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Dog Sports: It’s About the Relationship

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April 5, 2015 by Julia

Recently the question of “why compete in dog sports?” came up on a Facebook group. In response, someone posted a sweet video that had been making the rounds which showed an elderly dog taking their “retirement run” on an agility course. The obviously elderly dog gamely trots along with its handler and completes a couple of obstacles on the course.

It sent my mind back to the last time Xena and I were entered in a competition. We had gone up to the site the evening before for ring rentals. She wasn’t in top form, but I initially attributed it to the obnoxious timers going off to signal the end of someone’s rental. When it came time for her to go over the high jump, something looked off about her form. I had her jump it again and she obliged – this time she landed so awkwardly that she dropped her dumbbell (unheard of for her). I  lowered the jump height and asked several people nearby to watch her and sent her twice more. Instead of extending her back legs over the jump, she was sort of swinging her lower half so her legs went sideways and flopped over the jump (think of a high jumper). The people watching guessed that there was something out of whack with her back or legs and she was compensating. I brought her home, sad that we were missing the show and heartbroken that her body might no longer be fit to compete.

What I know now (though I have no proof beyond my gut) is that this was one of Xena’s episodes of weakness related to hemangiosarcoma. A hemangio tumor can have periodic ruptures that leave the dog with a small, short-term bout of internal bleeding. Xena had several episodes of lethargy and loss of appetite followed by feeling much better but peeing blood. The tear would heal, her body would expel the blood through her urine, and she’d feel better again.

So what does this have to do with teamwork? Given what I observed in these episodes of lethargy and what I’ve been told by vets, bleeding internally is not painful but it is incredibly exhausting. They feel sluggish and heavy. Everything takes extra effort. And yet, she was working with me that night. She jumped that jump 3 more time *after* the first time and she knew what it felt like. Because I asked her to. And, I believe, because she enjoyed the game.

I don’t believe you have to compete in dog sports to have that sort of relationship with your dog, but if you ever wonder why some of us are so driven to do it, this is why. Ribbons are nice – we’re all attracted to shiny things, aren’t we? – but what pushes me to keep going is the feeling of working with my dog. Crossing the language barrier to communicate with them and listen to what they are telling me. Acting in sync to accomplish a task or goal. Learning together. Being together.

At the same time that this question was posed and the video was posted, this video came up in my timeline’s “on this day” feature.  I believe it shows why she worked for me that night at ring rental. And I hope it shows how much I value her teamwork:

I have not had the pleasure of a retirement run with any of my dogs, but I look forward to the day I can take a gentle victory lap with an aging teammate. It seems sweeter than any ribbon could ever be.

Though I suspect we’ll need a “tissue alert” for them, I would love for you to share your retirement run videos or photos. They show the best of what our sports have to offer.


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