Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blog Action Day Take-Aways

Plowing through 40 posts (as of today) by agility bloggers participating in Blog Action Day, on the topic of "If I Knew Then What I Know Now", list linked to here", all the pages put together about as thick as a novel, with hundreds of interesting points mixed in with lots of brags, photos, nostalgia and unrelated ramblings, here are my favorite take-aways and links to the pages they came from:
  • Before the dog commits to a jump it must know the direction to the next obstacle and how much effort to exert taking the current obstacle.
  • The most important thing that I have learned over eight years of training Elly (and then Dancer, and now Rush) for agility is how important structure is. The dog, no matter how willing or personable or sweet or trainable or smart (or whatever you think matters to you more), can not do what you ask unless she (or he) is fully comfortable in her own skin. The structure is what everything else hangs on.

  • When I started, it was more about how to get the dog to perform a given task...that is how I was instructed and how I thought dog training was. If the dog didn't fit into the program of training, they were faulty or not made for the work. And I have been proven TIME and TIME and TIME again...dogs are individuals, dogs don't fit into ANYTHING. We as trainers need to change, adapt, constantly. There is no standard. There is only the path that each dog takes you on. The JOURNEY is very much more important. It's a team sport...always remember that. Dogs WILL put up with a lot to deal with the ones they love.
  • The nice thing about if you are messing up in that just begin a new way today...they will begin that new way with you :) 

  • Success can and should be measured in ways other than a "Q".
  • and everything else on this page: 

  • Many of the nuggets that I cherish can only be acquired on the journey. That is, they don't have the deep meaning if someone just tells you.
  • Be kind to those just starting out in agility. The sport is very humbling, we all need support to get through the first several years (and longer).  

  • My favorite way of logging training now days is using Google Docs. (Details on the link.)

  • Train every behavior long before you ever need to use it. . . . . . don’t train door/gate behaviors when you want to go out the door with four dogs crowding you to go for a walk . . . . . don’t train stays when it is imperative that your dog do so . . . . . don’t teach recalls when you really need your dog to come to save his life . . . . . don’t wait to train your dog to tolerate physical exams while you are at the vet during an emergency.

  • The single biggest thing I would have done differently would be . . . . . "go with the flow" approach when first starting out in agility. The biggest example of this, for me, is when the dog goes off course or misses an obstacle or whatnot -- do you go with it and continue on as if it was all according to plan, or do you stop the flow, go back, and "fix" it? I did the latter for my first few years in agility. The result? One dog who was never as fast and enthusiastic as he could have been, and another who eventually said "screw this" . . . .

  • We all have strengths & weaknesses but to constantly compare yourself to others is going to always make you feel inferior.
  • “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” -Dr. Seuss

  • But, as awful as our early days were, I wouldn't change a thing. If I had started off doing all the right things and practicing perfect foundation, maybe I wouldn't be the trainer I am today.

  • Honor your dog for who they are, and remember it's not just about what you want.

  • To know the dog really is just a product of what we know and when we get annoyed at the dog we are blaming him for our lack of ability to communicate what we want. To be receptive to the lessons the dog is sharing by their inability to do what we want and to make sure “every day is game day” when I train my dog.
Rant: I almost didn't add this one, because I don't agree with Susan Garrett that "the dog is just a product of what we know", as though they are nothing but programmable robots.  I don't want to go around with cookies in my pocket 24/7, constantly shaping my dogs' behavior, bribing them to do everything I want until it becomes a reflexive response, controlling every aspect of their lives, depriving them of their natural joy just being the glorious animals they are, depriving me of the thrill of observing their instinctive skills.  My Lucky Lucky needs no bribes whatsoever and no training to kill an armadillo, for example, or to retrieve, or jump a 5 foot fence. She and Maxie equally scamper their feet all day over boulders without a single slip, and Lucky plows thru the woods, briars and brambles without a single scratch.  I find those and other of their skills utterly amazing.  Dogs awe me, and humble me.  Sadly, they will be distracted by a little cookie, and still "be happy".  But taking advantage of this weakness every hour of their waking lives is a violation of their being . . . . . . . as wrong as this hilarious "Sheldon Shaping Penny" video from a popular TV sit/com, Big Bang Theory, where Sheldon tries to train his roommate's girlfriend with chocolates, the same way we train dogs.

We had a beagle when my son was young, chosen because she would be a sweet docile house pet, and she was.  But I hired a contractor once to work on my roof, and I'll never forget his comment . . . . "what a waste of a good huntin' dog."  I had no idea what he meant, until we took Annabelle on a hike to Tunica Hills one Easter and let her run free (no leash law back then).  She showed a totally different side of herself, running up and down ravines fetching deer droppings, circling round in wide arcs, scampering thru streams, tossing her ears about, smiling, baying, never tiring, never hungry, and not wanting it to end.  In 3 years of life in the back yard or on leash, I had never seen that side of her.  More on Annabelle here.

One of "the lessons the dog is sharing by their inability to do what we want" , from Susan's quote above, might be that we are trying to conform square pegs into round holes.  Trying to turn a silk purse into a sows ear.  Hello!

My tendency is more libertarian, to balance teaching them to be good family pets, safe in crowds, to entertain with some tricks, be good agility dogs, etc., and likewise let them be free to be themselves so long as they don't harm anyone!  I am incredulous when I hear agility people say "I can't tolerate a dog that barks", "Hush your dog", "I don't appreciate your dog sniffing my dog".  OH, P-A-L-EEese!

The ball and chain of constantly shaping my dogs' behavior is not for me.  I delight in training, a few short sessions per dog per day, and a few classes, but not 24/7.  Sometimes we're just "in the zone", one papillon curled contentedly under my chin, another laid at my side, my husband in the recliner with our cur dog sprawled out over his lap asleep, quivering and making sounds like she's chasing game in her dreams.

The first rule of life:  "Know thyself."

I suppose that means I'm not a totally dedicated trainer.  I don't feel pressed to hone my dogs to "international competition status" nor to that level of obedience, or keep nose to the grindstone myself.   I'm alpha, reasonably strict, and almost always aware of my dogs' whereabouts, behaviors, and proclivities, but I'm no Nazi nor a dictator seeking to bend every aspect of their nature to my will. Even if my dogs were capable of perfect performance and I enjoyed "always on my toes" training, I can't see myself jet setting around the world with them competing. In all honesty, I can't see further than a locally earned MACH for Maxie, MX and MXJ for Lucky (unless she picks up speed), and who knows what for Winnie Pooch.  These feats will satisfy my mildly competitive spirit, and still give me the satisfaction of teaching, problem solving, "overcoming" obstacles, and heading in my favorite direction . . . . .

Upwards and onward!

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