This post is part of the Dog Agility Bloggers Network series on FUN. After you’ve read this article, go to this link to read more articles.
A few years back, my daughter Stacia introduced me to the idea that there are three types of fun. In Type 1 Fun, you have a good time, but it’s kind of an ordinary good time. For example, Type 1 Fun might include a nice dinner with friends with a chocolate brownie for dessert. It’s fun, but it’s readily accessible fun and requires no special effort. Type 2 Fun includes some element of challenge and difficulty. Perhaps you make the dinner as a group and you try a complicated recipe or two, something like Chicken Kiev with a molten chocolate Lava Cake for dessert. Type 3 Fun? Well, Type 3 Fun involves some danger, it might not be all fun during the actual event, and part of the fun is the story you tell afterwards. To continue with the dinner-with-friends analogy (which just might be getting a little strained, but oh well, we can all deal with it), the three of you get mugged while coming home from the store after buying the ingredients for dinner, one of you ends up in the emergency room and meets the love-of-her-life while waiting for treatment, and then you have a late dinner at the best restaurant in the area and the chef hears the story and makes you a special flaming dessert, which sets the tablecloth on fire, so you don’t actually get to eat it. That would qualify as Type 3 Fun: great story, some pretty awful bits during the actual event.
Personally, I try to avoid Type 3 Fun.
Incidentally, this is a photo of some Type 2 Fun I had with my daughter last summer. Anything that involves wading through icy water is automatically Type 2 Fun. At least, that’s my opinion. I did like the effect of the ice water on my knees, though. Alleviated the soreness a bit–it was quite the hike. (However, the story is not epic, no one was hurt, so not Type 3 Fun. Now, if I’d slipped and floated downstream a bit, maybe then.)
I have been competing in dog agility since sometime in 2005, when my Elly–my Novice A dog, who barely finished her Open titles–was two. She was indeed a challenge to run, between her sense of humor (several judges burst out laughing at her antics during her agility career) and her health (she had multiple health issues and died at not-quite-nine as a result (three years ago) and I still miss her). I have good stories to tell about Elly–she stopped in the middle of a run to play bow to the audience, she thought contacts were electrified, she left the arena to go ask the hot dog vendor for a snack (and that’s just the beginning)–and it was never dull. I learned, with Elly, that a sense of humor is key to enjoying agility.
My second poodle, Dancer, is very serious about agility. She wants very much to please me. For her, the fun of agility isn’t about the course or the challenges or the jumps: it’s about me. She wants to run with me, hang out with me, be my companion. I had to learn how to make agility fun for her, and it was a challenge for me. A good challenge, though, as she taught me a lot about dog training. Dancer will do anything I ask her to do… if it doesn’t scare her. For a long time, the teeter scared her so much that she just couldn’t do it. Not no way, not no how, not even for rotisserie chicken, her personal favorite. It took me three years, and I wrote an article for Clean Run about how I did it, and that? That was rewarding because it was challenging and it took a lot of thinking and because I learned so much from her.
And long-term difficult challenges that you meet and beat? Those are fun.
My Rush, my big boy dog, the one I chose as a puppy even though I swore I wanted a small girl from the litter right up until the moment Rush stole my heart? His proper poodle name is Alchmys Absolut Pleasure. Alchmy is the breeder; Absolut is a tribute to his father, a white poodle from Russia; and the Pleasure? That’s all mine. I’m superstitious enough that I believe that dog names can be self-fulfilling prophecies. I’d never name a dog Chaos, as just one example. So I was hoping, with Rush, that I’d get that excitement, that surge, that incredible feeling you get when you give it what you’ve got… and it works.
From the first day with Rush, when I insisted that he wait for his dinner, just like the big poodles, I knew where I was going.
What I didn’t know, when I started with Rush, was that he would enjoy agility every bit as much as I do. I didn’t know that he would be fast and long-strided. I didn’t know that he would change my life completely. I had to learn how to handle, how to run, how to give it all I’ve got every single run. I didn’t know how thoroughly he would live up to his name. He has truly been an absolute pleasure to have in my life. Type 2 Fun all the way: it’s not easy, it’s not simple, it’s challenging, and it’s exciting.
Rush? Here’s how Rush approaches agility (article continues below photos).
After finishing the first draft of this and letting it sit for a few days, I found myself thinking: “from the dog’s perspective, is agility Type 1 or Type 2?” My first thought was: “of course, for a dog, it’s Type 1, because all fun is Type 1 if you’re a dog.” But as I thought more about it, I realized that many dogs bring problem-solving skills and anticipation to their agility careers (and to herding and hunting, as some other examples)–and that, for those dogs, agility is Type 2 Fun. I know that Rush anticipates his agility run; he grows very intense as we move closer to the gate. When he watches a dog we’ve been following all day, he starts pulling to go into the ring. He hunkers down and stares at the first jump and his eyes flick back and forth from me to the jump and back to me and back to the jump as he tries to understand what I want. He tries to read what I want, and he barks in frustration when I’m late or confusing–and still does his best to follow my lead.
I find myself thinking about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: as Ann Richards (Texas politician of note) said “after all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” From the dog’s point of view, running agility (without a map or any way to know the course in advance) must be like that–and for a dog that likes a challenge and finds excitement in challenge, what could be better? Type 2 Fun, for sure.