My life with dogs began with a bribe. When I was five, my parents decided to move to Alabama, and my brothers were vehemently opposed. So, my oldest brother brokered a deal with my parents—we would move if we were given a dog. They decided on a Portuguese Water Dog.
As it turned out, PWD breeders were particularly protective of their puppies, and, out of the dozens of breeders my mother called, the one breeder willing to sell us a puppy required that we agree to attempt to get his championship in conformation. After a few years of taking the puppy, Tony, to the breeder to be shown, he finally earned his championship. New to dogs and ignorant to the ways of the dog world, we eagerly awaited phone-calls from breeders wanting to use him. Then, of course, there would have been puppies! Well, the phone call never came, and, as we learned from his breeder, that lack of a phone call was because he needed “to be out there.” Apparently she was referring to continuing to compete in conformation.
We interpreted that advice to mean instead that he should compete in other sports, like agility. And, when I was in fifth grade, we started to train. After two years of training, we finally made it to competition, albeit after dishearteningly deciding that we were never going to compete and that we would have to find our own female to continue the line of the dog to whom we had grown so attached. Luckily, she did not conform very well, and we decided against breeding her (in hindsight, I now realize how lucky we were—breeding was something for which we would not have been prepared).
However bad she was at conformation, though, she was good at agility. Soon after her first birthday, we began competing. Here, the real learning began. While Tony gave me my foundations in agility, his speed and focus (or lack thereof) allowed most of our faults to be not my fault. With Quincy (the younger dog), a wrong shoulder angle or a premature cross suddenly became the difference between a clean run and a disaster. After a few trials, when my agility friends ceased to fear scaring me away, I began to hear after almost every NQ “you know that was your fault, right?”
It was the type of thing that no eighth grader wanted to hear but, at the same time, the type of statement that helped us learn so much from agility, improve as a team, and, ultimately, have so much fun training and competing.
Now, I’ll have to take a break from the sport that has become an integral part of me as I go off to school in a faraway land. I hope to somehow continue my involvement in dogs while I’m at college, whether by helping or teaching at a training center, researching some sort of dog disease in a lab, or something completely different.
Regardless of how or when, I’ll be back.