First time Regional Championship competitors - Schutzhund family! Photo: Brian Aghajani
With two National Championships happening this weekend, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on Schutzhund life, specifically the connections we make in this sport. When we seek out and surround ourselves with good people, Schutzhund events become all about reconnecting with family - our Schutzhund family. Club trials are the family barbecues. Regional Championships are like Thanksgiving. And National events – those are Christmas and New Year’s rolled into one big celebration.
We come from all over the country, united by a common passion for IPO. We hug, laugh, eat, drink, and talk. We ask about each other’s dogs, our training, our families, our trips and seminars. We commiserate over our latest training woes or trial faux pas. We share outrageous stories, reminiscing and laughing over those “Remember when?” moments. We bounce around ideas of how to train a particular exercise, problem-solving together and growing in our ability to train and handle our dogs just by listening to others.
A Larger Purpose
Schutzhund events are about more than just titling dogs and displaying the top training, handling, and dogs in the country. They are also about camaraderie and personal growth, connecting with other people from all walks of life, united by this shared interest. Championship events are the one time we all converge from across the nation to be in the same room together, discussing the issues that are important to us with those who understand this unique passion we have for IPO and our chosen breed of dog. The conversations at these events can be invigorating, uplifting, thought-provoking. Together we are tackling our dilemmas, and even if we don't always see eye-to-eye, we can remain confident that at the end of the day, we're still in this together.
I love the big events, whether spectating or competing. There is an eager anticipation as Helper Tryouts commence, testing and selecting the helpers for the event, and then waiting for the results (photo at left). An electric hum vibrates in the air at Draw Night, which is that moment when all the competitors find out what day and time they will perform each phase. There is a connectedness and togetherness that fills the room, weaving us together like threads in a tapestry. We share in each other’s joy, brimming with anticipation and a genuine desire to see everyone succeed in achieving their goals for their dog. And we share in each other's sorrow, too. On trial day, when a handler's dog doesn’t out on the very last re-attack after the courage test, our hearts collectively break and we share that disappointment and frustration together. We’ve been there; we know the hurt.
It is these Schutzhund events that get me through the hard times, those times when things just don’t seem to be going right with training, or the passion is ebbing and the well is running a little dry. It happens to all of us at some point, both veteran and new handler alike. Attending a large championship event creates inspiration, enthusiasm, and eagerness to get back at it. Championship events promote connections and authentic conversation and learning, and stoke the coals of the Schutzhund fire. And sometimes, our Schutzhund fires all need a stoke of encouragement and inspiration.
Some handlers will train and compete for decades without ever attending a larger championship event, either as a spectator or a competitor. These events are not the only reason to do Schutzhund, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, attending these larger events draws you together into the greater Schutzhund community, and transcends the petty squabbles that sometimes plague the club-level events. It brings us into a place where we can share ideas and experience personal growth as handlers and as trainers. Suddenly, we find ourselves with companions walking alongside us, making the journey more engaging and more supportive in those challenging times.
If there's one thing I had to say to new handlers, it would be to get out there and get connected with the Schutzhund community. Surround yourself with good people. After all, we're family, and we all need each other in this crazy thing called the Schutzhund Life.