Your Turn to Write

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Well I must be hooked on this blogging since I am sending you this from a WiFi at a gas station as John fills the RV up with diesel.  Since I am on the road for the next couple of weeks and may not be writing regularly I am going to pose a question to you so all of you can write on my blog. So here goes, what (if anything), do you think separates you as a competitor in the sport of dog agility,  from the best competitors in the world? This is a pretty wide question so I am expecting a wide assortment of answers but I am not going to prompt you other than to suggest your answer may include what role the dog’s natural talent plays. I am going to send a lovely gift of a hardcover copy of Shaping Success (complete with a autograph from me and a paw-to-graph from Buzz) to one of you who writes in with your thoughts.  I am not planning for this to be a contest , my thought is that I will just to pick a random number out of the people that take the time to write on my blog for me, however if someone writes a really compelling piece I may just change my mind.  In 7 days I will post the name of the lucky winning entry. 

Today am really grateful for John who once again has done all of the driving on our 23 hour drive to Florida. My plan was to get caught up with some computer work, but I haven’t done much of anything to tell you the truth.



  1. What separates me from top competitors is multi-faceted. It involves experience, confidence, timing of cues, trusting my dog, solidifying the working relationship, skill development, fitness and nutrition, and making the most of my training sessions.

    In the top competitors I consistently see this unique bond of mutual respect and admiration between dog and handler. They have a synchrony of movement, which makes their work appear effortless. To me, that is what is most impressive. It is readily apparent that these teams LOVE what they’re doing, and each other. I believe that by achieving that sort of relationship, the titles and Q’s will come. I know this is the result of a lot quality time and training.

    Well there are other obstacles such as working full time, managing a household independently, available access to training space (I live in town with approx. 30’ x 30’ working space) and financial restraints. But these are easily used as “excuses”, and can impede progress if used as such.

    It never seems that there is enough time in the day to work through my long list of goals. When it comes to competition, I’m working on developing a calm and assertive confidence, to prevent my dog from “stressing up”.
    Due to limited space and time, I am trying to make my training as efficient as possible when I rent space. I write out my list of drills and goals for each training session so that I arrive with a plan. I track progress, successes and failures, and determine where to start (and stop) the next training session.

    Brio is a red tri, tailed Aussie, and the dog of my dreams. She earned her CGC at 7 months, and went through 16 weeks of Rally Obedience to establish a working bond in a fun and controlled fashion. We began games and tricks that would transfer into agility from 8-1/2 weeks old, utilizing many of the puppy games from your book. I also found the book by Bobby Anderson (Building Blocks for Performance) to be highly useful. I certainly could be spending a lot more time on these foundational skills.

    I often apologize to my poor dog for having me as her handler. Luckily she is young (22 months), knows nothing different, and loves her mamma. She has endless potential and drive, but I am relatively new to the sport. My first agility dog was a Labrador Retriever, lacking drive and confidence. We competed through MX, MXJ, 20 double Q’s and a NATCH in NADAC. She was a rescue dog with a lot of fear and confidence issues. We began agility to help her overcome some of these problems. It was the best thing I have ever done. Needless to say, I was hooked on agility and wanted a “real agility dog”. Well be careful what you wish for, because I certainly have that dog now (at age 51). I’m having the time of my life!

  2. Susan I have had a good think about this question over my dinner and I did comtemplate writing all the negative thoughts I had when I compare myself to “the best in the world”. But thats not me, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if I always concetrated on the negative stuff so here is my answer to your question:

    “Nothing”. Nothing seperates me and my dogs from the best competitors in the world. I strive to compete along side you and the best competitors in the world and perhaps one day I will be so good that I can give someone as glorified as you an autographed copy of my book.

    Until that day I will continue to train hard, follow good advice and work my butt off!

    Kenny Spottiswoode

  3. Great question. I suspect that if you asked this at club here, you would get a range of answers, mostly concerning all the excuses under the sun regards the lack of time people have, the unfairness of any given system, the gear that doesn’t suit their dog!

    My thoughts? I believe that with the right dog not too much separates me from the top competitors in the world. (Apart of course from my current lack of fitness due to injury).
    I do believe that natural talent of the dog does have an influence but not nearly as much of an influence as most people would care to believe. A good trainer can take a dog 90% of the way there – its that last 10% that might make the difference between a World Class dog and a very very good one.
    I think something similar goes for hanlders – most anyone can master the turns, the technical stuff, it is that last little piece of the puzzle which truely gifted handlers contribute which stands them above others. True magic occurs when this gifted handler/trainer is matched with the gifted dog.
    Fiona Hodgson

  4. What separates me from the best in the world? Time to train, access to equipment and access to top class instructors. I don’t aspire to be the best competitor in the world, I just want to have fun with my funny little girl and enjoy the company and success of my agility friends. The only aspiration I do have is for my dog and I to be the best team she and I can be.

  5. Time– I believe this to be the only thing that seperates me from the best compeititors in the world. I believe in myself, my ability and my dogs. I believe that each of my dogs has made me a stronger handler and trainer – they have shaped me to believe that I owe it to them to be the best.

    I have great supporters who also believe in me. My friends and family that know with continued proper training I will achieve all of my dreams, with their constant support we are unstopable.

    So there really is nothing different between myself and the top competitors in the world. I know that in my heart we are the best, I also know my dog thinks I am the best so it must be true……

    I will be there achieving all of my goals – in due time.

  6. Training conditions, I’d have to say. I live in northern Norway, a poorly executed underhand toy throw from the North Pole, and with 9 months of heavy winter and a dog club without indoor facilities, I must say that I catch myself pondering what our agility would look like if we’d had access to a sports arena or something like that. Not that it prevents us from trying the best we can!

    Thanks for this blog Susan, it’s priceless in an environment where guest instructors and sunshine are scarce!

  7. Experience and Dedication are the two major things that make me different from the best competitors in the world.
    Having a dog with natural talent helps but I have one of those it’s just me that lacks the skill. I can see in on her face “ What are you doing woman? Do you even have a clue?” LOL
    It is very easy to make excuses. It’s to hot, It’s to cold, I don’t have the time, I don’t the equipment. PFFFT Excuses is all they are. There are so many activities that you can do indoors, in a small amount of space, in a small amount of time. Only those really dedicated to their training can gain enough experience to go a long way in Agility.

  8. I believe that two key factors separate me, as a competitor in the sport of dog agility, from the best competitors in the world. Level of experience and personal goals.

    I am fairly new to the sport of dog Agility. I only began to compete in Agility in August of 2007 and, honestly, I did not take it very seriously. I just wanted to try it for the sake of trying it.

    I got into Agility in the first place quite blindly. My husband and I purchased a Border Collie puppy in 2001 and the breeder did Agility with her dogs. She had the father of the pups do weave poles and I thought it was “neat” and decided right there that I wanted my puppy to do that.

    This particular puppy – who taught me almost everything I know about dogs and dog training – did not turn out to be a suitable Agility dog for a novice handler. He had too low of a stimulation threshold, and I did not know how to handle it. We eventually dropped out of Agility and I got into other sports with him – Rally and Freestyle – which were more suitable for him and I as a team.

    A couple of years after I dropped out of Agility with my Border Collie, I took an Advanced Basic Obedience class with my female mix, and we learned just a few pieces of Agility equipment in there. We had quite the time convincing her that it was worth her while to go through a short tunnel and I laughed and said she would never be an Agility dog. The joke was on me when she got extremely bored doing Rally and I put her into an Agility class because “she didn’t hate Agility”!!

    This dog, a Lab/Border Collie mix, does not have very much natural drive for Agility and I still didn’t really know much about what I was doing, but we continued in class because she enjoyed the “mom time” and she liked to go to class – even if the Agility itself didn’t interest her a whole lot.

    A couple of years into this, our classmates started to compete and the focus of the class turned more to competition. I felt left out and decided to try competition with her to keep up with my classmates. Also, I found amusement in the irony of my couch potato, no drive, Agility-is-OK mutt competing.

    Again, the joke was on me. I was hooked after our second competition. We got off to a slow start, but before long she had a couple of Q’s and a couple of titles and I realized what a treasure of an Agility dog I had, after all!

    After competing with her for about a year, I began to take it more seriously and do more training with her outside of class and to focus on her fitness, etc. However, in spite of the fact that I am totally interested in competing now, and even got another dog to run, I am still very much the beginner.

    To be fair, I don’t know any top level Agility handlers personally, but I would be willing to wager that if you stacked the average top level handler’s level of dog training and competition experience up against mine, it would be evident that my level of experience is considerably less.

    This brings me to the second difference – goals. It is not in the scope of my goals to train my dogs to the level of being among the best competitors in the world. It’s kind of like the difference between an Olympic baseball player and someone who is very happy playing locally on weekends in the summer.

    I like the local Agility scene. I enjoy going to competitions. I enjoy the time with my dogs and working toward very small goals with them. It’s not really in my nature to work to be “the best” in Agility.

    Sometimes my own instructor is a little surprised that I don’t have more of a desire to “win”, but really I am very content to focus on my dog’s enjoyment of the sport, my enjoyment of the sport with my dog, and being the best that we can be on a very casual level.

    I definitely have competition goals for certain Q’s and titles, but compared to the best in the world, they are quite small goals! Even if, to me and my dogs, these goals and working toward them are a very big deal.

  9. My first agility dog had a tremendous natural ability for running and jumping and a desire to please. She loved agility. We got MX and MXJ titles. I have recently started training my young dog. I became disatisfied with the training methods and started with a different instructor. She has introduced us to a more open, less rigid method of training and is teaching me to let my dog be more independent. So I feel what has held me back is a lack of trust in my dog. We still need to have a partnership but I don’t have to be overly controlling. Also, I have to be more open to different methods of handling so that I give my dog the best advantage at every obstacle. With this new instructor, I am enthused about agility again. I don’t believe the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks; I am 66 – I hope an old handler can learn new tricks.

  10. What seperates me from the best in the world? Time, knowledge, experience and cold hard cash!!! I am very new to agility and am very proud of what my first competition dog and I are achieving together. I am well aware that I am at the very beginning of a wonderful journey and I am making every effort to savour each step of the way.
    When I sit and reflect on what I have learnt in just a couple of summers of competing with my wonderful Nell, I am pretty blown away! When I think about how much more I need to learn – the list is sooo long!
    I am so very lucky to have two phenominal firends to train with (though it would be nice if they lived closer)and access to fantastic information. Every time we train together these days there is more positive energy and more clarity in our training. Slowly but surely, we are becoming better dog trainers and I know that the huge gap that seperates us from the best is getting a little smaller all the time.
    We all know that any future successes will be built on the strong relationships we are building with each other and with our dogs. It is so fantastic to have eyes who care about you watching and providing feedback.
    I know full well that any limitations on achievement will ultimately be self imposed.
    Thanks for all the wonderful information and anacdotes in the blog.
    Enjoy the sun for us,
    Catherine from chilly NB

  11. Wow what a loaded question??

    Since losing my last dog at a young age I have had very valuable life lesson in goal setting vs reality. I truly dont think there is anything “special” that separates those at the top vs those that wanna be. It simply comes down to one’s personal desires vs their ability to succeed OR stand in their own way.

    First I believe you must throw out all the things that make teams unequal such as one’s physical fitness and or fitness of their dog. One’s income or lack there of, and ones access to space etc. All things considered equal an able bodied dog and handler the true separation lies in the baggage of the handler.

    I have found with students time and time again that if greed gets in the way of building a solid understanding that the extrinsic rewards that can be grabbed quickly with a fast young dog are exactly the death of that team later on. How many times have we witnessed a dog with blazing speed and drive just scream through a novice course and think WOW!!! Next the dog moves up and disaster starts to develop. Since no understanding of foundation work took place the dog loses trust in its handler each run. The dog either takes the opportunity to please itself (self reward) or starts to shut down do to a lack of understanding of task which results in a lack of value. The young dog appears to be the “smartest ever” as it seems to have met criteria to certain degree. The top competitors dont guess on their dogs level of understanding, they proof and prove it. The wanna be handler many times does not take the time to test understanding, in the rush to compete many raise criteria too quick.

    Another point that separates the top from those that try and never get there is hard to put into words but I will give it a shot. Dog training as much as we would like is not a recipe that can be followed. People that strive to get to the top will fall short if they simply try to mimic those that got there ahead of them. Cracked me up to see all the handlers that suddenly felt the need to hold their dog by the scruff at the startline when the first Derrett video hit the market. This is just one example of the human end trying to gain success by mimicking an action instead of stepping outside that box to see what exactly that dog needs. This is not just an agility only problem, we humans tend to idolize those that have success that we would like to achieve and that is dangerous.

    My last dog suffered from all the above as a result of me exhibiting the very symptoms I have been fortunate to recognize in my students. I failed this dog when I rushed criteria, was impressed with his “super powers” as a puppy, and sought out the newest fads in handling without regard to foundation work. Many people when they speak to me about my boy state that it was his illness and his uncontrollable epilepsy that stopped his success. While indeed the disease took him from me, it was me who stood in the way of his true potential. This life lesson dog has changed my outlook to make certain while my goals with my next puppy (hopefully to be in my home spring of 2009) are high that I dont lose sight of the moments we are given. Each interaction with our dog is a world team run, and as handlers we must remember that. We must cherish the reason why we decided to get a dog and it should not be to sit on top of some podium. We must be strong enough in knowing our relationship and all things equal trust ourselves in knowing that we CAN do the BEST we can in the TIME we are given. We must be strong enough to recognize what is best for our dogs EVEN if it goes against what some expert feels especially when it comes to motivation and value.

    One of my favorite things to do is to watch the interaction of dogs and handlers that post their runs from a variety of dog sports on you tube. When seeing runs where there seems to be a team of 1 out there dog/handler so connected that the cues are almost imperceivable there is no better. That seemless communication built on clear critera, understanding of drives, and value for working with you is indeed what separates those at the top from those that dont quite make it there.

    To get to the top we must look beyond the “sport” of choice and remember the living breathing partner we have chosen for the journey. The joy shown by the dog as it participates in its favorite activity should still be there in competition or we have failed. We must learn to operate on a level beyond just what we see, we must feel!

    Thanks Susan for the opportunity to chat!

    Special thanks to my boy Benson who while only with me a short time taught me lessons that will forever shape all the relationships in my life.

  12. I am fairly new to agility but came from an equestrian background, which in all honesty are very different in many ways and have taught me many lessons about the trainer that I don’t want to be.

  13. oops premature posting.

    The trainer that I don’t want to be is the kind that wants perfection at all costs, where the ends justify the means.

    I have been blessed with two very different dogs. One who is very soft and wants to please, and one who wants to do what he wants and in all honesty I sometimes just want to give up on.
    Although he has been challenging he has really changed me as a person.

    Before Brodie I was a perfectionist and wanted obedieince because ‘I said so’. Brodie has taught me to have patience and consistency in everything I do with him. Which has carried over into my everyday life. I can now take myself above a frustrating situation and disect what is really going on and work through the diffculties that come up in every day life with my dogs and life.

    So when asked the question of what really separates the elite from the everyday competitors are the ans lessons that the dogs have taught them on their journey.
    I hope one day I can be considered an ‘elite’ but I’m looking forward to the lessons that my dogs have for me in the future.

  14. The difference is Consistency!
    As a green handler I went from flailing my arms like a windmill to gradually learning signals that told my dog where to go. She did her best to try to figure out just what I wanted her to do but what a journey it has been for the 2 of us!
    When I look at top handlers I see clear handling that the dog understands and trusts. I see the same signals meaning the same thing all the time. I see a dance–with both partners knowing all the steps.
    I see smoothness and clarity as they move through a course.
    The biggest differnce however is that I am watching top handlers to try to emulate them and they are looking at me hoping that they never looked this bad!
    I love this sport!

  15. I think what separates me as a competitor in the sport of dog agility, from the best competitors in the world – is simply that, I am where I should be at this time in my journey with my dog. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason — and that all is as it should be right now. For whatever reason, at this time, it is not the right time for me to be the best competitor in the world…. It is not about my skills, my desires, my goals or my dog’s talent… it’s about being where I am supposed to be, right now … and I am happy and grateful to simply be here 🙂

  16. What separates me and my dogs from the top competitors in agility is confidence. I have very little confidence in myself as a trainer. I am always worried about not training something perfect so, I just don’t train it at all. It’s not that I don’t want to. I have a great desire to train. I have read probably in excess of 20 dog training books. I have multiple DVDs and videos and have even been to training seminars but, when it comes to training my dogs I let my fear of not being perfect keep me from trying at all. I always think I need to read that one more book or watch that one more DVD before I am ready to finally try something. I just want to make sure I have as much information going into my training as possible. When I do try, the first sign that things are not going as planned and I shut down and give up.

    It’s funny that you would chose this topic today because it was today that I finally came to that realization. I got your weave pole DVD a couple of weeks ago. I have watched it (no joke) at least a dozen times. I have a brand new set of 2×2 weave poles sitting in the living room and I still have not even attempted to train them. It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t want to mess them up. I have downloaded and printed both e-books you had on your website about the 2×2 training and I have started my own notebook with notes I have taken while watching the DVD (which was pointless really because everything is there in the e-books) but, still I am afraid to start working on training the weaves in case I mess them up.

    I’m not much of a “New Years Resolution” kind of person but, today I made a resolution to myself. I will not let my fear of not being perfect get in my way of training my dogs. I got into training because I loved working with my dogs. I have so much fun training them. I just need to remember that and focus on the fun.

    There is nothing stopping my dogs from being up there with the top competitors other then me. They are not without their issues but, they are both extremely talented dogs. Their abilities are limited only by my abilities as a trainer. When the trainer is to scared to even try, that limits them a lot! Tomorrow is a new day though and tomorrow we are going to start our weave pole training!!

    So, my quote of the day comes from that Little Engine that could “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!” :o)

  17. I don`t won`t to be the best in the world. So simple is that 🙂 My dog can probably be the best agilitydog in the world, so it stands not on the dog.

  18. The garden gate — you should see my dogs in the backyard… 🙂

  19. 2 things separate me & my dog…

    first, I would have to say my dog is better trained than most dogs that compete in his height at the national & international level. (thanks Susan, Greg, Laura, Lynda, Susan S.!) That certainly separates us – as our teamworks continues to improve, it comes down to this – *if* I execute the handling correctly, he is a contender for a spot on the podium.

    And, I believe in my dog and I believe in my handling system and I believe in the Say Yes training methods and I believe I can learn to execute at the highest levels… how many “top” people can say they truly believe? (Thanks, Greg L for teaching me to believe and for Bob Bailey for continuing to remind us to believe!)

    second, my fitness is different – lots of top international handlers are very fit (and tall, but I can’t do anything about my height) so I need to get off the computer and go work out! Ciao!

  20. Ambition.

  21. It’s all about the dog.

    What can I really say? I’m not a great competitor though I’m surrounded by them in my area. Some of them have been/are my instructors. I keep trying to focus on what is really important with each of my dogs.

    Luke, it’s all about flyball, he lives to play the game. And at 10 years of age he is still running as fast as he always has.

    Daisy, it’s about how far she’s come. Her fear of men, her fear of new things and strange surfaces underfoot. She has rally titles from AKC and APDT and hopefully will soon finish our AKC Rally Excellent title. She loves to work and work with me.

    Roo, my sight impared double merle aussie. My service dog when I need help, a willing obedience and rally partner and despite his limited vision still managed to earn a few agility titles. Biddability is his middle name. There is a constant, “What now mom?”

    Adam, the dog who showed me that no matter what -I- want some dogs are happiest laying on someone’s lap.

    Masi, my aussie puppy. Once again so much promise, but he is still an aussie and we will be working through his issues first while training for his future as my next performance dog.

    Danny, the dog I wasn’t sure was really going to do agility. He didn’t handle pressure well. Today he lives for agility having earned titles in AKC, UKC, CPE and USDAA. We are currently on track for him to earn his CPE CATCH. He has the highest rally titles available in APDT and AKC. And if I ever get -my- butt in gear we will finish our Open obedience titles before he has to retire.

    Nothing happens with any of them unless it is in their best interest. I’ve seen too many out there run dogs beyond their ability. And I admit, Roo was borderline when it came to agility. I refuse to run a dog who physically cannot handle it. I’ll retire a dog before putting them through physical or mental damage. It’s not about me, my accomplishments, it’s about the dog and all that matters in the end of the day is the relationship between me and my dog.


  22. What separates me is that I think of agility as a bonding experience to share with my husband since trialing is not an option for me at the moment. When I first became involved in agility, he would go with me to class, he was actively involved in our agility club, etc. Since then, he has become disabled and is no longer able to walk. He is, however, still very keen on working with the dogs whenever possible. So instead of setting my goals towards competing, I am setting my/our goals for keeping the bond that is important to me, my husband, and our dogs.

  23. I think you need the “full package”. The dog, the mindset, athletic ability, and the ability to function well under high stress and changing conditions.

    I believe the mental game may be the biggest challenge and the one that I would have to work on most to be part of a world team.

  24. What separates me from top level competitors? I think it is my poor timing, usually just a smidge too late, and my inability to break down a behavior into the absolute smallest pieces. I tend to be a lumper instead of a splitter if you know what I mean. I think that lack of record keeping plays a role too. I have a background in science and understand the importance of keeping detailed information logs, I’m just not disciplined enough to do it. I love my dogs for putting up with me!

  25. WOW… good question. Something to really think hard about. What DOES separate me from the others? Hmm…. Hard to say really, unless I know these handlers personally. I find it hard to look at someone and then try to figure our differences as I don’t know how they train, nor what state of mind, spiritual (if any) and physical shape they are in. I know for myself that the sky is NOT the limit nor are the stars. I just keep reaching and wanting to be better. Is there ever an end to that? Nor should there be? 🙂

    It’s funny that you posted this question as I have been on another agility type yahoo list and we were talking about why our breed hasn’t seen the success that it should because it certainly has successes overseas. Some people said my dog was the EXCEPTION to the rule… how funny… I don’t see that at all. I see limitations with training and the people who handle our breed not the dog (provided the dog is healthy etc.)!

    If it is something I really want, I just don’t see the obstacles for me or my dog and I don’t see the “I cannot do it”. Maybe I was fortunate to grow up in an incredibly sporting environment in Australia where, as a female, I as never told I couldn’t do something. I just needed to find a way to do it.. and get going on DOING IT!!

    Maybe that’s what separates me.

  26. What a great question. 🙂

    I’m sure there are tons of dogs that have just the right lines to be stellar at agility, yet a rescue mutt can be the best in the world. I’m blessed to have an awesome Aussie and her natural drive and love to work makes her a fantastic partner. What makes her different – better – faster – more competitive than everyone else in the world?

    We play our own game. Each day our game is different. Sometimes it’s a better down on table or a tough weave entry. And we win. I could spend all day wondering if she’ll be faster than that border or will have a pause or spin where she shoudln’t. Sometimes I do. 🙂 Then I remember.

    Agility for us is love, play, connection, challenge, fun! We are the best in the world at that.

  27. Great question. Hmm Susan asking a question like this…is it a trick question? Am I supposed to answer that if I wanted to be the best, I could be – I just need to own it? Or maybe a list of why I’m not, or won’t ever be? No, that would just sound like lame excuses.

    I’ll own this excuse. What separates me from the top competitors in the world? My history shows that if I want something badly enough, I find a way to get it. So I can only assume that I don’t want to be the best in the world, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be the best I can be. So what separates me is the drive to be the best. With that, I would find the time, the money, and probably a new body.

    Thank goodness that my dog Dream has been sequestered on the Canadian Prairies most of her life and in her narrow world, she thinks I AM the best. That’s a pretty good place to start, isn’t it?

  28. That great philosopher, Anonymous, supposedly expressed one of my favorite quotes: Champions in any field have a habit of doing what others find boring or uncomfortable. Another great philosopher, Susan Garrett, smartly tweaked the expression in roughly this way: Champions in any field MAKE FUN FOR THEMSELVES what others find boring or uncomfortable.

    I truly believe the difference between me and the best competitors in agility comes down to habits and reinforcement. I have not formed all the daily habits that the champions of agility have in my daily life with my dogs and I have not made it fun enough or important enough for myself to do so. Frankly, other things in my life are too fun and too important to me for me to choose to fully develop all the habits that the best-of-the-best in agility engage in regularly. But some agility successes are reinforcing enough to me to inspire me to do all sorts of dog and human training and conditioning now that I never would have dreamed of doing ten years ago.

    But I truly believe habits and reinforcement are the key (or the missing link, depending on perspective I suppose) for me and my dogs to reach goals in the sport of dog agility and I believe if I had all the habits and reinforcements that dog agility champions have that I and my dogs would see those same successes. I’m not being arrogant, nor do I think I’m kidding myself. I just think habits and reinforcement are that important and that effective. I also acknowledge that the dogs I currently have are blessed with a certain degree of innate talents and skills that, were I to employ the habits and reinforcements of the best-of-the-best in agility, my dogs could meet my efforts with their skills and desires and we’d see more success. I do not have three-legged-blind-dogs, in other words, who would, regardless of my efforts, be unable to rise to the top ranks of dog agility. In other words, I believe my dogs are physically talented enough that the only things holding them back from top level agility success are my habits and reinforcements.

  29. Desire and Commitment.

  30. I would echo the sentiments of many of the other people who have already posted. My main thing that would set me apart from the top competitors would be fear of failure.

    My first agility dog (and first dog at all) is just over 8 years old. Prior to getting her I was scared of dogs as mum had been mauled as a baby. She was bought because my brother had nagged mum to the point where she finally gave in. I wanted nothing to do with dogs to the point of even wanting nothing to do with them when we went to pick her out of the litter at 7 weeks. Being a Border Collie she fast worked her magic though and got me hooked on dogsports. I was the only one with the time to train her so we diligently attended club obedience classes weekly until she was 12 months and then added agility to the program.

    Naturally I made many errors along the way with her training, CONSISTENCY was a huge battle as I would chop and change what I was doing without really giving things a chance.

    I was fortunate enough to be put in touch with some wonderful training mentors via some yahoogroups and from then on things slowly improved.

    We struggled with table problems since our very first trial – never an issue in training but get to a trial and she would refuse to jump.

    We did however manage to finally get into gear in 2007 when our city hosted the Agility Nationals. She qualififed 4th in one of the qualifying rounds to make it through to the finals. Not in the top class but I never dreamed that would happen.

    She has been a pretty steady agility dog, nothing flash but she has managed most of her titles – still chasing down some remaining legs of a MA title though.

    Fast forward to middle of 2008 and enter my new BC pup, who at the time of posting is now 9 months old. Well I was fortunate enough to get a dog with enough drive, a sound temperament and a huge potential to be a top class agility and obedience dog. I feel my training skills have improved greatly since training my first dog, I have time (since I am just finishing off studying), resources well you make the best of what you have but the main thing I find lacking is the fear of failure. Here I am with a potentially almost blank slate sitting here in front of me. A dog willing to participate and give me 200% every time we train. A dog who picks things up very quickly. A dog who I have had every opportunity to make sure has solid foundations but yet she is 9 months old and does very little.

    All my grand plans I had since long before I was able to get a second dog pretty much went out the window when she arrived.

    Its amazing how big a fear of failure can kill motivation (along with a first dog who can’t stand to be left out and won’t be quiet about it).

  31. Very good question, I am enjoying reaing all the responces.

    I believe what separates most great teams from the best would be having the confidence to take risks. It is one thing to follow a training philosophy and to be consistent with a handling system but the best competitors in the world are the ones who have found their own way to the top. They are not afraid of trying new things and learning from their failures. The best competitors are no different than the best dogs; when training our dogs we strive a dog who makes their own choices, fails often but rather than dwelling on the failures they learn from them and move forward. The best dogs in the world are not the perfect dogs and likewise the best competitors in the world are by no means perfect. Being near the top is about taking risks, pushing the envelope and always trying to improve upon the way you get things done. Rather than just following instruction and taking everyone else’s word for it you must question the why and the how and learn the lessons on your own. There will always be improvement upon any training and handling method and the sport of agility will continue to develop. You can either sit around and wait for “the best” to figure things out or you can attempt to figure it out yourself and who knows, maybe somewhere along that journey you may become one of “the best”.

  32. Well…the biggest thing that separates me from the top agility handlers in the world? Truthfully, I am my happy, bouncy, smart little girl’s biggest handicap. Natural grace I have not.

    We LOVE agility. We play hard at it- when I’m not at work. But I have no really high goals- a MACh would be good for me. What I get out of working in partnership with my dogs, is the deeper understanding that comes into our relationship.

    Each generation has gotten the benefit of a better trainer as we go along. While my current girl is pretty good, and has yet-untapped potential, the next one- who is always eager to play this neat game I call “training”, may surpass her. She has more patience and a steadier mind, but I don’t think lacks drive. I am enjoying my own continuing education, watching and learning from my pack’s interactions as much as they learn from me. I hope that in the future, it helps us all to work together more solidly in the agility ring!

  33. What separates us from the best handler in the world …
    I do not think there is nothing, for they are the best in the world, perhaps less a dog?, No, a handler makes a difference, took little time in the agility with just my first dog, and I have made much progress and hope follow them, and I think the only thing that separates us from them is the ability to see an error and seek their solution, to see an advantage and disadvantage of being very detailed and seek work and the best for our style companion, is to see the track in more than one way, be persistent and not getting caught up in the opinion of others, that only things can be done in a way, and believe that anything is possible with a heart and cuata effort.
    My father is a trainer and a very good example for me, and always taught me that there are only 20% of genetics but a 80% handler and with much patience and effort will succeed and that everything is possible with work and meditation much difference.
    Ah! And perhaps most importantly, confidence that is another pair, which is a bond that forms the training and the moments of affection with our dog, he never trusted and enjoy every moment with our colleague who works with us .

    I would like more than one book, this response to comment on my blog, to know your opinion. Thank you

    Greetings Susan!
    Niko & Danko

    My Blog in Spanish with the response is: http://chileworlddog.blogspot.com/2009/01/que-si-es-que-separa-los-competidores.html

  34. The only thing in our way is the ocean!

  35. I have two of the best dogs in the world and they love doing agility with me and I love competing with them. They are both rescues but they have no baggage because I never expected them to. I believe that what separates us from the world class competitors is my drive and speed, not theirs. I love being competitive and I work toward being the best that we can be. But I just don’t think I have the burning desire it takes to compete at the national level.

  36. Hi Susan:
    Although I am not yet competing, I wanted to comment (and possibly receive the lovely gift of Shaping for Success.) I would say the biggest difference between me and the best competitors is experience and knowledge.

    I have admired the sport for years but for a variety of reasons, did not venture in until a little over a year ago. I have a great partner in my 2-year old standard poodle who is very drivey and fast. In some else’s hands she’d be amazing and most likely very succesfully competing by now.

    I am often frustrated by what I didn’t know during our early formative days together (Shaping for Success, Crate Games, etc.)and so we are making up for lost learning opportunities.

    Once we do start competing, one benefit I think I have is a long history in competitive sports. We have taken the opportunity to enter a couple of fun-day trials to give us the experience of working with lots of distractions and the focus and connection between the two of us was very solid. I believe my confidence in competive situations helps in this regard.

    Getting back to the experience and knowledge. I know that to be successful I need to get to a point as a handler where I am moving throughout a course more on an instinctual level rather than having to really think it through step by step as we are running. I often think of agility as dancing. I am at the one-two-three, one-two-three stage (or in agility terms, jump-jump-okay front cross)of the dance steps in agility. To be successful, I need to get to the Ginger Rogers & Fred Astair level of moving through the course.

    When the top competitors go out to walk a course, they are planning their run with an understanding and instinct that is at this stage completely foreign to me. Once they are actually running the course, they don’t have think their way through each step. I find it difficult to describe but know the feeling from playing my chosen sport at a top level. In golf you are told to “trust your swing” it’s a euphamism for don’t think about it and let your muscle memory take over. In agility it’s more complicated than that, but it is similar. A lot of the mechanics and handling are second nature–like breathing and you are able to focus on running the course and not have to worry about each step you take.

    Who knows if we ever get to the point where we can compete at the top of the sport, but there is never a shortage of goals so our focus is sharp and we are having so much fun along the journey.

  37. “The difference is the best handler knows the secret,for a few seconds stop being two and become one.”

    “La diferencia es que el mejor guia sabe el secreto, durante unos cuantos segundos dejar de ser dos y convertirse en uno.”

    Sorry for my bad english.

  38. What I beleive sets me apart from top competitors is the experience and the knowledge that comes from experience. I am not sure if they are as tight for time as I am since work interferes with my dog training, but if they have the time, that will also set me apart 🙂

  39. After responding with a Jack ass remark, I really got thinking about this question….I don’t believe my dog training skills are superior or inadequate, I believe in a successful handling system that has improved and continues to improve my understanding of running as a team and …..so what does separate me……….I guess it would be my competitive mind set.

    Not that I am not competitive, coming from a very fierce figure skating background, where my performance was rewarded as the cards fell. I always had to skate my best and the one with the more difficult tricks, effortless footwork, crisp choreography and elegant and original spins would be deemed the winner, unless there were bias judges…..but that’s a different issue. The constant challenge of knowing you had to push yourself over your opponent, was what I thrived on…….and the reason I was so successful. The only way to improve was to work harder and produce better personal results.

    The agility organization I support most, due to location and longevity I guess……is very Q based…..so as long as you get the job done……you will be rewarded. Rewards come in all different shapes and sizes and to some there are different colors. After several years I have learned though the titles are nice and have their meaning……the certificates always arrive in the mail! In fact ……so much so………my one dog who was in an accident and was one team leg away from his ATCH…….who will never play agility again…….just earned his ATCH due to a rule change!

    In short………I need to challenge myself. With the expense of the sport, let alone travel and entry expenses, I find personal limitations in entering places with different competitors, such as the States. I employ personal goals within each run I perform. How many yps I want to run and how I want things to look from a handling perspective. After each trail, I go back to my notes and reflect. Knowing that pushing myself to a higher limit with limited “organizational” rewards can be difficult. When the majority of the audience thinks differently, you find yourself in constant explanation…..or solitude! I limit myself to how many local competitions I go to for the pure fact……I want to do the best we can…….not satisfactory ( to my standards) and I do not just want to get by.

    I am not out to beat anyone or win every class, just improve upon my own performance; The results will be shown in my efforts. Given an environment with a larger percentile of competitive teams, the outlook on how many people will be running is a little more exhilarating, and if this is what you thrive off of….the the local trials can be an oh him haw running experience otherwise filled with a lot of great socializing with a lot of great friends.

    Recently, our most popular organization added a “Challenge Event” which will be run very similar to some events over seas. The time for the event will be designated by the fastest dog of the event; and only dogs within a certain percentile of that time will earn a qualifying run, which will accumulate into a title. The course measuring and course design will have a “European” feel. I believe this is part of my “missing link” I am hopeful that this flavor will help me get a better taste of pushing the limits on a regular basis.

    Having been overseas 3 times, whilst competing on 3 different Canadian World teams, I have a gist for the “atmosphere” that can be enjoyed. Coming away each and every time…..I never felt my dogs skills were lacking, physically out of place……..or not mentally prepared……..I have invested in great coaching for all of the above…….I only ever came away with……..I need more experience in creating consistency in dynamic performances.

    With this lesson at hand……..I continue to learn, train and run, so that the next time I am grateful enough to compete with the best of them (wherever that may be) …..I will be well polished.

    Thanks for getting me thinking……..


  40. Hmm… There´s nothing wrong with my dog (he can run really fast and he loves to work and play with me). There´s nothing wrong with my body (my legs, arms, eyes and voice works pefectly). So, if I choose to be a bit pessimistic – what separates me from the best competitors must be TALENT. But as I prefer to be an optimist; I´d say the difference is TIME (it will just take me a little longer to get there!)

  41. I think that knowledge is the key to greatness in the agility world. To know how to train a dog, to have the knowledge to analyze and run a course, to have the knowledge to know perfect timing to get the best lines and to know what your dog strengths are and the weakness. I dont think necessarily that you have to be the person to know all but then you would seek out others who have lessons to teach you too. I think record keeping and self analysis is an important factor too. I imagine the great ones look at past runs and time and figure how to make things faster , better – improve that dogwalk time or tighten that turn.

  42. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I don’t think there is anything holding me back from being a world class competitor but maybe experience and an open mind.

    It is funny, the more I learn about the sport the more time I spend looking at myself and my dogs. It has always been my thought that it is up to ME to take my dogs to their potential. I thought that 10 years ago when I got my first dog Indy. I don’t really care where it takes me or how high they go but when they pass on into the next life I want to be able to look back and say that I did all I could and we went as far as we could go. It has never been about the ribbons or titles either. It has always been about the relationship. I found it very interesting that Susan, you said the same thing during a the first course I took. That cemented to me that I was on the right track.

    I also like the saying that Bill has that (and I might not get it word for word) “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten”. I embraced this concept again before I ever heard it. When I got my newest dog Quest I wanted to train her differently and started searching for different ideas. I found new ways of training and she has blossomed from it. I instinctly knew I guess that I would become a better trainer if I looked at what else was out there and while what I was doing was great, there might be better.

    The biggest thing I had to do though was look at myself. After quite a few crash and burns I took a hard look at what I was missing and worked towards finding a solution. It isn’t the dog, Reiver knows what to do and is cool and calm (she did win three regional championships, and was on the podium at nationals twice) but when the pressure was big her handler just let her down. Tears and frustration helped me become what I am today. I think now it is just more experience and confidence that will take me to the next level. Putting into play what I have learned and being open to learning and change. I think that path will take me to the next level whatever that is.

  43. What separates me is that I own a tiny Papillon with some issues that mean he will never jump that well. We run in 4″ class.

    We work in a big, huge world that is way out of scale for such a tiny little dog.

    We are ineligible to compete even for a championship, much less for world titles.

    But, one thing we do have is heart. We love each other immensely. We trust each other in a way that touches my heart.

    And so when we go into the ring, we do it for the love of it. It is like a dance. Maybe not the swiftest one in the world, but a lovely one, or at least that’s how it feels.

    Usually few are watching our little glimmer on the screen of big time competition. Usually, they’re waiting impatiently at ringside, ready to tear down the course to get on with the “real” show.

    But for us, this is what it’s all about. These few seconds. This little whirl of certainty hinged to lightly to uncertainty.

    It’s a bond that defies comparisons with others. It’s something deeper, maybe even selfishly, all about that tensile link we’ve forged between each other. It’s intensely about the wonderment of really being able to know anyone, let alone another species, to this level.

    I deeply respect those who go on to achieve at higher levels. But I’m not sorry we’re different. Being left by fate and choice out of the mainstream has given us the luxury of perfecting our little act out of the limelight and away from the glare of competition.

    We have the great good fortune of understanding and accepting — maybe even reveling in the fact — that we are doing this only for us.

  44. What separates me is that I own a tiny Papillon with some issues that mean he will never jump that well. We run in 4″ class.

    We work in a big, huge world that is way out of scale for such a tiny little dog.

    We are ineligible to compete even for a championship, much less for world titles.

    But, one thing we do have is heart. We love each other immensely. We trust each other in a way that touches my heart.

    And so when we go into the ring, we do it for the love of it. It is like a dance. Maybe not the swiftest one in the world, but a lovely one, or at least that’s how it feels.

    Usually few are watching our little glimmer on the screen of big time competition. Usually, they’re waiting impatiently at ringside, ready to tear down the course to get on with the “real” show.

    But for us, this is what it’s all about. These few seconds. This little whirl of certainty hinged lightly to uncertainty.

    It’s a bond that defies comparisons with others. It’s something deeper, maybe even selfishly, all about that tensile link we’ve forged between each other. It’s intensely about the wonderment of really being able to know anyone, let alone another species, to this level.

    I deeply respect those who go on to achieve at higher levels. But I’m not sorry we’re different. Being left by fate and choice out of the mainstream has given us the luxury of perfecting our little act out of the limelight and away from the glare of competition.

    We have the great good fortune of understanding and accepting — maybe even reveling in the fact — that we are doing this only for us.

  45. I expect that the top competitors have more experience handling and training then I do 🙂
    and more money and time to pursue this sport.
    Right now I love the sport because it is all about me and my dogs and the rewards of all the training I put in when I enter the ring. But, saying that – as
    I gain more experience I will likely want to become a top competitor one day!

  46. Hmm, time and talent — at least in terms of achievement — and I’m working on both of them! I’m a single mom with a 40-plus hour job, children with issues, and a hip-replacement that makes what I can do comfortably at the beginning of a trial (front crosses,) sometimes very different from what I can handle later in the day when pain interferes. My dogs are WONDERFUL — with both of them I’m finding I’m getting more speed the longer we train.
    So basically my solution is to train as much independent obstacle performance as possible, put a good bit of distance skills on my dogs, work on solid and long leadouts, and make sure that they read all types of crosses well. (I just moved to Germany, its freezing here and I have one indoor class a week at my club, so we’re doing a lot of training using trees and pylons rather than real obstacles, but we are training.)
    To teach me how to handle when I can’t train that much and I can’t always move that much, I’m making my poor dogs work for the supper by clicker training various tricks every evening. The theory being that I’m learning to look at my dogs and working on my timing– let’s see if it works in practice, because I need to be really good at something. I’m taking as many seminars as possible, trying to figure out German and European handling systems now that I have the opportunity. I’ve also tried to distill the various handling systems down to the essentials that I can make happen. And you know, I bet I enjoy our training and runs just as much as any world-class handler — and my dogs do too. Our journey continues! best, Jeanine

  47. Interesting question. With so many possible answers.

    I truly believe that I have a very special dog who could very well be at the top if she had the proper training/reinforcement. Had I chosen a different path (i.e. if I didn’t have kids and did have $$) we could be very close to the best-of-the-best.

    Then again, I’d need one more thing…the desire to BE the best-of-the-best. While I admire those who are at the top of their game, I could not imagine living in a fishbowl in which your every move is scrutinized. And God forbid if the “top” handlers make a mistake!

    For Jam and I, we aspire to be the best-of-the best in our own reality…and that’s just fine with me.

  48. Well, I have been thinking about my answer for a couple of days now and I’m still not sure if I can express it accurately … I would have to say accomplishments are the only thing that separate me and my dogs from the top competitors and their dogs.

    While I am very new to the sport of agility, I have always had a tremendous time “playing” anything with my dogs/horses/parrots/gerbils etc.! I had a Border Collie for 14 years that was my heart and soul but unable to participate in agility due to a serious knee injury at a very young age, unable to afford two dogs, I watched and learned, I soaked up anything about dog training I could for that “future” dog and in the meantime had the time of my life just “living” with the greatest dog I’ve ever known.

    When I got married I suggested to my husband that we add another dog to mine and his and we decided on a rough collie, a good family dog. WELL, a good family dog he is, but he made agility practically impossible … at first I was SO disappointed until I realized what a GREAT opportunity I had to “learn” how to “teach” a different kind of dog, he forced me to read and learn and try and retry and although he’s never going to be a world champion he’s already accomplished TONS more than many people ever expected of him … some folks never thought I’d get him into the ring and on equipment and he now HAPPILY plays agility with me(although “Q’s” are few and far between …lol)

    I lost my old girl, the Border Collie, in 2007 and told my husband that I couldn’t live without a BC, so off I went to look at a “million” puppies … when I found Triton! He has more talent in that little body than I will ever know what to do with, but I have picked a handling system, worked contacts, kept a SPECIFIC criteria for everything (thanks to the Collie for enforcing that concept in my head), and just saw a hint at the AWESOME weaves I have always envisioned (thank you Susan)…

    Now, I think we’re almost ready to go out and compete! Am I a world-class competitor? … No. Will I ever be? … Not really sure. But I have been lucky enough to own some SUPER dogs in my lifetime (too many to mention) and I have the drive to try my best and read up to support any training I choose, so maybe someday I will be a world-class competitor which would mean that there isn’t much that separates me from them other than their already achieved accomplishments!

    For now, I’ve gone back to the gym to make MYSELF the best I can be as I embark on this newest journey with my little guy (who is already a champion at heart) and every day I thank every “difficult” animal I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be as far as I am now!

  49. I have been giving some further thought to this very interesting question that you posed and want to add the following sentiments to the ones I already posted you.

    Lets take this out of a specific dog sport area and just consider the broader picture. What makes a person succeed at something. Sure natural talent/aptitude helps. Sure access of equipment/resources helps. Sure having time to train help. However there are number of successful men and women who have reached the pinnacle of there chosen field with very little in the way of any of these.

    What I think set them apart is a passion to do the very best they can. As you discussed in the baggage thread they don’t look at what the they can or can’t do (or in the agility context what the dog can or can’t do). They might consider the limitations but only in the context of building up the support structure so the limitations are well padded with the dogs strengths. Certainly don’t dwell on the negatives.

    Yes they are great handlers and have great relationships with there dogs but I am sure there are just as many people who aren’t at the top who are just as good a handlers and have equal relationships with there dogs to those at the top.

    So I think the main difference can be summarized in a single word and that word is they have an untold PASSION for what they are doing and what they want to achieve.

  50. I believe what seperates me can be found in many other trainers/handlers. My lack of motivation to work on training that I don’t like to do. A great example for me is training Spree to heel for more than two steps. She has a few herding tendancies that come into play – that’s of course not to say it’s not possible, who doesn’t know a few thousand border collies who heel like champs 😉 The list goes on of behaviors (no matter how small) that I could improve with my dog. But I continue to be somewhat lazy and train the things I like and the way my dog likes it. Will we ever be even proficient with a line of threadles? Short of a miracle, nope, and it comes back to I don’t like training them!
    Thanks Susan for this great question. It may even motivate me to do some training that I dread 🙂

  51. I agree with Sally – passion has a lot to do with it both yours and the dog’s. But it can go both ways.

    A person with enough desire will not see obstacles. Lack of equipment just develops more creative use of the environment available. Three sticks and a bit of string can make a jump – ok it might not be regulation but it will teach the principles. Directions can be taught collecting the mail(post) via the tree, garbage bin and past the distracting neighbourhood children banging on a ball against the fence!
    As far as time goes – who really can’t find 60 seconds here and there throughout the day if they want it enough. Lets face it – most training sessions would be best kept this short anyway, and we run a whole course in less than a minute usually.
    For some people a bit of forthought might be needed to make the most of such times but my best training happens from impulses at weird times (like collecting the mail).

    That said, my beautiful boy and I will never be great because I lack the ability to match my passion with his. Most of the time I have no motivation for training but when I have I ALWAYS over do it. My passion is to see my dog do it RIGHT. His passion is to just DO it. Hence in training we may start having fun but eventually I get too serious for my boy and he gives up on me. Fortunately he knows this can’t happen in the ring so his passion and mine are then matched and he has given me far more success than I deserve! I am so grateful to my little boy and all he has taught me!

  52. Good morning, I am a “French agiliste”, with a certain experience in these sports. It is sure that it is préferable to have a good dog (there is of + in + good dogs in competition), of to train regularly your dog (for me it is twice per week), to have a good technology in agility.
    But it is not sufficient,there are many people who are in that case and however the champions are not also numerous. Why?
    For me difference between amateur and best competitors are:
    – Confience in itself and his dog,
    – to be in good physical condition,
    – concentration to manage its stress,
    – look at the best, it is very interesting
    – ask question of in errors and successes
    – enjoy with his dog because it is only of the agility.
    it is my thought of the agility


  53. Well there are the obvious things that seperate me from the truly great trainers – knowledge, experience, timing, rate of reinforcement etc, etc but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of getting a handle on those things.

    I think the biggest thing that currently seperates me from the great trainers is my “willingness to give up what I want most of all for what I want right now” (I believe there is a quote on someone’s whiteboard which sums that up 🙂 ) I am shocked at just how strong the temptation can be to take a shortcut in training just so I can see my dog on a piece of equipment or to release a crappy startline just so I can run a sequence! It is currently way too easy for me to give up criteria just this once in order to make my life easier in the short-term…I won’t make her sit to go through the door just this one time because I’m really in a rush… The long term effects of doing this are obvious when one really things about it but it’s in that moment when a choice must be made to hold to my long term goals, to maintain criteria, that I have often chosen the immediate reinforcement of the quick and dirty option.

    Now I could get down on myself, but I’m not going to. All of this is in my control to improve and to change. New habits and behaviors can be formed and I am determined that one day I will not longer feel the temptation to take the shortcut to immediate gratification but that it will become instinctual for me to do the things that will continue me down the path to my long term goals. I will be able to see a problem and innovate a solution that does not involve sacrificing that which is most important to me. One day I will be able to write a one word answer to the question “what seperates me from the great dog trainers?” – NOTHING! 🙂

  54. Thought provoking, hmmm! One of the big things is experince, the more you train and trial in different settings, the more you grow as a team.
    Be a sponge and absorb all you can, pay attention to how others handle different things. Even the newest of handler teams can teach you somthing.
    Be committed, take every negitive situation and use it as a positive training experiance.
    I think that is what the diffrence is.

  55. Still thinking about this question, and it reminded me of a seminar I went to about 15 years ago on learning. In it the facilitator was saying that we invest the exact amount of effort to achieve the results we want.

    In other words – a “C” student will always be a “C” student because they know how hard they need to work to get C’s, and that’s as hard as they want to work. They have the intelligence and ability to be an “A” student, but for them, the investment isn’t worth the outcome when they are perfectly happy getting C’s and passing.

    I tested the theory. I have always been a B+ kind of student, because I can usually get a B+ without having to study a whole lot – as long as I listen, I usually retain enough.

    I took a Municipal Accounting course, which was total Greek to me. I am so not a numbers person. But I decided to test the theory, and I spent every night for a month prior to my final exam studying. It was a course I was convinced I was going to fail. In the end I got my B+, and passed the entire program with honours.

    So when I look at my agility training and aspirations, I know that I am only investing enough to achieve my current goals – training my young dog to be able to successfully compete with accuracy, joy, and distance. I love the training.

    Perhaps if I think about what separates me from the top competitors, I know it is because I’ve never really thought about being the best, so it isn’t something I’ve ever thought to invest in. It raises the next question of – if I wanted to invest in being the best in the world, could I? Hmmm.

  56. What separates me and my dog as competitors from the best competitors in the world in the sport of dog agility? The simple answer is nothing.

    At the beginning of your agility career as a team, you and your dog share something in common with the top competitors — potential. It is what you make of that potential that makes you a champion. Your dog’s natural talent is a crucial part of your potential as a team. However, a more experienced handler will have a better understanding of how to make the most of this potential and talent. This leads to an opportunity that many of the best competitors in the world don’t have — we have the opportunity to learn from them.

    So, my dog and I have the potential to be one of the top competitive teams — as do you and your dog. The best competitors in the world are the teachers who will teach us to make the most of this potential, become confident in the face of challenge, and understand the relationship between dog and handler.

  57. Injury and Money.

    I have seven dogs. Two of those are incredibly naturally talented, both have been plagued by injury out of my control. One I am hoping to recover enough to be great again, the other will be great in my eyes but will not be a world competitor. It is heartbreaking to have these dogs with unlimited potential be injured.

    For the psychiatrist to get me out of my performance anxiety!

  58. The simple answer is age. As senior,my agility addiction of 5 years, is helping me keep fit,physically and mentally.Most are surprised when they find out how old I am. A long time back someone said when learning something new,be like a child. And that has been my approach to this agility journey.

    My partner is a young, fast,drivey lab and a joy to run. We dream of being up on that USDAA podium,following in the PAW prints of his sire, Preacher.

    The clocks ticking,but we take it one day at a time and enjoy every moment.

  59. Choices –

    I choose to participate in agility because its fun. Fun does not mean not competitive. I love competition. However, I mainly compete with myself. My other hobby and passion is golf. So if you understand golf, you will understand the desire to improve your score or the outcome.

    In golf I try and chose the right equipment to help my game. The better the equipment the better chances I have of improving. There is also the onus on me. I need to practice in order to improve. Now going back to dogs, I will first start on the equipment comparison. I have chosen a Sporting breed, namely, English Springer Spaniels. They have an enormous desire to please their owner. However, they are not a Working breed. There is a reason the hard core agility competitor pursuing goals of competing at World competitions get Border Collies. There are numerous other breeds that excel, i.e. Shelties, other herding breeds, etc. I know of people who have had Springers and have gone the Border Collie route. Their Springers did amazing but they wanted to step it up a notch. Do I think less of my dogs, do I think they are less worthy in competitions – Absolutely not! My Springers have a room full of ribbons, many first placements and multiple championships after their names. However, I live in a reality that says with these dogs I will not be going to Worlds.

    Next part of the equation is the role I play. In golf, I practice, I take lessons and hope that I can improve. If I were a dog, I should have started playing when I was a puppy!! Now my dogs, one didn’t start as a puppy, in fact, around 5, so like me, he isn’t going on the tour anytime soon!! My next dog, I got as a puppy, and after a few health hiccups, we counted our blessings and started our journey in agility. I have aspirations for Regionals and Nationals. I feel we are in a good place right now. We have great coaches, good places to train and I practice regularly. However, with all the practice in the world, I have doubts we would be eligible to go to Worlds. She just turned 6 so that door is almost closed.

    With more insight and understanding in dogs and agility, I have choices for the future. There is so much to experience in agility that it takes a few dogs to truly understand what you want for the future. So the future is open for me, what will separate me as a competitor in the sport of dog agility from the best competitors in the world is the choice I make!

    Michelle Armitage, Ottawa

  60. What a pretty question! 🙂

    To answer your question I have to ask one more: who is the best competitor in the world? The person who is the Agility World Champion? The person who is known all around the “agility world”? The person who has fun from doing agility?

    For me, the most important thing about dog agility is having fun together with my dog, this wonderful feeling of unity with dog during runs and this great euphoria which is bound with feeling that me and my dog work as a one team, one body…

    So, for me, the best competitor in the world is the person who can feel all this happy things 🙂 and yes! I’m the best competitor in the world too! I just love these feelings, unity with my dog, probably I’m addicted to all this emotions connected to doing agility 🙂

    But what about success? This real, measurable success? This success depends on both parts of the team: human who is responsible for quality of training, precise and effective handling and a dog who always does the best 🙂 Sometimes it is not enough – in top agility class, especially in large class, dog’s body build is very important. Psychological resilience of the handler is also crucial. And a bit of luck…

    Do I want to stand some day in big hall, in front of thousands people, on this green carpet and compete in World Championships? Definitely yes! This is my goal. Is it real? I don’t care. I do my best, my dog does her best. We have fun, we have Big Goal end we have small goals, we realise it one after another. We are the best even though we are not Marcus Topps, Susan Garret 😉 or Greg Derret – we are the best because we love our work together. ..

  61. Great question, Susan.

    My answer: Nothing at all. The best competitors in the world are working towards their goals, one of which is to win and to perform at high level competitions. I, too, am working towards my goal, which is to have the best time of all with my dogs doing agility. For me, the times of being “in flow” with my dog is what it is all about. If we win or Q, well that is fun, too, but it isn’t primary for me.

    I look constantly for ways to be a better, clearer handler, and helping my dogs to understand me. What I see of the best handlers (not necessarily the top competitors- many handlers and dogs have physical, financial or philosophical reasons they don’t want, or can’t, compete intensely. But they still can be awesome handlers) is that they are totally in sync with their dogs, and that is what I aspire to.

    Thanks for asking and making us reflect!


  62. After spending much time at trials and taking weekly agility classes, I decided to look more closely at how to achieve more consistent success in the ring.
    I sought out classes from and observed one of the best competitors in the world train her own dogs.

    Her sessions were short and vivid. She was present only to her dogs. Though there was very little repetition, the rules never changed and one thing was for sure, there was nowhere she’d rather be.

    What I saw that this trainer understood was the enormous leverage that short but focused practice and limitless imagination gives to the determined trainer.

  63. ah…what thoughtful comments. i’d have to say that technically, absolutely nothing separates me from the top competitors. in theory, that is. i believe that we do need a running partner who is physically and mentally sound to hold up to the rigors of jumping and weaving at top speed. we need to be “one” as a team. where do i leave off and my dog begins? we certainly need that type of bond…or should i say, i do. its got to be complete trust. then comes the training. the foundation work, the time spent invested in the groundwork , the signals. this does require some good guidance, and maybe the top competitors have been at it longer that for them its habit by now. but its nothing that i can’t achieve. you have to run and live life positively….don’t have fear of failure or lack of faith in your dog….or yourself.funny, when i run agility with my dog, i feel as though we are on the top of the world. i am exhilirated no matter what happens out there.i hug her as though she just set the world record. consequently, she just keep getting better and better. i ‘d have to say that the top competitors out there probably had a burning desire to get to the top….and started by finding the “right” dog for them.i can’t say i have that same burning desire to be world class, but i do strive to make every run the best that i can make it. and if its not, the dog will never know…because i just wouldn’t do that to her. she’s trying her best, its me with the shortcomings! she didn’t ask to be doing this…and she gives me her best. now its up to me to help us enjoy the wild, addicting ride that agility is.

  64. Excellent question. The single factor that separates me as a competitor from the best competitors in the world is mental management or ‘bottle’ as the English call it. Sure there are other things like my lack of time to train, my lack of access to equipment, lack of access to training facilities, lack of money to travel to top seminars. HOWEVER, I see other people with no more training or time to train than me who are awesome competitors. I know that I often let my dog down and myself down by my lack of focus and execution on game day.

    If you look at the top golfers in the world, they all have similar skill levels. What separates the best from the rest is the ability to come through when the chips are down. Tiger Woods is the prime example of this. His mental skills are his single greatest asset. There are stronger golfers. There are golfers who can drive the ball further. There are golfers with equal skills around and on the green. But Tiger executes consistently. And that is all about mental management. Agility competition is similar. My dog(s) have awesome skills. We are kings of the practice sequence and backyard challenges. Try to put it all together in a competition and the errors are mine and they are 90% mental errors.

    As I said, there are other factors that separate me from the best competitors in the world, including natural athleticism, time, and money, but I do think the mental management aspect drives success in the other area. I know I can learn to improve my mental game and I am making great strides, but it continues to be my biggest block to more success in sports.

    Thank you Susan for another great resource in this blog and forum. I am loving it!

  65. What separates me from the top competitors in the world?
    Committment. I learned early on that I was not willing to sacrifice my relationship with my child or husband in order to strive to be a top level competitor. I love dogs and dog training especially for sports and work very, very hard to improve my skills as a trainer and strengthen myself as a handler, but agility remains a part time hobby for me. I work every day to balance my love of dogs/dogsports with my other committments in life such as family responsibilities so that I can be at peace with myself in both endeavors.

  66. What separates me as a competitor in the sport of dog agility from the best competitors in the world?
    I would have to say the main reason would be that I am not particularly driven to ‘compete’ against any one other than myself and my ability to communicate with my dog. Certainly if I had more time and money I would like to work harder on my handling skills so I could be the handler my dog deserves. But mostly the difference is that I didn’t get into agility to compete but rather to enjoy my dogs and spend time with them and all of the other crazy dog people it has allowed me to connect with. I am competing in agility for me, my connection with my dogs and the social network I have acquired through the sport.
    Not the most compelling answer I guess to those striving for the top ( although I do enjoy watching them) but an honest one.

  67. I would love to answer “time” to this question. That thought leaves room for a lot of hope! I truly hope that is an answer I will be able to look back at and nod…

    Time, not so much in terms of finding time for dog training between studies, work and family, even though I find that challenging.

    It’s more about the time it will take me to discover the knowledge and skills that would make me a truly great dog trainer, together with learning to dare take the risks and jump the gaps characteristic of the most successful competitors I know.

    I feel lucky to be young, and hope I have many years of learning ahead of me. Still, being young is part of what limits my knowledge, in the sense that I haven’t lived long enough to have read all those books, met all those people and loved all those dogs that I hope to meet through my journey…

    Susan – I am very grateful for those who write books and blogs that help me build the knowledge I’m striving for! Thank you 🙂

  68. What an interesting question! So let’s go to answer it in English again!

    I might think there is anything that separates me from the top competitors in the world. People might think that as well, but why ? Because they can’t become as good as they want ? Because they’re not a very good handler ? Because they don’t have an awesome dog that will win almost every course with a couple of seconds over every other team without any particular training ? They are actually dreaming, they don’t believe in their dog neither in themselves.

    I competed for the first time when I was 13. At the end of the day when the winners got their prize, I was dreaming about the cups they got. At that moment I wanted so much to get one too and I thought I would never be able to win one. Well three years later I won a national title then a 6th rank to a world championship and the title “The Best of The Nations”… so was it a dream then ? Definitely not. My coach used to tell me I had nothing to lose, I was young and I had the time so I was just there to have fun and to learn.

    Now my dog is 8, I’m studying at university and I don’t have enough free time to compete every week as I used to do a couple of years ago. So what about us ? We’re still training to be better and to have more fun. At this point do I think there are some differences between us and top competitors ? Yes, I do.

    First, free time to practice agility makes a great difference. You can’t become better if you don’t train. I think professionals have a great asset over amateurs. The same happens with professional pipers, professional soccer players, etc.
    Then motivation and faith are important too. If you don’t have faith in your dog or in yourself, if you’re not motivated enough to train every time you should, then you’re not going to get to the top.
    Relationship and connivance with your dog. Some people are very good in doing agility but they can’t improve their skills anymore because there’s a lack of something between themselves and their partner – well, I mean the dog.
    A good coach or mentor is important too. Books and DVDs are great resources but with all that information available it’s sometimes overwhelming for the beginners. For example how can you run great courses if you’re worried about your handling method ? Many years ago, when I began agility, my coach used to told me : “do it this way, that thing that way, etc”. I was pretty confident because I didn’t bother myself with questions such as “is my handling method a good one ?”. I just ran as I should have and it was okay. A coach might also notice mistakes you haven’t noticed yourself because he’s much more experienced. After all many successful competitors in many sports have their own coach.
    Finally, it’s quite important to be a good handler as well as having some talent. Although a “good” puppy it’s a good beginning, your dog is finally what you have made of him. I’ve seen many good dogs that have become bad agility athletes and bad dogs that finally have become famous agility dogs. So as Savater would say (a Spanish philosopher) : “the leaving harbor does not determined the finished course”.

    I have or I have had many of those “requirements” but not all and that’s the difference between my dog and me and the best competitors in the world. Anyway I can always win something, sometimes just a great time with my dog, sometimes a goal I finally reach, and so on. If sometimes I feel stuck I remind myself how hard I was dreaming before those cups 7 years ago. The really last thing, the most important one and I almost forget it, is : always, always have fun with your dog. Not only you, not only your dog, but both. Be the best handler in the world with the best dog and do not have fun… you’re not going to be the best team any longer…

  69. Oops I have made a big mistake that changes the meaning of my answer. In the first section I have written “I might think there is anything that…” instead of “I might think there is NOthing that…”.
    Very sorry for that unfortunate mistake.

  70. I do too much dreaming , not enough doing.

  71. Intuitiveness sets apart the world class competitor from others in the sport when all other factors are comparitable (time, physical ability, canine partner, finances, etc). Intuitiveness leads to building skills and strategies needed to create success when working and training your partner. Success builds confidence. Confidence allows the dream to build into reality. The dream provides the motivation to persevere and the desire to seek a higher level of challenge. My intuition tells me that I am still on the journey with my dogs to enjoy this agility adventure and continue to have fun along the way so that we don’t miss what is most important – the relationship. Perhaps we are not so far apart.

  72. If I had to pick one thing that seperates me from top competitors it would be consistency. Consistency in how top competitors read a course, analyze flow and set lines. Consistency in how they use their bodies to communicate to the dog. Consistency in how they train their partners to respond to them and to focus on the task at hand. Consistency in how they expect their partners to do their job. We are working on it !

  73. Goals

  74. Knocking the money issue out of the picture (i.e. being able to train with whomever I want/could – whenever I want/could [and not have to work which would equal WAY more time to train!]), I would have to say I think that drive and ambition are what separate competitors in the sport of dog agility. Even with the money issue. I think the answer is drive and ambition …. in the human counterpart.

    People often talk about their dog’s drive or lack of drive. However I think the “drive” in the human counterpart plays an equal if not MORE important part in team success. Yes, you rather need a dog that doesn’t mind the trial atmosphere and likes to work. However, the flip-side is you could have a world team worthy dog and have no desire to train them to that level. It’s obviously a lot of work.

    I never thought of myself as a competitive individual. I started doing agility for fun and then realized that while it was still fun I was investing a lot of time and energy into becoming a better, more complete, and competent competitor. I enjoy the challenge of training behaviors and then trying to utilize them in a trial atmosphere, which is different than in class.

    I just recently realized that I am a slightly high-drive human when it comes to agility, but not nearly high-drive enough to WANT to do the work to make world team. That may change some day, who can tell.

  75. I think the mental game separates 90% of dog and handlers from the best in the world. There are many “could have beens” in any field and all that stops them and me is what is in the head, my unwillingness to give up what I want now for what I want in the future.
    I chose to run a poorly trained dog rather than pull him out for a year and train a good foundation, my next puppy will be different, because I know better and my skills have improved, but for now I continue on with a dog who only tugs at home, who needs more focus forward work and could really benefit from Ruff Love.
    A thought provoking question I love it 🙂

  76. This question creates a paradox for me, as the thing that I perceive holds me back is also the thing that drives me on to become a better handler.
    The geographic isolation of living in Australia (especially the state that I live in) makes it difficult to regularly access quality instruction at times – and constantly waiting for the next seminar to hit town leaves a lot of ‘help!’ time in between – especially when you are waiting for a seminar that fits with the handling system I want to develop. (You can read between the lines here!!)

    However I know that great handling systems and indeed great handlers don’t just happen. I believe they are the result of many long years of work, and just as importantly, trainers who are daring enough to go out on a limb and try things that no one has tried before. This motivates me to resource as much information as I can – thanks to great trainers across the world who have been there before and are now generous enough to make DVD’s,write books (or even blogs – the internet is a wondeful thing!)and it also motivates me to continue to push myself to raise the bar. I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I hope I’ve also got some things right. And each subsequent dog that I have trained has benefitted the one that came after.
    It doesn’t matter to me if I’m never good enough to compete at a World Championship – I just want to be the best handler and trainer I can be for my dogs.

  77. I think the only difference between elite agility teams and my teams is time. Those who are the elite today were once just like me, and they had those they considered to be elite. They learned from them and developed as a team over time, gradually creating and developing their own handling systems and methods, just as I am learning from people like you, and learning what works for me and developing my own ideas and theories about training, handling, and analyzing courses. One day I will get there, I don’t know when, and I don’t know what dog it will be with me at that time, but every dog that I have had a chance to learn with and from will have been the reason that I am there!

  78. Absolutely nothing.

    I have the same desire and intensity to make it to the top that the people who are at the top already have.

    I waited so, so long to get a dog that was physically and mentally able to “make it”. I was a junior handler with an aging, high-stress English Springer Spaniel who had not the desire nor possibility of becoming a top agility dog. (But she’s still doin’ alright for herself, I might add!) Instead of channeling all of that desire for a ‘new’ dog into crying over how my parents wouldn’t let me get a second dog, I put it into studying.

    I read everything I could get my hands on, even (especially!) things that didn’t apply to the dog I had. I developed training plans for the various obstacles based on what I saw people around me succeeding (or failing) at. I figured out the exact kennel I wanted my dog to come from, I figured out the sire I wanted a puppy out of. I knew I would make it a priority to lay out the best foundation possible once I got this dog. No excuse making. And when the planets finally aligned, I got my puppy.

    Believe me, excuse making would’ve been the easy way out! I was working part-time (8 hours a week) and going to high school full time (almost an hour away, so 40+ hours a week plus homework). I had hardly any money and hardly any time. I woke up an hour early some mornings to take him out and squeeze in a training session before going to school. Even if I didn’t want to, I’d work the worst shifts for a little extra money for training class or books. Even though my “budget” was perhaps $50 a week after taxes, I stopped all extraneous spending — no movies, no Starbucks, less cell phone minutes — to focus the money on my GOAL, the dog I waited so long for.

    More than anything, I wanted to be a professional dog trainer when I “grew up”, and I knew it was time to put up or shut up. Get a fresh start (after years of severely improving on my older dog!) and show everyone what you can do.

    Strata is 16 months old now and is getting very, very close to his competition debut. All of the hard work, the early mornings, the penny-pinching, the hour-drives to training class and ring rentals, are about to pay off. He is as wonderful as I have trained him to be but is also gifted with the natural talent that you mention.

    To get to be at the top, you have to act like you want to be at the top, and I certainly think we’ve done that. Now it’s just time to keep training, polish off the rough bits, and hit the road!

  79. I think my height, or lack of, is what separates me as a competitor in the sport of dog agility,from the best competitors in the world. I mean, I’m only 10 inches tall-how fair is that when comparing me with all those “big” dogs. Okay, sure I compete with other “little” dogs, but I like to compare myself to all of the best, not just the “little’ ones.

    Okay, I will admit I have a little bit of an “attitude” but sometimes people watching me running a course up close need to be told to back up. And I really hate the table. What a stupid waste of time.

    When your a dog you don’t want to be a rat, but my team leader is somewhat confusing and very often annoying. Sure he spent a lot of time showing me how to do the “agility stuff” but he doesn’t always trust me and sometimes he gets bothered and sometimes he assumes things. I appreciate the fact that he is only “human” and an old one at that, but give a dog a break.

    In conclusion, I’m changing my mind. Dogs are allowed to do that whenever they want.It’s not my lack of height that separates me from the best, its him. So, you won’t be seeing me at the Worlds because I’m a loyal, loving, trusting “dog” and he really needs me.

  80. There are a lot of things that separate me from top competitors! End results being a big one :-). I am one of those “handling impaired” people. Probably the biggest thing that separates me is physical ability and coordination. It was never great at best and I tore up both knees running my older dog (you CAN run a fast dog from behind; and trying to squeeze in front crosses with a handler whose pivots take longer than it takes the dog to run the course is a recipe for disaster!). Now I am finding it very challenging to get over the “hump” with my younger dog where he can learn to work away from me and sort out my extraneous body language aimed at keeping my balance. Timing is another biggie; I struggle with it while training and have improved my ability to reinforce in a timely manner a lot (although I still find I am late more than I would like); but my timing of cues on the course still leaves a lot to be desired. Time and energy to devote to serious training are also at a premium (although if I was better at the first two it would be a lot easier to make the time). I also like to do multiple venues with my dogs and because there are only so many weekends in a year and hours in a day this sometimes impacts on reaching some goals, especially if we hit snags along the way.

    On the positive side, I can be a very competitive person (dare I say cut throat!) when it comes to something I know I am capable of winning at. Falling in love with a sport that I am destined to always be in the lower percentiles has been a humbling experience and has taught me how to go from being primarily a goal and title oriented person to someone who can enjoy every run for the rush it gives us with a Q being the very occasional icing on the cake. My older dog in the past week has developed some age related heart issues that probably mean his agility competition career is over. It breaks my heart that we may not have another moment on the startline, but I can look back over his career with no regrets. I have loved every run we had together, even though AKC may have to rework their budget with him no longer competing. We have been in excellent A struggling for that last leg for the time one particular world level handler took her dog from puppy to MACH 8 or something along those lines. We may not have as many ribbons, but we have as many memories. I would not trade one of those runs where we had that adrenalin rush and the joy of working together as a team, but one tiny bobble (usually a spin at the last jump!), for a lesser run that ended in a Q and a title.

    I could not ask for dogs with more heart, drive, joy, and apptitude than God has given me. In no way are our failures due to effort on their part; I know many people might feel my dogs have been “wasted” on me but I sincerely hope the dogs don’t feel that way. I would probably have more success running slower dogs but have gotten addicted to that “speed rush”. I try always to remember that we always can resolve to do better with the next dog, but for our dogs, we are their one shot and only handler and they don’t get a second chance. I try to make sure my dogs enjoy every run as much as I do and that they get the opportunity to have full and interesting lives doing the things they love best. I know they aren’t real impressed by the ribbons but they sure remember the days where we stop at McDonalds or DQ on the way home for ice cream!

  81. Top competitors might have better resources, equipment, access to training facilities, finances however, how did they get to were they are now- they didn’t start at the top, they started where I am now –the bottom. They also share a love of the game, a desire to learn and a have a great relationship with their dog. I have all of that so I see no difference between myself and any Top Agility Competitor competing today.

    We are all bound by limitations, but the difference is our ability to overcome them.

    Judtih Batchelor

  82. This is a great question, and it’s been wonderful reading everyone’s ideas.

    Although I started in agility almost 10 years ago, after a couple of years and only one trial I had to let it go for other things in life.

    Just last year I finally had the opportunity to get my next performance dog, an Australian Shepherd, and nearly cried in my first agility class with him I was so thrilled to be back at this sport I love.

    What separates me from the best is experience, skill, knowledge, and confidence — and these are all things that will build as I continue to listen, pay attention, try, experiment, and mostly have fun building a relationship with my dog. I’m not sure I aspire to nationals or worlds, but I do want to be the best handler and trainer I possibly can, to support my happy, drivey little dog.

    In the eight years I’ve been away from agility so much has changed in terms of understanding and training resources that I now find myself looking at my aging Ridgeback wishing he were young again so I could use everything I’m now learning about building self-control and motivation to help him. He would have been a wonderful competitor if I had only been a better trainer when he was young. (I just didn’t know how to compete with horse manure for his attention!)

    Now I have a new opportunity — with a stubborn, thinking, challenging, and absolutely wonderful young Aussie — to fully develop my abilities as a trainer so that we can both perform to the best of our abilities.

    I firmly believe success in this game, however you measure it, comes down to the trainer. We are the ones bringing baggage to the training session or start line — our expectations and goals, our fears and doubts — the dog simply brings his authentic self. It is up to us to be sure we have given our dogs all the tools they need so we can succeed as a team, and both have fun doing it.

    Christine McPhee

  83. My human is in total denial about what seperates her from the top competetors in agility. She has the heart,passion and drive to succeed at anything she sets her mind to accomplish.

    We sailed through Novice and Open with 11:00 am check in times and then the fun began.
    I go through hell getting her up and moving in the morning. Pulling off the blankets and a cold nose usually works but sometimes I have to sit on her. Sigh

    I trained her to pack the night before so I dont lose out on the special meat balls reserved for trial days. Leaving them in the microwave is NOT acceptable.

    What do you figgen do with someone who wonders what a teeter is doing on a JWW course during the 7:00 am walk thru. Did the AF and DW not give her a clue that just maybe it was a STD course. Of course,since she missed the correct exit getting to the trial site,for the hundred time, I am thankfull this time she is going to walk the course before running it.

    Our first run of the morning is an E ticket at Disneyland. I am never sure if she is awake yet or not.When the Judge is not looking I give her a little bite on the butt just to make sure she is awake and ready to go. Not sure how she explains all the rips in her clothes,but thats not my problem.

    When she leans over to take off my leash,pats my chest and whispers,”you’re magic” I do my best to keep her connected and in the zone. When everything is in slow motion,we are dancing and I know I have done my job.

    Bailey, the “I love the morning” labrador

  84. The primary difference I have observed between top world competitors I have had a chance to meet and myself is most noticeably a mental one, but not in the typical sense one associates with such a term. I view it as a deep, unwavering sense of “knowing”.

    It goes far beyond anything we’d call a “mental game” to operating at a core level of being. It’s like a deep “knowing” this is who they are and what they do, period – end of story. As victories & defeats come & go, as life takes it’s twists & turns, as dogs retire, approach their career peaks, or young ones come along, there remains an unwavering forward track set on task. No hesitations, just continued forward operation. Doubts if they come may create a detour but never derail the train. Life may drive schedules, goals may be delayed but never dropped, while new competitors may rise & fall, you can count on them that they’ll be there when it counts and you’ll see them back again.

    This is not to say there isn’t also sacrifice, physical effort, hard work, determination, perspiration, dedication, pushing themselves harder than anyone else ever will, (as Sarah describes), working out their own way, (as Justine describes), and all of the adjectives that describe the person who wins and places at the top repeatedly. On the contrary, there most definitely is all of that effort above. But at some basic, core level of belief, there is just a simple “knowing” this is who they are.

    I can only imagine it is this knowing that is the engine behind the physical work & mental exercise to stay on top year after year. You can meet lots of competitors & trainers in the world, and a strong mental game on the hour of competition can sometime be a fleeting thing even for the best, just go the world cup to see that, but a select few really strike you with this deep basic quality. You know when it’s there when they keep showing up and keep bettering their best, when they keep believing in themselves more than anyone else does.

    It is this quality I look to for inspiration and am attracted to in a mentor. I know I myself have very strong core beliefs about who I am as a trainer, to develop them as a competitor is my goal.

  85. What separates ‘the best’ from ‘the rest’??

    World Class Competitors !!! They could almost be considered to have an OCD in that they eat and sleep their sport. They make sacrifices that most competitors are unwilling or unable to make. They are intelligent and with that attribute embrace failure for that is the road to success! They do not sit back and think (at least for too long) that “if only” and “what if”. They are constantly analyzing their performance and assessing how to improve it.

    Their love for their sport transcends the competition venue and is ultimately revealed through their training. They know that if they had a ‘bad day’ that it was only a moment in time and that their failure to perform as they had hoped and perhaps expected, will allow them to make adjustments and improve in the future; “Tomorrow Is Another Day”.

    They have both short-term and long-term goals but are more concerned about the short-term ones as consistency in those will lead to bigger and better things. Patience, patience, patience!!

    Above all, to put yourself on the world stage you require focus and the ability to control the inevitable adrenalin rush. You must be confident in your abilities and there is absolutely no room for low self-esteem, (especially with Youtube around)!! If you are thinking more about the ‘what ifs’ you are going to find yourself low on the totem pole.

    So….for most of us, the reality is that we need to remember on a daily basis why we are doing this. We all have different goals and different aspirations but ultimately we all should be doing it because it’s fun! Plain and simple fun!! If you can curl up with your dog at the end of the day and have a smile on your face, then you are indeed a “World Class Team”!!!

  86. Love that you get me questions so I stay up all night thinking over the answer… 😉

    So, what seperates me from the best competitors in the world?

    I don’t know actually. If I did, I’ll fix it so I’ll be the best competitor in the world! 🙂

    But I’ll figure it out, so watch out! 🙂

  87. That is a very good question. It is easy to state the obvious things like time, money, good training facilities, equipment, and so on. But I know that many people who reach the top of their sport/profession have started out with very little and have become big successes. So that leads me to think it has more to do with our mental/emotional game. It is how we see ourselves and how not to let our circumstances limit what we do. It is a big balance between ego and humility. I know for myself I learn so much about who I am when I am training. It definitely brings out my weaknesses. I see where I am impatient, quick to get angry or frustrated, or have a need for more instant gratification. I lean toward being satisfied with “good enough” or being afraid of trying because it won’t be perfect. It can be such a hinderance when training. It takes alot to be aware of these things and be willing to change. Thankfully, my dogs are very forgiving and I learn so much from them. But I know that these are things about my personality that I need to look at and deal with. I think what separates me from those who are at the top of their game is that they found that balance in life that works and have a certain sense of confidence in who they are. They have gotten to a point in their journey where it is working for them! I am on that journey, but not quite there yet. But I am grateful for all that I am learning. I really believe the better the trainer we are, the more we learn about becoming a better person. I just hope to stay open-minded and teachable. And I have a couple of four-legged furry friends who are always willing to help me along the way.


  88. I just want to add that to what Julia said being other Australian and yep geographic isolation is a challenge. In fact living in the State I live in means unless you travel interstate there is very little opportunity to attend any form of workshop or seminar by any of the esteemed overseas handlers (if you like it any of the big wigs). Guess that is where budget and monetary resources come into play and does provide some limitation.

    The internet has been a godsend from this point of view as like Julia mentioned so much great information is available today via the web. There are plenty of DVDs to purchase (although my credit card is suffering LOL) but also information gleened from various email lists, training blogs etc.

    The opportunity for sharing training and trialling footage via means such as youtube for comment on lists and to individuals of varying levels does help a huge degree and provides you access to feedback you might not otherwise get in poorly structured club training.

  89. I agree with many of the answers so far, so I’ll try not to repeat what’s already been said. I compete in competitive obedience (not agility) and I think that everybody can become a top handler – if they are really and truly willing to go for it (get the right dog, spend time and money and just do whatever it takes to train their dog to that level). BUT for me it all comes down to one question: What price are you really willing to pay?

    People with young children might not want to spend less time with them than with their dogs, people who need a new fridge might not want to spend their money on training and people with older dogs might not want to get a new one because they might not have enough time or energy to take care of more dogs. These are just a few examples (maybe not even good ones), but the gist is that I know there are virtually no limits to were people can get, but there are certainly limits to the price people are willing to pay!

    And I think this is actually a good thing, because it gives you the power to consider success a product of your own choices. Success does not depend on fate or money or time or training, but on the things you are willing to sacrifice! So I am gladly willing to accept some of my own limits and I don’t regret making choices that keep me from achieving certain goals, when other goals are more important to me. There is just a price I’m willing to pay, and there are just other things I will simply not do.

    This attitude (idea?) makes me regard problems as challenges and setbacks as lessons. It enables me to be content with where I am and to strive for improvement whenever I choose to. Of course I get sad when we have a bad result and of course sometimes I have to remind myself of all this but I am constantly working on it, since this makes me a happy handler, no matter what happens in the ring.

    Thanks for taking the time reading

    P.S. I admit that sometimes we can’t outrule dumb luck to a certain extent, but it’s less important than your own efforts.

  90. What separates me from the top handlers in the world? Passion. My passion is for teaching children. Agility is my hobby. I go out and have fun, and my dogs have fun, and we have our good q’s and our flops. But it is fun, not a passion. Start talking with me about educating children and you will see where the fire and passion is in my life 🙂

  91. What separates me as a competitor in the sport of dog agility, from the best competitors in the world is Nothing, but the truth is some where between Nothing and Everything (closer to nothing).

    I believe the best competitors in the world have dogs well structured and/or closer to the jump height cut offs, are competitive, motivated, set goals, surround themselves with positive competitive people, have strong foundation skills, utilize their training time wisely, and stick to their training and handling criteria in competitions.

    I do run a fabulous agility dog that I wish could be smaller and have better structure and I wish I could be younger and taller with long legs but that is not happening. You work with what you have. I run a 17 ½” Sheltie at 22” in USDAA and AAC with not the best structure. I have been lucky with my first dog to push me to find great trainers who opened my world to operate conditioning. It has made a huge difference with my current dog. With my current dog I learned and I am applying a handling system and I try to be as consistent as possible with it.

    Even though I am the little team in the “Big dog” class, I have learned to set different goals in my trailing experiences and feel we have done fairly well. By running in a competitive organization in a very competitive height class, it has pushed me to new levels of training and thinking outside the box when competing in the different agility classes at trials.

    Before I became more involved in agility, I played golf and was active in a women’s league for a number of years. I found I felt confident and played better when I golfed with a group of competitive women better than me. They were supportive and my golf game improved by playing with them. I feel the same is true in agility.

    I found it interesting in a seminar I recently attended, the presenter remarked to the participants (all of us competitive agility trainers) that our handling was good but out criteria and foundation skills were lacking. Are we all just a little guilty of competing too soon or letting our dogs lose our criteria in competition?

    Thanks for posting a great question Susan! It has given me something to think about in my own dog training. I resolved this year to find a little time each day to train the basics with my dogs. Glad you decided to start this blog.

  92. No one has asked for my autograph, nor expressed a desire to copy my style!
    What a coincidence! This week I was supervising some high school final year students as they sat an exam in philosophy.
    Believe it or not, they had been given 4 hours to write an essay on the subject “Am I the one in the best position to know who I am?”
    Alas, by the look on their faces and the drawn-out sighs, it was evident that no one was amused. Whereas, you have succeeded in making philosophy fun, with your book and celebrity dog autograph offer, and with the suggestion that it’s not just playing the game but the best comments that might get the prize!
    Perhaps Marilyn Monroe put the philosophical question more succinctly with her query, “Little me?”
    I’m not a philosophy teacher, nor a dog trainer, nor do I have much experience as a competitor in the sport of agility. But Lord! it must be virtual shaping, I feel compelled to think about your question and here is my comment.
    When one perseveres and follows in a chosen direction with determination, one does not know what the course will be: one looks for pointers. That is why we have many sports champions, and artists who have produced great works of art, today. If they had known beforehand how audacious and arduous the course they had taken, they just might have abandoned it!
    So we may wonder what the best competitor in the world would say about the distance he or she has come.
    Many people might say that the best in the world in just about any sport you can think of, or indeed any artistic activity, are not just endowed with but have made the best of great natural gifts, and this must apply to the best dogs too.
    However, we would do well to bear in mind what a great artist said about his problems in learning to draw. He compared learning to draw to learning a language.And he said, “Is not drawing like all art a gift of nature? If it is, then it is not unsolicited. Nature’s arm has to be well and truly twisted before she will part with a mite of ability. Furthermore, she is forever snatching back what she has given. Learning to draw requires an immense amount of application. It is only by working, by drawing,by practising long and regularly that a draughtsman develops his eye, that is to say that sense which eventually enables him or her to see where the power of a line lies.”
    Finally, what about the dog’s natural talent and the role it plays? Experts in animal behavior and thinking tell us that we must think respectfully about animal intelligence and talent: “Compared to humans, animals have astonishing abilities to perceive things in the world. They have extreme perception. Their sensory worlds are so much richer than ours that it’s almost as if we’re deaf and blind… Normal people stop seeing the details that make up the big picture and see only the big picture instead. Animals see all the tiny details that go into the picture.”
    “Since animals do not have language, memories are stored as pictures, sounds, touch sensations, or smells… People working with animals must always keep asking themselves: How does the animal perceive this situation?”

    (quotes from: Eric Hebborn,”Drawn to Trouble”, and Temple Grandin, “Animals in Translation”.)

  93. “what (if anything), do you think separates you as a competitor in the sport of dog agility, from the best competitors in the world?”

    Oh la la, what a great and a bit difficult question! I am not sure what my answer to this question would be…a lot of different factors seperates me from the worlds best, but one thing is the opportunity to compete with the best, meaning my first “goal” would be to join the National team, for example…
    Then I need the right individual/dog. I have represented my country, Norway, in two World Championships with my parson russell terrier. A great dog, a fast dog, but not fast enough in the two championships to be on top of the podium. She had some faults, but still, if she had managed two clear rounds, in those competitons she would not have made it to the top. She is at the moment a still going strong agilitydog in Norway at the age of 9 1/2 years.
    So the right individual, along with my condition, the right set of mind and training facilities, is very important. I am hoping for the National team with my youngest dog, from there we will see if I will compete with the best in the future!

    I am not sure if I, at all, answered the question. I think not, when I see what I wrote;)
    Anyway, a great question from you and a great blog! And I have really enjoyed reading all the different answers to this post! Perfect reading Saturday night!

  94. Here is what separates the regulars from the champs:
    1. The goal to be a world champ. If that’s not your goal, you will never get there.
    2. A dog with world champ potential. The Basset I saw last week at a trial will never make it.
    3. The know-how and skill to direct the dog as fast and tight as possible around a course, hitting contacts and keeping up the bars, while maintaining accuracy.
    Then being able to do that consistently under pressure.
    4. World champs thrive on pressure and high profile challenges. They know how to handle nervousness – and turn it into energy and drive.
    5. Personal likability – teams are chosen and I think there is also a likability & coachability factor that goes into the selections.
    6. Champs know how to problem solve and see problems as opportunities to improve.

  95. What a great and “loaded” question! You really made me have to think about this.

    My first instinct is to say that ability to maintain criteria 100% of the time is what seperates the good from the great handlers. But then I watched some of the hanlders at FCI and I couldn’t for the life of me tell what some of their criteria was!

    So is the question “what seperates me from the people WINNING at the world level?”, on first examination I am going to say LEGS!!! They got em and I don’t!LOL!

    Now are the people that WIN at world level always people I want to emulate, not necessarily. So I think I am going to change the question slightly, “what seperates me from the people I think are the best in the world?”….

    I would say that their ability to be almost completely consistent in their cueing, to be patient enough with their young dogs to really do the work and not be in a hurry to trial until they are able to hit the ground running at a very advanced level, their ability to identify their own strengths and weakenesses and not make excuses for the weaknesses but put their efforts into training those out.

    They give their dogs 100% benefit of the doubt that their dog, no matter what anyone else thinks, if given the time, understanding and opportunity, can be the best in the world.

    They hold themselves up to the highest standards by making sure they never compromise the trust the dog has in them as a handler, trainer, coach, and caregiver, they trust their dog to tell them when they are ready for more, need more time, need more understanding, need a break, need an adjustment or just plain need to play for awhile.

    The people I think are the best in the world can laugh at themselves, laugh at the antics of their dogs and truley find joy in spending time with and learning from each dog they have.

    They are also people that share their knowledge with others, let others learn from their mistakes, they don’t go around acting like they are perfect and have never done a single thing wrong, they are willing to let others witness their successes and failures in order to make learning and competing in this sport easier, safer and more enjoyable for the dogs of the future.

    So what is the difference between me and them? I would like to hope nothing. I believe my dogs are all talented and that I am the weakest link so I watch the people I think are the best in the world,I learn from them, ask them questions, compete with some of them, buy their books and DVD’s and go to as many of their seminars as I can BECAUSE I think they are the best in the world and I want to do my best to be just like them.

    Kim Collins

  96. The thing that seperates all of us is our level of desire and the willingness to make adjustments to make our dreams come true.

    Drawing from the Journey, it’s all and only about building a set of good memories to carry us through the rest of our lives.
    It’s about the attitude we carry with us throughout our days. I’m reminded of Charles Swindoll’s quote;
    The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

    Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

    “The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

    And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”

    It’s our attitude that drives passion, and it is passion that motivates us to do whatever we set out to do.

    AND everyone of us have these things to draw from and grow to meet the next “challenge” presented to us.

    Mike Gooch

  97. I wanted to add one more thing- agility is unusual in that I can’t think of any other sport where Little Leaguers essentially go head to head with Olympic athletes. That green newbie with their very first dog in Excellent A is out there with the gold medalist and their newest prospect. It can be very daunting at times; other days it can give you delusions of grandeur. On “any given Sunday” you have a shot at beating the best of the best, depending of course a little on the area you compete in (in my area there generally has been no shortage of world class competitors). We’ve all had the days, i’m sure, where we looked at the times after the scores were posted and drove home thinking “if it wasn’t for that (knocked bar, spin at the last jump, bobble at the weaves, insert your own screw up) we would have won the class and beaten that (world gold medalist, seminar giver, national champion, etc). Sometimes the top of the world seems close enough to touch…which is one of the addictive things about this sport. We all live in our own little reality where maybe that IS all that separates us from the world class handlers…at least for the length of the drive home until day to day reality sets in!

  98. I couldn’t resist answering.

    College student with no instruction, bare access to equipment, minimal trial entry fees, and a difficult major that needs constant attention?

    🙂 Doesn’t (often) bother me. I have plenty of other things, the least of it the dogs themselves. They are regularly swamped by dog-less college students. Agility is extraneous.

  99. After attending the Vero Beach camp and watching Greg, Laura, Lynda, and Susan in action, I have to say it comes down to reinforcement (thanks Susan!) and efficient training.

    Successful agility handlers have envious working relationships and results due to high reinforcement. Time after time Greg would yell reinforcement or give us feedback on our “bad dog training” because we didn’t reward a great acceleration off the start line or a tight turn. I saw Lynda throwing a toy on the startline while others set bars and releasing Favor to a tug session. And I saw Susan reward several times in the middle of a sequence. There is nothing more important to agility than reinforcement and relationship building, yet it’s the most neglected.

    What I mean by efficient training is making the most of a 5-20 minute time slot (which is ideal for dog training anyway) with focused drills that work a desired skill with good reinforcement. Many agility people think that they’d have success if they could train their dogs all day instead of going to work or had a huge yard with a full set of equipment. But the reality is top agility handlers are busy people! They just make the most of the 5 minutes they have. And as Greg mentioned the most important skills are on the ground without equipment!

    Also I’ll put a shout out for record keeping. I’d never done it before the Vero Beach camp and coming from a professional training/learning background it was something I knew I should be doing — it makes a difference for working towards continual improvement! I have to say the camp was designed with some great learning principles in mind!

    JoAnna (and Nemo)
    New York

  100. Being no expert at all I submit my comment because I think I can see what the difference is!

    I am writing from Norway. I train obedience with my 2,5 year old Norwegian buhund (http://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norsk_buhund), German shephard, border collie, Staffordshire bull terrier, lab, more, mix. We have sniffed on agility and hope to work more with this fun sport later on.

    When I watch the pro trainers and their dogs go through the agility course, the handlers seem to be as well trained as their dogs, all hesitation and clumsiness trained away. They both flow through the course and seem to know and understand each other so well.

    So the difference in my opinion is, amount of training aside of course, HOW WELL YOU AND YOUR DOG KNOW EACH OTHER. Even if you’ve read books on communication and signs and feel you know your dog, he/she will keep surprising you and you can still get to know him/her better.

  101. Absolutely nothing separates me from the best agility competitors in the World. I have the passion, dedication and discipline to be there with the best. It’s just a matter of time before wearing that Canada flag on my shoulders.

  102. I had the opportunity to dine with a couple Olympic hopefuls in Skeleton (crazy sport, racing headfirst down an ice path on a cafeteria tray) and a Bobsled driver just before Christmas. We chatted about how fast they go and how they prepare for the ride. The best snippet I took out of this conversation was that there wasn’t time to react…if you were reacting you were going to lose or worse yet crash at 120 km/hr. You had to know what you were doing at each part of the course. As most conversions go about competition, I relate them to dog agility! My biggest failing is not being able to plan and then execute on the course. I am reacting. It’s the mental part.

  103. Questions about Ruff Love… My border collie was having a recall issue around high level distractions. So, I bought the book Ruff love and he is in Stage one. We started all over with him. We are following the book to a T so far, but will be going to the Clicker Expo in RI in March and he will be staying at the in laws house. At that time he will be on week 8. We have instructed mom & dad to keep him in his crate when they are not watching, playing or walking him. Is there anything else we should have them do to stay on the plan? PLEASE HELP! I am worried that he will pick up bad habits again. Thanks, Pam

  104. I forgot to mention that they are going to take him out to potty and feed him as well. 🙂

  105. Really sadly, I have to admit that the main thing that is keeping Berny from becoming a top competitor is my ignorance, cause I´ve trained him so awfull when he was young just for ignorance in a hostil and punishing manner, and now I have a beautiful scared dog that loves to run a course, but in his safe environment. I´m not giving up on him, or me, but today, everyday I regrette every single punishment I put to my poor friend. So please everyone, be nice to your “friends” and help other people to be nice with your dogs, I haven´t find a most loving animal in the world. Here in México we don´t have really an oportunity to learn possitive ways to understand and train our dogs, so many, live in misery.
    I´m really sorry for the ignorance of people,and for my own ignorance, and I hope that the frase completes once “loves conquers all”, cause I love my little grunchy jack russell.

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