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Putting work into ourselves and our dogs...

Dog agility is a unique partnership between handlers and their canine companions. While the focus is often on training and conditioning the dogs, Chris Kerton, owner of Karma Fitness, feels it is equally important to at least consider the work we put into ourselves as handlers. In this article he looks into the question of balance in this partnership on an individual's journey to success...

To begin, it's essential to acknowledge that success and happiness in dog agility are personal and subjective. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for achieving goals. No one's goals are more worthy than anyone else's. Working on our own fitness and skills is not a requirement to enjoy the sport or find fulfillment within it. However, it can enhance our overall experience, inside and outside of agility, and potentially improve our performance. Each individual has their own unique path in this partnership.

The power of consistency
When it comes to personal development, consistency is key. Putting regular effort into our own fitness and skills can make a noticeable difference over time. And this is often the part that can put people off.

I think we can all be guilty of wanting the instant gratification of seeing results and progress far quicker than is realistic. Maybe this can be the case for dog training, too? It has been said we far over estimate the amount we can do in a short period of time, and we underestimate how much we can achieve in a longer period of time.

Small steps, big impact
It doesn't necessarily require hours upon hours each week either. Even dedicating as little as one or two hours consistently can yield significant benefits. 4 x 30 minute sessions? 2 x 30 minute sessions? Can you find that time to put into yourself?

The accumulation of consistent work is what shapes our progress.

So we return to the initial question. How much time do you put aside to yourself vs. your furry friend each week? I don't particularly care what that time might be spent doing - weight training, cani-x, yoga, walking, hiking or self-reflection, etc. Do you practice memorising courses? Do you have mental management skills or routines in place to help you? There are a multitude of ways you can work on yourself and, as with everything, everyone's choice will be different.

Reflecting on personal needs
As I've said, being fitter for the sport is not the only way to be successful. I'm sure we can all think of many people who regularly showcase fantastic dog training skills. These are just as inspirational to me as anything else!

Opinions on the importance of personal fitness and conditioning in dog agility may differ. But that really isn't the point of this discussion.

Dog agility is a multi-faceted journey. Each handler brings their unique goals, aspirations, and definitions of success to the table. While it is essential to respect these individual perspectives, it is equally important to pause and reflect on our personal well-being. How often do we overlook ourselves amidst the hustle and bustle of training and competition? Are we giving ourselves the time and attention we deserve? I'm asking how much time do you put into yourself versus your dogs? And then, why? 

The power of self-care
Self-care goes beyond physical fitness and performance benchmarks. It encompasses our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Taking care of ourselves not only nurtures our own growth and happiness but also strengthens the bond with our canine partners. When we neglect our own needs, we risk burning out, becoming frustrated, and potentially damaging the partnership we cherish.

My hope is that this article serves as an invitation for individuals to share their thoughts and experiences. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to finding the balance in the partnership between self-improvement and working with our dogs. All opinions are welcome, as long as the discussion remains respectful and constructive.

Dog agility is a remarkable partnership between handlers and dogs, and finding a balance in the effort we put into ourselves and our four-legged team mates is a personal journey, and it is a constant fight to address that balance with what time we have and other potential restrictions. While it is not a prerequisite for success, focusing on our own fitness and skills can enhance our agility experience and our life experience as a whole!

In the exhilarating world of dog agility, it is easy to get caught up in the pursuit of personal growth and self-improvement. However, amidst all our endeavours, let us not forget the core essence of our partnership - the happiness and fulfillment of our beloved dogs. For most, that is why we started in the first place.

Ultimately, their well-being should remain at the forefront of our minds. But maybe our relationship in this sport can be a catalyst to help ourselves, as we try to help them, too. Reflect on your own balance and consider how it aligns with your goals and aspirations in the sport.

About the author...
Chris Kerton lives in South Wales and runs Karma Fitness, an online business focused on helping people getting healthier and fitter with an eye to helping them become a better agility handler.

In competition, he runs Copernicus (4) and has competed at Crufts in the Championship and International classes. He is a member of the Welsh team and Team GB travelling to the European Open and Agility World Championships.

His young dog is Funky Duck and 2023 is her first year competing. They recently qualified for the 2024 Welsh Team.

First published 3rd July 2023



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