Every so often I reflect on everything Rush has taught me about agility. First off, he made me realize that I needed to be more fit. Forty-some pounds later, I’m only about twenty pounds from goal weight. I’ve gone from barely being able to run for a minute (alternating with walking four minutes) to being able to run four or five miles at a whack. I’ve had to work hard to improve my handling, learning when and how to do blind crosses, optimizing my front crosses, and smoothing out my rear crosses. I’ve had to learn how to cue collection and extension. I’ve had to learn how to cue acceleration and deceleration. I had to teach Rush independent weaves–so I could get further down the course while he’s weaving–and a great startline stay. I’ve had to learn to be 100% consistent in my contact criteria so that Rush is 100% consistent in his contact performances. I’ve had to train an end-of-run send-to-leash because he is so wound up at the end of the run that otherwise he lunges at me. I needed none of these things to run Dancer. (The contacts would have been nice, but I take full responsibility for having done such a poor job training her.)

Rush in Weaves, Photo by Joe Camp

And Saturday I overheard someone saying (as I left the ring with Rush) “I wouldn’t want a dog that fast at that age.” I have no idea if she was talking about Rush and me, but I definitely hope so! (For the record, I never expected Rush to be as fast as he is–but I also have refused to try to slow him down.)

Shortly after hearing that remark–and giggling about it–I got into a conversation with two women about trying to win versus just running for fun, and I realized that, with Rush, just running for fun is not a choice I can make any more. I have to give it everything I can every single time I run Rush. I have to plan for success and then give it all I’ve got. And generally, if I can manage to give Rush the kind of direction he requires–timely and clear cues–we win or place in the class. In short, I am now trying to win every time instead of “running for fun.”

It’s been a long time since I thought of myself as a competitive athlete. In high school and college I was a member of two swim teams that did pretty well and my contributions were valued, although I was not a leader; in my twenties, I was a member of the Greater Boston Track Club at a time when its women did pretty well in competition, and occasionally was the fifth finisher who brought us a team placement. I remember with some glee the track competition where I put on a finishing kick that took me into third place in the mile from fourth, starting from about fifty yards behind as we came down the finishing stretch. (I also remember throwing up shortly afterwards and my disappointment that my time was 6:02; I’d been hoping to break six minutes for the mile.)

My thirties, forties, and all but the last few months of my fifties have not been spent in a haze of glory. But here I am, running a fast dog and a poodle at that. Poodles are not generally considered an optimal breed for agility; I derive a certain amount of pleasure from Rush’s success just because he is a poodle.

Being completely honest here: I’m really enjoying this ride. I’m thrilled that Rush is doing so well, and that he’s inspired me to change.

Diana Dickinson has been training and competing in agility for more than ten years with her standard poodles, while chronicling her experiences at her blog, Flying Poodles (www.flyingpoodles.com). Her cookbook of highly caloric human sweets (perfect for dog show hospitality tables) is available at www.whenmealsweremeals.com.