Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ceilings and Dreams

What's the ceiling on your dreams?

For all of us, there is a ceiling somewhere. I will never win a Nobel Prize or become President. I'm never going to revolutionize quantum physics or write a song that endures through the ages. If these achievements were ever possible for me (and I doubt they were), they aren't anymore; my life has taken other directions, and those roads are now closed behind me.

I don't think about those dreams anymore. They just aren't part of my world. They certainly aren't among my goals. And so the fact that I will never achieve those things causes me no worry whatsoever, because failing to accomplish an aspiration you don't have is not a failure at all.

Failing to achieve something you do want, on the other hand, can carry a considerable sting. And if that failure comes in the context of a team sport, then... well, then things get very complicated very quickly. Particularly in dog sports.

Which is, of course, why I'm writing this post: because once again I'm recalibrating my aspirations for Pongu, and once again I'm wondering what it is reasonable to dream for this dog.

He is still fearful. He will always be fearful. I know this. My dog -- my crazy little nerdpuppy, my dog that I love more than anything in the world -- has some hard limits on his physical and psychological durability. He can't do what other dogs can, and I don't want to burden him with a freight of disappointments if he can't meet my aspirations.

And yet.

And yet he's come so far, and has achieved so much that I never thought would be possible.

Back in the beginning, when I was just struggling to find ways of helping my fearful puppy cope with the world, I thought Pongu would never set foot in the competition ring. I thought he'd never earn a Rally Q. I thought he'd never earn a Rally title. I thought he'd never do a Novice Stand For Exam, and I thought he'd never do AKC anything.

I was wrong about all those things. So badly wrong, in fact, that I fully anticipate we'll finish Pongu's ARCHMX, and beat the game in World Cynosport, before his fourth birthday. That's in about two months. And after those two months?

Well, we can do AKC Rally for a while. I'll enter trials whenever they're reasonably close and don't conflict with other activities, and I figure we'll get through Pongu's RE this year. Depending on how it goes and how much fun we have in that venue (and on whether I see value in proofing him in the noisier AKC environment), we may start on the RAE.

We can do CDSP obedience, too. Training the Open and Utility exercises will take a while -- probably the rest of this year -- but once we're ready, I don't see any reason Pongu can't succeed in that venue. It's as relaxed and welcoming as competition obedience gets, and since praise is permitted in the ring, I believe my dog can succeed there.

That leaves the great white whale: AKC obedience. The most difficult, the most strictly scored, the most notoriously unwelcoming in certain quarters. The venue where all your scores get posted in perpetuity for other people to Look Upon and Judge. Where at the high levels, you cannot win unless someone else loses. Where there is no praise, and no cookies, and not always that much by way of supportive sport culture for the people, either.

I think of throwing my little dog into that environment and I flinch. And yet. I wonder: is it reasonable to hope for that? Someday? Is it reasonable to dream? Or is that expecting a Nobel Prize out of a little dog who has already given all he's got?

With what I've seen of Pongu's progress in the last year and a half, and what I imagine might be possible with the help of FDSA's instructors, I'm finding myself tempted by those old hopes and wishes again. And I wonder if that's fair to my dog.

I'll have a clearer picture after we've done a few more runs in CDSP, I suspect. Until then... it's all just a dream. And a ceiling untested.


  1. I hate that AKC leaves such a bad taste in people's mouth! It's really not that cut throat unless you are SUPER good and MAKE it cut throat. Especially now with the pre- classes. They make obedience accessible to just about anyone. All that said, there is really no reason to force yourself into a venue you don't care for. Stick with what you enjoy and what your dog enjoys!

  2. Oops, forgot to say that I am following along with your progress in OB220! I am lowly bronze so I am silent but playing along at home. :)

  3. It... can be pretty cutthroat even if you're not super competitive yourself. Definitely not always, but sometimes.

    I have never entered an AKC obedience run at any level, just stood ringside and watched when we were entered in Rally at that event, and I've definitely heard people say stuff like "OTCH fodder" to/about other teams that were performing (which honestly surprised me when I heard it, because I figured that was sort of a dog-world urban legend. Turns out it isn't!).

    So, you know, you see/hear that stuff going on at ringside and it surely does create an impression. And I think a certain segment of the competitor base thrives on that; they really LIKE trying to scare off newbies and creating this image of the sport as forbiddingly difficult and scary. I'm not saying it's all, or even most, of them... but those people are out there, and it only takes one or two to affect the image of the sport.

    Having said that: I really, truly, genuinely admire the level of skill and dedication it takes to succeed in that venue. I think it's enormously impressive, and something to aspire to.

    I just don't know if that aspiration is realistic for the trainer I am and the dog I have. :)