Dog crashing through a jump

Abominable Loser vs. Well-Mannered Winner

Some people have a knack for winning graciously and looking worthy even when they lose. I’ve had the pleasure of competing against people who are classy in how they accept their results, and have learned from watching.

No matter the dogsport, you just can’t control everything that happens at a canine competition. You train, prepare and strategize, but the results are influenced by whatever chance throws at you on any given day. Sometimes you are unprepared for the challenges that occur, making mistakes and failing as a result. Sometimes you surpass your own expectations in the face of intense challenges, and achieve a personal best.

Losing can be painful, given that it’s accompanied by emotions such as disappointment, anger, frustration, confusion or surprise. But nobody wins every competition. Even if you’re a world champion, sometimes you have a crummy day, lose focus, or suffer a health emergency at the worst time. Judges and volunteers make mistakes too. There is no perfect dog, or person. The life cycle of competition generally entails training an unknown puppy, gelling with that unique dog, gaining experience and mastery, then growing old when health is declining and speed diminishes. That’s life. I wish my dogs were growing younger, but they grow older anyway. Complaining about the judging or gossiping about rivals does little to change the reality.

I vividly recall when a conformation judge noted that one professional handler never burned her bridges. Even when she lost, she was gracious, never rude, maintaining her relationships with judges, colleagues, newbies and her dogs. That constituted an advantage in the future, whether that was her intention or not. She’s still a class act, now on her way to becoming a judge herself. I bet most contestants look forward to being judged by her.

Contrast her attitude with a famous agility handler, who left the ring in a huff when his dog made a mistake at a large, televised international competition. Many viewers recognised his enviable skills and his phenomenal canine, but his crude reaction to that loss can never be erased from cyberspace or public perceptions. If he had continued, excelled in the remainder of the course, then smiled and waved as he left, he could have become a legend. Staying to observe the conclusion and congratulating the winners would have been good for a few karma points too.

Considerate winners are delighted to win, and don’t need to put anyone down to make themselves feel better. They enjoy the moment, with the full realisation that the next competition might be another story. When congratulated, they smile and are happy to accept. When people compliment aspects of their performance, they simply say “thank you”, without any self-deprecating remarks about their shortcomings: without arrogance or entitlement.

Opponents that I appreciate most don’t wish that everyone else fails. They don’t focus on how much they want the ribbon or prize either. They focus on the job they have to do: step by step, obstacle by obstacle, trusting their training and their canine partner, and going with the flow based on what actually happens in that competition.

Sometimes all factors meld into a perfect performance. What a thrill! Sometimes performance is ugly and clumsy and still results in a win. At best, bloopers merit a chuckle. We all have them. Returning the focus to your bond with your dog is one sure-fire approach to keeping wins and losses in the proper perspective.

As the new year approaches, I wish you the best in all of your competitions in the year to come. May your wins be many, and well deserved. May you lose as well as your dog, and approach the next event with no loss of enthusiasm.





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