There’s a First Time for Everything
You enter the large area full of busy people that you don’t know. You’ve never been there before and don’t know where to go. Your dog feels your energy and starts to bark, which only heightens your own anxiety. Your chair and stuff start to get heavy so you scan the arena in a heightened sense of urgency. Where to go? What to do?
First thing first, where should you put your dog and stuff? Is there a method to this crating thing, are there rules? So you test the waters and plop your stuff down. Now what? You’ve trained your dog, you’ve looked up rules, you feel prepared for the actual competition, but you didn’t think about this, or in truth didn’t know anyone to ask. You imagine you are starting to look like a deer in headlights with the nervous sweat to match.
What runs through your mind? “OMG, what was I thinking, why did I want to do agility?” Ok, calm down, you remember that you love your dog and you’ve worked hard to train for this competition. You wanted to expand your world, meet new people, try new things. You are free from the bustle of child rearing and need something to keep you physically and mentally challenged! Take some deep cleansing breaths (think Lamaze) and dive in!
How to Make a Difference
Was that you? Have you been in those shoes? Are you so familiar with agility that you’ve forgotten what it was like to be new? What about something not agility related? Can you remember how it feels to be somewhere where you are completely out of your familiar setting and don’t know anything about the people or place?
Be the Difference!
If you are already acclimated to this brave new world of agility, and are so familiar that it’s become routine, why not make a difference for someone? Smile, say “Hi, my name is ___”. Open the “friendly door” to allow someone new to feel welcome. They might be able to ask you a question if they need help. If you are only able to offer a smile and be on your way to walk your dog, walk the course, check the results—whatever—it still means something. Point out where the check in table is located. Explain how to find their results. Show the lost person how to get their own ribbons. These are not things everyone naturally understands—they have to be taught. Just a simple, “Great run” comment can mean so much. But most of all, have empathy for the person who’s been brave enough to try to start something new in their lives.
Ready With a Theory
My mother always taught me to try to see the other side of the story, no matter what. So when it seems that people are being antisocial, I think on my theory. It’s really simple. People come from all different backgrounds and have all different personalities. Some, like me are naturally gregarious. Some are not, maybe even feeling wary of strangers. My theory also allows that everyone has their own struggles, or manner of dealing with situations. Maybe their minds are deep in thought on how to run their course, or some other agility related puzzle. Maybe they use agility as a way a way to relax and spend quality time with their dog. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. The point of a theory to begin with is to understand that they mean no ill-will towards me and should not cause me to feel badly towards them either. But for those that can extend a welcome, it doesn’t take much to be a ray of light. I guarantee the newbie won’t forget how you helped them cope with that scary moment, even years later when they are celebrating some great accomplishment, they will remember YOU and your kindness.
Push through the fear to enjoy your dog
Ultimately, for the “New to Agility,” it’s a thing you will enjoy once you get over the scary bits. Regardless of whether anyone is friendly or not, you will enjoy the connection you have with your dog and want to participate no matter what or who you know.
Well, at least that goes true for me. I enjoy my time with my dogs and want to play with them in this exciting new way. I’ve dreamed of competing with them in agility for so many years that just arriving at the trial location feels like a big WIN for me. As time has passed, I’ve met some new people and enjoy seeing them at each event. I’m sure that circle will expand as I continue on this journey. But I hope I never forget what it was like to be new.