If your sole reason for competing is to win, or to get clear rounds, competing will become a frustrating and depressing experience. For you and your dog. If all your goals are outcome based, you only have two options. You fail, which might spur you on to try harder, but if you keep failing you will eventually quit. Or you keep winning and getting clear rounds, which feels great at first but gets boring after a while.

So if it’s not about the outcome, why do I compete?

I enjoy the social side. I’ve made friends that I would either never have met, or not got to know so well through competing. You’re at a show for a long day, for just a few minutes in the ring. I see it as a fun day out, a chance to be social and to spend quality time with my dogs as well.

I want to learn from others. I’ll watch other people’s rounds and their handling and see what I can learn from them, in terms of handling skills and positioning, and use that to benefit me and the people that train with me. If you never get out there and watch others, how can you expand your own skills? If I was just outcome focussed, I would be focussed on whether I was better than them, rather than looking at ways I can learn and improve.

I enjoy testing my skills on a course. My goal is not to achieve a clear round, that would make me play it too safe to avoid mistakes. My goals will be different for the type of course I’m running. It might be to handle from a certain line. It might be to test a handling move. With Finn it’s quite often just to go round all the barrels! If I achieve these goals, the outcome of the run is irrelevant, a clear round is awesome, but a faulted run doesn’t take away from the fact that I handled the difficult part from the box.

It shows me the gaps in my skills and makes me train harder. If I don’t compete or only run safe options on courses I can fall into a comfort zone and train the things which feel good on the courses I enjoy. By seeing the tests the judges set, I can see where the gaps in my training are and go away and work to get better. It pushes me to be a better handler and trainer. If I always go for the safe option, just to get clears, at some point the courses will get harder. If I haven’t pushed myself at the early stages, I won’t be able to handle the harder courses, the results stop coming, it gets demotivating and that’s the point where quitting seems a good option. Remember, you’re competing with a dog as your partner. If you are solely competing with an outcome as a goal you’ll be very disappointed at some stage. Your dog may be very environmentally aware, running surface affects both of mine, for others it will be other dogs around, how long they’ve had to queue, birds flying overhead! It could be anything, and if you’re focussed on that clear, and your dog catches a scent and goes ratting in the corner of the barn (talking about you Poppy dog!) you’ll be disappointed. If you see it as a challenge to overcome, the first time you run on that surface and your dog stays with you, that will feel like a win regardless of what happens on course.

When you look back on your dogs career, the runs you remember won’t necessarily be the 1st place ones. They’ll be the ones where you achieved something you didn’t think you could. Or the ones where your dog had an amazing time. For Poppy my favourite hoopers run was at Cornwall last year. 48 hours earlier her legs were so bad I thought her time had come. She perked up, I let her trot round the course slowly and she did it all with a wagging tail. She won the class which felt amazing, but not because of the result, but because I still had my Pop dog with me enjoying life. My favourite run with Finn was at the same show, and his only run where he didn’t place. I took the hardest handling option and we absolutely nailed it. He had 5 faults later in the run, but that didn’t matter, I achieved my handling goal.

So yes I want to win, I’m guilty of making my dogs pose for rosette photos! But my goals are based on improvement. I’m not there to beat others, I’m not running the same dog as them. My goals are based on achievements within a course and improving on my own performance. I’m more likely to achieve this and feel good, and when I fail I’ve got something concrete to go away and work on. And if I’ve had a fab day out with my dogs and friends, achieved some goals and know what I need to do to improve, that’s a win as far as I’m concerned.

Oh and confession time just so you know that occasionally my competitive side goes a little rogue, if Finn’s had a good run I do sometimes watch the remaining dogs and hope all the fast Collies get faults so he places higher! Not nice, but I’m only human!