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Karen Powell of Frankfort, KY, has three rescued mixed-breed dogs that compete very successfully in AKC Agility, AKC Rally, and Barn Hunt:



She started taking classes with her dogs in 2006 because of Stella’s bad puppy behavior and hasn’t been able to stop. She gives some great tips for how to get the most out of competing with your dogs.

I have developed some important values while training and competing with my dogs.  Some of these observations may seem simplistic, but I believe they underlie the ability to get the ultimate enjoyment out of dog sports.

  1. It’s not about you. Really. It’s about the dog and your relationship. Don’t just say it—mean it, think it, breathe it. Trials, shows, ribbons, and accolades can’t be the conscious, or even unconscious, goal. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a placement in rally or a Q in agility or barn hunt, but the success of your performance can’t be judged on the ribbon or qualification. Instead, ask whether the dog is having a good time and what you can do to make the experience more enjoyable for them. For one of my dogs, that meant stopping competing in rally altogether. You have to be willing to walk away from your own objectives for the good of the relationship.
  2. Find what the dog enjoys and do that. Rather than spend time, energy, and money training and showing in one venue that is clearly not suited for your dog or that neither of you enjoy, try something else. This seems simplistic, but sometimes you have to give yourself permission to make a change. Dog hates Agility? Try Rally. Dog hates Obedience? Try Barn Hunt. Dog loves tennis balls? Try Flyball. Dog hates everything you try? Let them be a couch potato. Don’t force a square dog into a round hole. 
  3. There’s no rule that says you can’t do more than one type of competition at a time. If you and your dog like to do Obedience, Agility, Rally, Barn Hunt etc., there’s no rule that says you can’t train and compete in all. Especially if you have more than one dog (and who doesn’t, right?) The only thing stopping you is time, your wallet, and maybe your employer!
  4. Don’t stick with a trainer who doesn’t make training fun. Isn’t the whole point of training to have fun with your dog? And don’t stick with a trainer whose training methods make you or your dog uncomfortable. It’s your money and your time. Make the most of it.
  5. One training method does not work on all dogs. Don’t keep training in the same way if you’re not getting anywhere (or maybe even going backwards).
  6. Keep on taking lessons. Don’t stop because you’ve started competing, or earned a title, or feel like you can’t learn anything else. You can ALWAYS learn more, and the more you learn the more fun you’ll have with your dog. You may have to go to a more experienced trainer, but that’s OK too.

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  7. Don’t let the politics of the dog world interfere with you and your dog’s fun. That’s right. There’s politics in dog training and competition just like there’s politics in just about any facet of life. Almost everyone is super nice at dog events, but there are a few that would spoil the whole thing if you let them. If you’re having a great time, just keep doing what you’re doing and don’t worry about what other people think or say about you, your dog, your trainer, your training facility, your venue, your outfit, your dog crate, your leashes, your car, your hair, etc.
  8. Set reachable goals. It’s great to pal around with your dog friends at training and trials, but having a goal adds an extra dimension to the whole experience. It doesn’t have to be lofty. I know we can’t win the Rally National Championship, but by golly we can qualify and participate! I know we can’t ever get invited to the Agility Invitational, but we can get an Excellent Jumpers title! I know we’ll never get a Q in Barn Hunt, but we can try to find one more rat than the time before!  You get the picture.
  9. Be ready to change your goals. Don’t keep pressing on to a goal when doing so makes your dog or you feel too stressed or unhappy. Feel free to scale down your expectations. On the other hand, if your dog and you are rapidly meeting one goal, go ahead and set another one that might be a little more difficult to obtain. Nobody is keeping score but you!
  10. Involve your family in your dog training and competitions. It’s been so wonderful to have my two daughters involved with our training classes and competitions. Spending time with your family is priceless. It gives us a shared interest, and I hope builds a great knowledge base for them whenever they get their own dogs. 
  11. You are the one in charge of you and your dog. Not your trainer, your dog friends, the organization, or anyone else. You do what you think is right. If that means picking them up in the middle of a run and walking out the gate, then so be it. If you scratch your dog from a trial at the last minute because they just aren’t quite normal, then good for you. If you’re having a bad day and know that a class just wouldn’t be any fun, then stay home and just hug your dog. Do what is best for your team.
  12. Be thankful. I’m so very thankful to my wonderful teachers and role models who took an interest in me and my dogs and encouraged me. I’m thankful for the clubs who put on trials, and all the volunteers who make them run. I’m thankful for the fabulous friends I’ve made along the way and who have enriched my life way beyond anything I could have imagined. And of course, I’m thankful for my sweet doggies, both the ones on earth and the ones in heaven. I hope I made their lives as wonderful as they have made mine.