Throw a party for your dog every run. Celebrate every time you step into a ring with your dog. Connect, be a teammate. Enjoy every 1/100th of a second of it. No matter how the run goes. Not because you got the Q but because of your teammate.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes with my dogs over the years, I think the worst one, the one I am most embarrassed of are the times Ive walked out of a ring after our run not celebrating.
It’s shameful to do that to your dog. And its my number one job (along with learning how to run faster) on our team, to not be that asshole. Yes I want to become a better handler, a better trainer, and yes its important to me to handle every run competitively out of respect to my awesome canine team mate but these days I don’t even want to know if a bar came down because I don’t want to ruin the party. I want my dog to know every second that they are total rock stars and I’m a proud to be their teammate. It doesn’t matter why we did or didn’t Q, how I interact with them is all that matters. This goes for all of the sports- herding, barn hunt, splash dogs, and even obedience yes obedience a sport at which I have learned to have no shame about making it all about me and my dog no matter how weird it all gets.
Agility is really wonderfully hard and addictively fun to train and compete in, but successfully running an agility course doesn’t assign a value to my dogs or define my relationship with my dogs or impact how much I love them.
Heres my cattle dog Zero and I are not q’ing on an awesome agility run back in june because I handled the rx so poorly between the dog walk and the second to last jump. Hell yes I made sure I celebrated his awesomeness and you can hear him chirping on the start-line. He’s so cute.
Zero is the best agility teammate I have ever run with. He made every run fun. He’s a total Win it or Bin it dog who goes in the ring and always gives his all. Balls to the walls is his goal and epic chaos or first place is the outcome. He and I never walked out of ring without a celebration, because he always knew no matter what happened it was all a win and refused to accept anything less from me then party time.
Ive been telling myself forever that Im going to get serious and start trialing more often and set some serious goals. But stuff keeps getting in the way. And then all of a sudden Zero and I wouldn’t be competing in agility together anymore.
Back in september of this year Zero went to the doctor and got super fucked up news. Two days after that doctors appointment I woke up at 4am to head out for a trial I was entered in. I told myself that I was going to leave my little cattle dog home and just take my other agility dog Roy. I told myself that Zero and I wouldn’t be running agility courses together anymore.
Our last run would have been a few weeks before, at the last trial we were at before, before he went to the doctor. A trial I had no clue was going to be our last. We had a blast every single run that weekend. We had a really great time together. We totally partied even though I don’t think he and I got one Q. thats how much fun we had, I don’t remember if we Q’d. Theres a picture from that trial after the judge had to whistle us off the course because Zero wouldn’t stop getting on the teeter 🙂 (which is pretty amazing considering that it took me almost 2 years to get him to step one foot on one because he thought teeters were the portal to hell). “Oh no” the judge said with a gentle southern accent “I’m so sorry but I’m gonna have to whistle you off”. In the picture I’m laughing and Zero’s wagging his tail so hard at me and I’m saying to him “buddy we gotta go, no more teeter” and then we ran off to the finish jump and went out and played a solidly great game of tug. I need to go buy that picture to post it here. But I’ll link to it for now just so you can see. because it’s a good moment. Its pretty much everything.
And then as soon as I got up that day I just couldn’t leave Zero home. I couldn’t not have one more last run with my cowdog. I wanted to watch his joy at the start line, hear him squeal his way through the weaves.
Zero loved every single run he ever did with me and maybe if I ran fast enough this time and handled the course just right maybe he would celebrate my effort by leaping around after the finish line shrieking and biting my clothes, his extra special way of telling me I did a great job. I could do that for him, I wanted to do that so much. We could just go run one run one more time.
So I took Zero with me that day he wasn’t going to be able to ever run agility again.
I don’t remember watching the dogs before us, just the moment it was our turn to go in. We walked to the start line, I watched the other team finish and I took off Zero’s leash and threw it off to the side. We waited for the go signal. It didn’t come so I looked at the judge. “Wait” the judge said there was “a problem”. So we waited, the problem dragged on and we waited. Someone from the ring crew came over to apologize for the wait, “its totally ok” I said, “its no problem we’re fine”.
And it really was fine, it was our last time at the start line and I didn’t mind waiting at all. Nothing bothered Zero and I could have stood there all day with him, looking across the course feeling the excitement of getting ready to run.
Then it was our turn. I just went out there to run with my boy, but Zero went out there to win. I started out being so careful and then I just let him kick ass. As we crossed the finish line Zero and I celebrated that run just like every one we ever ran and I was the only one there who knew it was our last one. He just knew it was fun.
This is it, the last run in competition with the best little cowdog ever. My handling isn’t great. Im watching him so carefully as we start that I can barely move. And then Im watching him in awe because he’s such a badass. I think I planned a bunch of front crosses but ended up just doing rears just so I could watch my beautiful little dog flying through the course. You can hear me shrieking at the end, I have to laugh when I look at the people who are watching, they’re like wtf is wrong with that woman, lol. We had fun and we celebrated every 1/100th of a second.
Two days before this run, our very last run, Zero went to a doctor apointment and we found out that he is losing his eye sight. “Very limited vision currently, basically he’s blind already” the doctor said. He has PRA, Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Its common in cattle dogs, hereditary and theres no cure for it. He also has a torn retina. He will be totally blind someday, probably sooner rather then later though we will do whatever we can to help slow the progression. He would be turning 7 just a month after that diagnosis. Just 7 years old.
I’ll miss competing in agility with this incredible dog. There are lots of sports that dogs with limited vision can do, and then later on sports that blind dogs are allowed to do and we will do them because he loves it all and he loves competing. And he will continue to completely kick ass at all of them. He’s still going to run wild in the woods, jump on top of all the things, herd cattle and race with the motorcycles for as long as he wants to. But he was a badass little agility dog and Im grateful for our- one more last run.
Celebrate every single run. Party like its 1999 or like tomorrow your dog might be going blind. No regrets.
*Adrianna Nottestad thank you for taking pictures of our run. ♡