Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan
I am passionate about dogs. I have dogs because I love dogs. I would have dogs if I never competed again. The fact that I can share my home with a different species, that we coexist peacefully, harmoniously, and, yes, have great fun together fascinates me.
I was waiting between classes at the AKC Obedience Classic in Orlando when an AKC employee asked me how I was doing. “I’ve done better,” I replied, and her next comment startled me, “But you’re having fun, right?”
How Do You Define Fun?
Why is it that we take up this challenge? Why is it that we go in the ring, week after week, willing to test our abilities, as a trainer, handler, and canine coach? Is it just to have fun?
Let’s be honest, we are probably not thinking about “fun” as we walk out of the ring having made a mistake that cost us a qualifying score, or resulted in a major deduction. Qualifying is more fun than not qualifying. Winning a blue ribbon is more fun than taking home the red, yellow, or white one and way more fun than going home empty handed. But does this mean we are not having fun? I guess it depends on how you define it.
Fun is defined as “enjoyment, amusement, and lighthearted pleasure.” What is missing from this definition, as it applies to the sport of dog obedience, is the pleasure derived from the challenge and commitment required to train an obedience dog. This definition does not mention the satisfaction derived from having learned something new, achieved a goal, improved our skills, or enhanced our understanding about a problem we’ve been having.
Are You Passionate About Training?
Enjoyment, amusement, and light-hearted pleasure do not explain why I participate in obedience, and I’m betting it doesn’t describe why you participate either. Instead, I would choose the word passion. I am passionate about training and am in awe of what dogs allow me to teach them. I’m truly amazed by the bond that develops and the communication that takes place.
I am also passionate about the camaraderie that dog training friends develop. Being a dog trainer has provided me with friends from every walk of life and in every area of the country. There is rarely an event when I don’t make a new friend or run into an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. These friends complement each other on a good performance and offer support when someone is disappointed. When someone in the obedience community is in need, they rally together to lend a hand.
So, in response to the question, “But you’re having fun, right?” My first response is, “Do you really think I’d be doing this if I weren’t having fun?”
I am concerned that all the admonitions to “have fun” miss the all the other important reasons that we compete in the sport of dog obedience.
As I sit ringside, passionate about what I’m doing, and preoccupied with better ways to do it, I may not appear to be having “fun” but, I would like to go on record as saying that having a passion, embracing a challenge and an unchecked desire to improve, is far greater than simply having fun.
Writing this, I am reminded of a plaque that my parents had on the wall of their kitchen. Both coaches, teachers, and competitors, they believed:
To win the game is great,
To play the game is greater,
To love the game is greatest.
I know most of you share my passion for all this sport entails. I am looking forward to sharing training tips, advice, and answering questions throughout 2017. Be sure, if you see me somewhere, stop and introduce yourself. None of us can ever have enough people to share our passion with.
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