Making agility great again

Not too long ago, in the grand scheme of things, I swore (and publicly, of COURSE), never again!! to AKC Nationals. You’d think that I’d have learned by this point in my life to never say never. But of course I can’t even do THAT (because never saying never requires…never).

At the time, I was all up in arms because (and read this in an appropriately indignant tone): Nationals should require a minimum criteria with respect to speed AND consistency, and the emphasis is too LOW on the speed, and it shouldn’t be the case that you can qualify if you just. trial. long. enough. Dogs who can’t meet that minimum criteria shouldn’t be there!!! There are already too many dogs at Nationals who will likely NEVER make the Finals!! Thin the herd!!

I bet reading that just now made you think, “man, what an elitist jerk.”

Yeah. I mean, I never actually WROTE those thoughts out just that way, but even if I wasn’t quite thinking them in that way, I’m sure that’s how they came across. And, let’s be honest, I probably was thinking them in that way.

When I was in Scottsdale, AZ, for the USDAA Cynosport Games, I happened to be walking, dogless, back to my car for some reason or another, and passed by two women talking. I just heard a snippet of the conversation, but it went something like this: Those border collie people, and their border collies, they don’t understand OUR struggle, they don’t understand OUR needs, they don’t get OUR right to be here just as much as theirs.

This conversation of course happened just after November 7, our election day here in the USA. The irony (?), the parallels between that conversation, and the tone it was held in, and my inner monologue above, and the tone THAT was held in…well, hopefully you get it.

That scene plays out over and over again. In politics, in religion, in (insert tribal affiliation of any sort here), and in dogs – dog breeds, dog sports, dog training, you name it.

It’s just so much EASIER to make broad, absolute statements, isn’t it? It takes less time, a less nuanced appreciation, and it just feels good to take a stand. Why yes, Daisy, it does. It’s so much easier to take a “get off my lawn” stance. Go play elsewhere if you don’t like this game, it’s OUR game (spoken in the tone of a representative for “the tribe”).

And then the Election. So much “get off my lawn” happening in the USA right now. Tremendous get off my lawn. I’m doing it – we all are. Some more loudly than others. But we’re all doing it to some extent.

Of course, the parallel between the Election, our basic human rights, and any threats, perceived or real, to those rights, and dog agility has its limits. Participation in any one agility organization is not a right, it’s a privilege. A privilege that those of us with expendable incomes enjoy. Agility is available to a wider swath of the population in countries where it’s far less expensive (15Euro for two runs…aahh), but it’s STILL an activity for the privileged of the world. Any arguments we have, any “us vs them” that we imagine…it’s largely made up, because of our need to form factions within tribes, to justify our choices and elevate ourselves in our worlds. Made up or not, it’s still real, at least to those of us playing the game.

For years, people like me (border collie owner, international wannabe competitor, etc. etc.) have cried out things like:

  • Make courses what **I** want to see!
  • Give me courses that will prepare ME to meet MY goals!
  • Change the rules to benefit me/my tribe!!
  • Make it easier to get to Nationals for ME and harder for those OTHERS! (Implied or interpreted: I don’t want to see those “others” there!!)
  • I’m a minority! I’m oppressed! You don’t value me! You don’t like me!

Of course, ALL of those points pretty much EVERY faction/tribe has felt or said at one point or another. There’s always some outcry to the statements above when they’re made (usually on social media), whether they’re stated explicitly or not – particularly when they’re made by a competitor that the majority of the tribe ALREADY holds a place of privilege within the tribe, or, who in our minds isn’t really IN our tribe. And then, we all go about our business. Most of us never really DO much of anything to create any REAL change.

Wait, let’s take a look at that last paragraph.

Is it really true? Is the outcry really more dramatic when it’s in response to something said by a competitor “like me?” Or, do we all feel that the outcry made against our statements is the harshest, the most resistant, the most disrespectful? There I go again, without even really thinking about it, judging MY perspective to be more important, because…it’s MINE, obviously…

Most of us don’t really WANT change, and are pretty uncomfortable with it. Really, we’d rather steer “the other” to OUR normal, rather than shifting to THEIRS. We defend our choices, and the way things are, so far as they benefit us…

Am I still talking about dog agility?



I’m working hard to step out of the echo chambers of my life. I’m not very successful, usually, and don’t often get beyond awareness that I’m *in* an echo chamber. But, you know, baby steps. I’m hoping at least a few folks “like me” will join me in May, in Oklahoma. I don’t know if it’s too late, but if it’s not, let’s party. And make some change. Or at least become more fully informed about the processes in place, and gain a more nuanced understanding of the sport we’re so addicted to.

Never say never say never.