While I have been training dogs since I was, well, a tiny kid and have well over two decades of obedience training under my belt, I would consider myself relatively new to the dog sport world.
When I was young I remember building obstacle courses for my dogs. I had no clue that there was even a sport for this at the time, I just remember how fun it was teaching my dogs to jump over and go under things. I use to spend hours in the field with my BC mix rounding up cows, something I would have gotten in worlds of trouble for if I had ever been found out. I use to love playing hide and seek on my dogs, running and hiding while they waited and then waiting for them to sniff me out. These simple things brought so much joy into my life and my dog's. I still really enjoy doing this sort of thing with my dogs today, although now I have fancier equipment and a lot more knowledge on training.
I took my first real agility class a few years after coming to Ontario. I had a great instructor and the class was just really laid back, people were just there for the fun of it and fun it was. Our instructor could not carry on as we didn't have an indoor facility. (This is interestingly enough the reason that I decided to include an agility arena in the dog training/boarding facility I was building for myself. I didn't want any instructor to have to stop teaching simply because they didn't have a facility to teach in.) After my instructor couldn't carry on, I went to a different facility where the atmosphere was a lot more competitive.
To be honest with you, this type of attitude kind of turned me off to the whole "competitive-world" of dog sports. I saw people whipping their dogs into frenzies, only to correct them for making mistakes caused by the state of mind the handler created.
I've never really considered myself to be a competitive person and I don't know if I ever will be. I've always wanted others to win and succeed and to feel good, I've never personally felt the desire to win or to prove anything to anyone. Even when I was very young, I never felt I needed to win. I have kind of always just carried on, doing my own thing and making my own way. If I succeed great, if I fail I learn from error and carry on. I think this way of living and attitude has probably led to a lot of the success I've been fortunate enough to have in my career. For me, it's always been about the dog and about the training. Not about anything else.
I have often wondered why so many of my pet dog clients are adamantly against participating in dog sports and I can't help but wonder if it's because of the "competitive" aspect. Not everyone wants to compete in something and that competitive aspect may be the turn off for many "pet-dog" people.
But you don't have to compete in a sport in order to train in it. You don't have to be competitive to be really, really good at something and to reap the benefits that the sport has to offer.
Agility and dog sports are so much fun for dogs and for people. At the core of each dog sport, herding, agility, disc, scent, it really is about having fun with your dog and challenging each other to learn and grow.
I want to encourage everyone to consider participating or training in a sport with their dog. Research sports with your family, think about what you may like to do with your dog. There are so many sports out there that are fun for you and your dog. Many sports like herding and scent detection can help your dog overcome behavioral challenges. At Mayrich Kennels, we have developed many programs including a herding and agility program taught specifically from a behavior modification perspective that look a lot different than a competitive program.
There are people of all ages involved in dog sports and people with disabilities. Every challenge can be overcome and if you don't approach the sport with a mindset that you have to compete, you can relax and enjoy and just have fun with your dog!