(This is adapted and expanded from an article I wrote for my church's newsletter)
My husband and I took Scout to an agility class last week. It's called "Agility for Fun" because it's not necessarily for dogs who are going to enter competitions. Scout, who is 1/2 Golden Retriever, almost 1/2 Husky and a little ?, is never going to be eligible for competitions. But lately we've been thinking... she just needs something to do, an outlet for her energy. I thought about a Tricks class, and I'd also like her to be a Therapy dog someday. But when I talked to our trainer, she suggested that we try agility -- something I had never thought of. In the past, all I ever knew about dog training was "Sit", "Down" and "Heel", although our dog never really mastered "heel" (or "down", come to think of it.)
Scout has been to Obedience I and II. She wasn't a stellar obedience student (which actually says more about us than it does about her). For example, we still have issues with "coming when called," especially if there is a squirrel or rabbit nearby. For awhile, we had BIG issues with coming when called -- we never wanted to let her off her leash in the back yard, because she never wanted to come in. She would keep running away instead. It was very frustrating.
However, we are happy to report that -- at least for this first class -- she was the Best One. She learned to do the "dog walk", go through the tunnel, and even jump over the bars very quickly. After she was used as the example dog for the tunnel exercise, my husband patted her on the side and said, "I can see her rescuing people from burning buildings." He was proud of her. (He doesn't always see her best side.)
At the end of the class, she laid down at my feet, very contented, more content than she had been when we walked into the class, and she wanted to sniff and play with all the other dogs. She was a pain in the neck! But now she was focussed and obedient -- and tired. The trainer says that this is often the case. He told us that it's good for dogs to exercise their brains as well as their bodies. Often "modern dogs" who have all of the comforts of a cushy life with us, are not as stimulated, either physically or mentally, as they can be. Often this is what leads to misbehavior.
I wonder if that's true for us as well. In some ways modern life is more challenging than it ever has been. But in other ways -- well maybe we don't get as much of some kinds of exercise as we used to. I think about this especially when I think about Radio and TV. My dad grew up in the Radio era, and used to tell us about all the old shows he "watched." (The Shadow, Henry Aldrich, Fibber McGee, etc.) Think about all of the exercise those brains got imagining what their favorite characters looked like, or imagining what was happening -- just from the sounds.
A true spiritual life stimulates all parts of our lives: our hearts, our brains, our bodies and souls -- and I hope, even our imagination. For us, there are all kinds of training available: from centering prayer to the discipline of showing hospitality. And in all those things, the goal is to learn to be more focused and less distracted, more open to God's working in the world.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."