After doing the list for agility handlers I decided dogs deserved their own list. After all, the dog is half the partnership. And the one who actually performs obstacles. Not all happy agility dogs will have all of these characteristics but most will have many. So with no further ado:
10. Blistering speed. No wait a minute. Brody isn’t Speedy Gonzales, nor are many dogs who enjoy doing agility. More like “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” for many of the happiest agility dog I watch run. They may not look slow or fast but they are moving in a dance. Often when you consider yps (yards per second) they were faster than a less happy dog that might have looked faster. So perhaps this should be: moves with positive purpose.
9. Tugging fool. Errrr. That doesn’t work here either. Sally is a tugging fool it’s true, but Brody and Thea also enjoy agility and should be counted as happy agility dogs. They tug but not with reckless abandon and neither finds it as rewarding as food. Perhaps the broad concept is better stated as evidence of controlled joy when agility is at hand. (As sad as it is, I don’t think a dog out of control is having nearly as much fun as s/he could).
8. Perfect obstacle performance no matter the cue given or handlers position. Really? Heck no! A dog’s happiness is predicated on these things? Don’t think so. And you might notice this didn’t make my list for happy agility handlers either. Agility is supposed to be a team sport. Surely the most fun runs for the team (we all know the audience enjoys the ones where communication breaks down!) are those when the team is communicating well? Really this is a matter of communication, good communication allows for happy dogs. And communication is a two way street handlers have a responsibility for communication but happy dogs (even quiet ones) communicate quite effectively with their handler.
7. Makes no mistakes. On course. In training. Ever. Given the reactions of some people when a mistake happens you’d swear this should be on the list. But, if you’ve read anything I’ve written you’ll know I value errors. Both mine and the dogs. That’s how we learn. Learning makes us all happy. One of my happiest runs with Brody was a masters standard* run where he added an extra chute off a dog walk. We were clicking; we were working like a great team and I had no idea he’d ever guess the chute was part of the course. He did. He still doesn’t know he made a mistake there – the error was mine – wholly and I celebrated it! I will often chose a mistake over a hard, harsh call off … if I can’t communicate gently and ahead of the error I accept it will happen and put it in my learning bank. Happy dogs aren’t afraid to make mistakes. (*good catch Helen, thanks!)
6. Creative. Often one sees a happy agility dog being creative. They might make up a game, offer a behaviour or otherwise express themselves. Thea and Sally are both a little TOO expressive for some but to me, even though I would chose a quieter run if everything else was equal, it is an expression of joy for the sport and sometimes frustration at poor handling ~ the first I like, the second serves me right! Waiting to start a play session Brody will often offer behaviours. Sally is most excellent at this expression of joy in her sport. She changes the game weekly in some way.
5. Resilience. A happy agility dog either has or develops resilience. They accept that a bar might fall, a horn might blow, a bug might be on the dog walk, the weave base might look different than usual, the judge might wear a hat, whatever goes! They might be a naturally shy or reserved dog but they have learned that agility is fun and will be fun. Bouncing back from a slight change is important to true enjoyment of the game for the dog. A more sober happy dog may not find the same level of joy in every run (Brody leaps to my mind here) but they will find some joy in every run!
4. Passion. A happy agility dog is going to have at least one passion. It might be a tug toy (see above) or it might be food, it might be a favourite person, game or obstacle but their passion is going to be evident. Some dogs may have multiple passions.
3. An understanding of the job at hand. A happy agility pooch can predict what will be rewarded and what won’t be. The rules of the game don’t drastically change (obviously as the dog advances they get more complex). Consistency is present in a happy agility dog’s life. A dog won’t be carried off for one moved foot on a start line stay then allowed to complete a full course for a complete start line break. Contact expectations won’t vary from run to run. Cues will be as standard as human error allow. (Yes, I once ran Brody at an a-frame saying “tunnel, tire, whatever this is!” when his usual cue would simply be “up”. I still don’t know where my head was at that run!)
2. Physically Fit. Many things make me sad when I watch agility. An unfit, unhealthy dog doing his or her absolute best to get around a course is one of the saddest. Not only can the dog not be happy it’s also dangerous. Cross training is my personal way to ensure fun fitness . We do lawn and farm ‘gility, hill work, stair work, stretching and walks and sprints. All fun for us all.
1. Happy agility dogs get a chance to do other things. They might do other non agility things as part of life – Therapy work, rally, obedience, herding whatever. More importantly they are not always ON. They do not work (or even play in a human context) endlessly. They have time to be a dog. Sniffing the ground, running in a field,snoozing by a fire or on a couch. Not every single engagement with their person is work sometimes it’s a snuggle or cuddle. An open crate can be an invitation for a nap – not an insistence on formal training time. A happy soul has time just to be.