. Hey, I started agility as 12 year old with a Samoyed, back in 1992 in an ex-socialistic country that most of you would have never heard of if it wasn't for agility... At that time, dog training was hardly done and limited to jerking the dogs around... By now, that same country has the most medals from World Championships per agility dog. And probably an average dog here knows more tricks as in any other country!
We have less than 200 dogs running agility here - but the average level is higher as in any other country I've been to - and I've been to most countries where agility exists. But back then, dreaming of winning World Championships would be crazy. All I ever wanted to do was, simply - agility. - To keep that Samoyed who was a passionate, passionate hunter, with me in the ring and run agility with me. If you started agility with a Border Collie, it might sound simple to you, but well, it took me years and caused many tears of frustration - but taught me a ton!
Among many, many other important lessons he taught me, he also taught me to be modest. To know that no matter how good the run might go, he might as well leave the ring to say hi to another dog or chase a bird somewhere up in the sky. He taught me to NOT set goals and just enjoy the moment when the run is still going well. And that's exactly what I still do.
All my best runs happen when I'm expecting absolutely nothing and just go and run for the fun of it.
I don't train to win. I train because I love it and because my dogs love it. And I try to train better and to get better because I love to learn, to progress, to improve. I find it boring to only do things I know I can and when training, I always only set things that I think might get me in trouble (see the video of my training I posted in a previous post) - I don't even bother running something that I know we can do easily. I just love challenges and my favorite courses to run in trials are the ones where I'm not quite sure if I can do it - and because of this attitude, I usually do those best! If you ever hear me complain about the course, it's definitely because it's too easy. It's through challenges that we learn and I'm always on the hunt for something new to learn myself or to teach my dogs. I often hear "but my dog is too old to learn cik&cap" - it's never too old! Learning something new keeps them young and happy. Lo was 11 when she learned cik&cap - why not! That's also why I love training tricks so much - always something new to train and always something new to learn about how dogs learn!
Still, I never go to the agility field with a goal or a plan what to work on. My planning and organization skills are close to zero. So no, you guessed it - I don't have any goals hanging on my refrigerator. I also don't keep any trophies from trials - and no, not even one, not even from World Championships. Sure, of course I'm proud of our achievements and of course I think my dogs are best dogs ever. But I would think that no matter what, even if we never won anything. And while our achievements are a great testimonial that my methods work and keep producing a champion after a champion, there are more important things than that. Like our morning jog in the woods. Or swimming together in the mountain lake. These are the memories that hang on my walls. And these are the priorities that make running in big events extra easy. People often ask me how I can be so calm... If I'm not nervous about all the thousands of people watching. I'm not. It's just agility and yes, we might make a mistake - it's human, we have nothing to hide. But we'll certainly have fun, learn something from the mistake and come back better the next time. If we were perfect every time and if I thought I knew everything there is to know, I would stop doing agility as it would just be too boring.
I still remember what one of spectators said to me in Lievin 2003, before my first win on World Championships: "What makes all those people here so good as they are is that they really want to win and worked long and hard for it. Your only advantage is that you don't care, that you play rather as work hard - and that's why I'm sure you'll win." I laughed as I didn't think it's possible to win with such a young and inexperienced dog. And after my two dogs finished 1st and 2nd after the 1st run - what was never done before or after by any other handler - that was good enough for me, way more as I ever expected and I couldn't care less what happens in the 2nd run. - What made it extra easy to win that one too. 🙂
It was much harder 8 years later, running on the same place, with the same dog again, winning 1st run again. That's when "wouldn't it be cool to win again, on the same place, with the same dog, 8 years later" crossed my mind - and that's when I started to play safely, didn't handle it nearly as well as I know I easily could without that heavy thought on my mind - and missed the 3rd World Champion title with La by 0.09 second, ending "only" third! And learned a new lesson. To NEVER run with winning in mind!!!
So to answer another common question from interviews: what is on your mind just before the run, the answer is - the course. I'm either focusing on a dog to make sure to keep her happy and in the right mode or repeating the course in my head. No other thoughts in there. Just me, my dog and the course. I even don't check my e-mail or Facebook as I don't want to see too many good wishes and "you can do it" as they just put me under pressure. I like to see them after the runs, but I on purpose go off line for the days of a big trial. And while all fellow competitors are posting "ready for World Championships" I usually feel like we're at the worst spot that year and can't do anything on WC. That always helps. When I feel too ready and too confident, I lose the focus. The more unsure about the course and our "readiness" I am, the better I run. The worse we do in the weeks before, the better we'll do there. All my best runs happen when I'm expecting absolutely nothing and just go and run for the fun of it.
Putting having fun with your dog above doing well makes you lighter on your feet as it takes the pressure off and lets you breath. Try it for a month or two. Forget about your goals, train when you feel like training, train what you find the most fun to train at that very moment, go to a trial just to see some new challenges that you can then try in training and to try out how light you feel on your feet all of the sudden.
Don't worry - when you learn enough, the results will come. Don't rush it because trust me - it's not the podium on World Championship that is worth remembering. It's the way there. So just enjoy the moment. Remember to play rather as work hard!