Competition Burnout

I was twenty-eight years old the day my Golden Retriever, Trevor, and I entered our first AKC obedience trial in Washington state.  The date was May 6th, 1979 and I believe the judge was John Cox.  Trevor didn’t hear me on the recall so we flunked.  But at the following show in June Trevor earned his first Companion Dog leg with a first place and a blue rosette.  A couple of weeks later he earned another blue ribbon and won High in Trial from the Novice A class.  I was hooked on the sport of dog obedience.

Now it is 2018 and yes, do the math, I am sixty-seven years old.  Showing, owning, trialing, grooming and loving dogs has consumed hundreds of hours of my life.  There have been dry spells where I couldn’t afford to show dogs, but I never quit because there was an advanced title called Utility Dog (UD) that was my ultimate goal.  Someday I’d have the money, the time, the place, and the dogs to get UD’s.

That time is now. This past year I’ve traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, Orlando, Florida, Perry, Georgia, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Gray, Tennessee, and Tallahassee, Florida.  I’m entered in three more shows in Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama, with six more planned after that.

Years ago I’d sit in my cubicle at my mind-bending, boring job dreaming about someday traveling from show to show, weekend after weekend.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  But in reality I’ve found that it can be boring, often stuck in traffic or driving through storms or dealing with my dogs in excessive heat, and staying at many seedy hotels.  Sure many times there were gems in my travels, places where the beauty of the mountains in the early morning dawn was overwhelmingly beautiful.  But after one particularly long trip I noticed that even the dogs were lethargic when I got home.  They ran laps in their big back yard the minute they were finally released.

But I’ve continued to dream of more and more titles.  Why stop at a Utility title?  Why not work toward a Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) title and a Rally Advanced Excellent title and a Rally Masters title and maybe even one Obedience Trial Champion point or two?

But the reality is that my goals require hard, hard daily work, training every day or even better two and three times a day, building up muscle memory in the dogs, paying attention to detail, working toward perfection.  It requires more traveling, more money, more crappy motels in order to win more blue ribbons, or even maybe some blue and gold High in Trial rosettes.

But.  I’m tired.  I’m old.  My friends and I joke about our last dogs.  We mean our last “competition” dogs as there is never a NO MORE DOGS conversation.  Training and maintaining a truly good completion dog is an intense hobby if like me and others, the goal is The Blue Ribbon and the Ultimate Title.

Did I mention that I’m tired?  Not the take-an-iron-pill tired.  But burnt out.  Or maybe I’m asking myself at what point does an advanced title on a dog become a ludicrous or even an obsessive goal?   I find myself asking the question, “Is there more to life than showing dogs?”

Its time to step back, not enter every show or breed national or Classic within five-hundred miles.  Time to breathe and enjoy my dog’s youth while I can. We’ll get there I’m sure, a UD, maybe a UDX and even one OTCH point.  After thirty-nine years I now understand what is more important.  The dogs mean more to me than the titles.  It’s  not a race.  It’s time to slow down, relax, hug my dogs.  After all, you cannot hug a ribbon.  After the dog is gone a title is meaningless.  All I ever remember is the fun I had with each dog.  Each time another dog passes I ask God if I can exchange the ribbons for another day with that dog and each time the finality of the event is devastating.

It’s getting time to savor each day with the dogs I have and not obsess about titles.  We will still show but not as much.




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