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Training Tuesday - Finding Motivation in Success

Steve Schwarz from Agility Nerd looks at the links between finding motivation and training.

by Steve Schwarz

I'm probably unusual but I thought I'd share how a "successful" agility run helped motivate me to set new goals to improve my health and Flyer's skills on course.

The Goal

Let me set the stage. I've mentioned how Flyer and I needed time to be ready for competition, so at four years old the 2015 Cynosport in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was his first national competition. My goals were modest; to see how Flyer would handle the scale and long days of a big event and to get into the Semifinals in Steeplechase or Grand Prix.

Flyer and I hadn't earned any "byes" to allow us to skip the Quarterfinal rounds of Steeplechase or Grand Prix; so we had to qualify in those (no faults, and for Steeplechase, within a percentage of the fastest times) to go through to the Semifinals.

We dropped a bar in an otherwise reasonably fast Steeplechase Quarterfinals at 31s or which would have put us ~60th out of about 200 dogs. Steeplechase is pretty good for us, the only contact is the A Frame, which Flyer runs, only the weaves slow us down. This course featured the weaves twice, had it been two A Frames and one set of weaves it would have been more to our strengths.

We got through the Grand Prix Quarterfinals course clean in 42nd place out of about 160 dogs; but placements don't mean much in the quarterfinals since people are only trying to run clean to get through to the Semis. So we got the turquoise semi finals shirt and I was happy to get to run in the "big ring" with the "big dogs". We met one of our goals!

Goal Met! Now What?

Set another goal. I don't really think that about goals with that much structure. What I really thought was: "let's run the semifinals Grand Prix course and see how we stack up"! Everything at this point is "gravy"!

The course wasn't overly "technical", but it challenged handlers to trust their dog's skills so they could get ahead to the next challenge on the course:

Before running I had a decision to make. Go for broke, risk an elimination, and maybe squeak into the finals or run fast an not risk a fault. I'd been having plantar fascitis pain for several months leading up to the competition all the way to two injections in my foot in the weeks before. So I decided I'd go as hard as I could but not kill myself to get to a couple handling spots and also not risk pulling Flyer off any contacts; so I could really compare our times to the other fast teams.

So I effectively set a new goal: run fast and clean so I could see what we need to work on to improve; a mini goal.

Here's video of our run:

We tied for 30th place at 32.53 sec about 1.3 seconds slower than the 20th dog who made the cut. The fastest time was 29.51 sec so we were 3 seconds slower.

What's the problem?

So I'm OK with that run; goal met. First time at the big show, I didn't screw up and we had a good time (in both senses).

But it also showed me two things I knew but really needed to see for me to be motivated to do something about:

1. I'm out of shape. I was winded by the end of the course and only just got to a couple places I wanted to be. Also to get Flyer going as fast as he can I need to be out ahead whenever possible, then he'll drive to me and I can urge him on. This "glamour" photo of me from the run by Great Dane Photos speaks volumes:

2. Flyer's Dog Walk and Teeter can be slow. I knew this but I can really see it in the video. That and my need to hesitate waiting for him to get into 202o-ish on each probably cost us at least a second.

Successfully completing the course and being close to making the cut at a big event felt great. As I told all my friends: "That's as fast as we can go right now". Right. Now.

So I'm using the experience to motivate me to address those issues so we can be faster in the future.

Acting on Motivation

So I set those two things as new goals and work started as soon as I got home from Tennessee.

Lose Weight

When we got home I started paying attention to what I eat and how I treat food. I cut out most sugar (I already rarely drank pop) and cut way back on the carbs in foods; especially the carb-loaded snacks I used to prefer. I also started paying attention to portion size of my meals, split them across the day and stopped being a member of the "clean plate club". I also started eating a piece of fruit or veggie snacks mid morning and mid afternoon to keep me from snacking on the omnipresent candy at work and to keep me from being hungry.

Increase Fitness

Years ago I bought a flywheel "erg" (aka rowing machine) and had used it sporadically. So I started doing alternate day work outs on it; starting easy and then starting interval training. I also made myself take Flyer for walks. With the colder weather coming it was always easier to just throw a toy for him in the backyard.


I knew I'd fall down on this goal a little because the UKI external link US Open was only two weeks away and then the European Open Team Tryouts a few weeks further out. So I was only planning on working Flyer to keep him in shape; I didn't want to drill him on his contacts or wear him out or hurt him before a string of big events. But I started talking with trainers I trust on how I can help Flyer have a better performance.


I had signed up Flyer for one day at a USDAA external link show for a few runs the Sunday after Cynosport because I like the club and the judge's courses. Half-way through the first run of the morning (after a beautifully fast Dog Walk!) I heard and felt a loud pop in the arch of my left foot...

Very long story short, x-rays, MRI, orthopod... I split the peroneus brevis tendon and tore up my plantar fascia. So I was in a boot with restricted movement for 5 weeks and I've been in Physical Therapy (PT) since then. I'm just starting to do quick movements and we're evaluating my progress.

Goals/Motivation Shattered?

My motivation for improvement hasn't been diminished; although I'm a little concerned about re-injury before I'm fully healed. I'm not letting my injury set me back on my goals! It just makes it a little harder/slower to reach them. But even with my decreased activity I've managed to loose almost 20 lbs so I'm almost half way to my goal weight. The key for me will really be ramping up my activity. So my fitness has definitely suffered.

Once I can move more I can start working with Flyer on his contacts. I'm getting ready to start working him to "drive" into his 2o2o no matter where I am relative to the contact.

The moral of this story is that achieving a goal, even just a slight stretch or next step, can give you confidence to keep moving in a new direction. Sure set backs can happen, but I'm keeping in mind how much fun it was to run with Flyer in the "big ring" and how much better it will feel when I can give him my best.

For me, a pound dropped, candy not eaten, a walk taken, a contact practiced are all steps on the road to where I want to be! I hope you'll uncover your next goal(s) in a success and find the next steps to get you there.

This article was reprinted with kind permission from Steve Schwarz's AgilityNerd blog

Steve Schwarz has been training and competing in agility and flyball since 1997. He focuses on helping handlers improve their communication with their dogs on course in a positive and light hearted manner. Steve brings an analytical approach from his engineering background to the study and training of agility.

In order to stay knowledgeable about current agility training techniques, Steve trains regularly with top agility handlers and attends multiple dog and agility training seminars each year. Steve competes in AKC, USDAA, UKI, and CPE venues and has competed in NADAC and UKC.

Steve also writes the longest running dog agility blog: AgilityNerd ( with regular articles and videos on agility training, handling, and course analysis.

Photo credit: Great Dane Photos


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