Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"If I Knew Then What I Know Now" - Blog Action Day

Thanks, Steve Schwarz (the Agility Nerd) for inviting us agility bloggers to discuss this interesting topic on March 7th, Blog Action Day!

I've learned so, so much since I started training agility with Maxie back in February 2008 when he was only 8 months old.  We trained for 2 years (once a week in class, and short sequences at home) before first daring to compete in April 2010.  Maybe waiting so long is why our novice experience was so remarkable, 6 runs, 6 Q's, 6 1st places in our first 2 trials, and earned our Excellent titles in only 6 trials over 7 months, plus, he loves agility. And now that we're working towards our first MACH and I have a second dog, Lucky Lucy, with Excellent titles, I can honestly say that no awards have been as thrilling to receive as those first ones!  These novice ribbons are still strung across my mantle, and this photo is my screensaver on my laptop.
Ace Maximillion, my first agility dog, a 7 lb. papillon,
posing with his NA and NAJ ribbons, 2010.
6 runs, 6 Q's, 6 1st places
One thing for certain, if I had known then how much money I'd be spending chasing those titles, I might never have gotten started.  Counting the cost of classes, seminars, gas, motels and entry fees, I figure each novice ribbon in this photo cost me about $45!  (The one QQ we earned last weekend cost me, I figure, $385!)  But they were each worth every penny of it in joy, exercise, excitement and the fulfillment pursuing them gave me. 
So, before I list my "If I Knew Then What I Know Now" items, I want to make myself clear on one thing:

RIBBONS & ROSETTES:  I LOVE MY RIBBONS.  And especially those rosettes for titles earned.  I decorate with them!  Arrange doggie portraits!  I remember being very disappointed when Maxie earned both his Excellent titles at the same trial, only to discover that club didn't give title rosettes. I was shocked and I complained.  The club said "we didn't list rosettes in the premium list". I said I didn't read that fine print and retorted, "Would you prefer I don't attend your trials if I'm up for a title because you don't give out rosettes?"  They must have listened, because the next year the trial secretary handed me two rosettes for the titles earned the year before!  I appreciated that, and they hang on Maxie's wall.  After all the countless hours of hard work and money spent getting those titles, the least the hosting club can do is honor your achievement. 

Being chincy in this department is very bad for the sport, especially compared to the Kung Fu and Ju Jitsu classes around here where 8 year olds bring home 2' high gold trophies for mere "participation" in a local event.  I would NOT have handled this differently, even though some competitors say they don't even bother picking up their ribbons, all they want is the sticker to put in their competition record book.  That's their choice, but should not the hosting club's. I'm very proud that my dog club gives out beautiful rosettes. 

Lucky Lucy, my second agility dog, 45 lbs
of love and pure muscle.  She's a
Southern Blackmouth Cur, registered in AKC's
mixed breed program as an All American Dog, who
loves herding, lure coursing, tugging and fetching
 more than she loves agility, unless I'm carrying her ball.
If I Knew Then . . . . . . .

Other than the wonderful "connection" with my dogs, being mentally and physically challenged, and the thrill of chasing after "improvement" eventually measured by Q's and ribbons, agility has been a mixed bag of emotions for me.  I could have saved myself a lot of angst if I'd have known from the start what I know now.  Here's my list:
  • I don't listen to other people's conversation before I run.  People can sometimes say very thoughtless things that mess with my focus, at the most inopportune times.
  • I don't listen to other people's negative opinions of my dogs, such as "not as good as a pure bred", or "papillons aren't real dogs", or "never going to be a real agility dog".
  • I no longer assume that any agility skill comes naturally (running fast, course memorization, pre-competition routine, well-timed crosses, maintaining a tough outer shell).  These are skills that take years of practice to perfect.
  • I now realize that agility is an atheletic sport for people as well as dogs, and I have to put in the time and exercise to become good at it.  Here's where my newfound love of football comes in -- those guys practice every day to accomplish the feats they do.  Agility folk practice 3-4 hours a week and wonder why we aren't Q'ing all the time.  That is plain silly!
  • I don't expect anyone to be consistently kind, thoughtful, etc.  Some people just aren't.  Others are very nice but preoccupied with their own performance.  Since I lowered my expectations of others, I've been having a much happier experience.
  • I don't expect friends and family to follow my career, attend my trials, take my picture, have champagne waiting for me at home.  They are not as into dogs and agility as I am.
  • I don't expect to make a ton of intimate friends who remember my birthday and join in my private life.
  • I don't assume that just because people don't remember my birthday or visit my house, they don't care about me.  I've noticed that when a dog dies or someone is injured, fellow competitors cry real tears of sadness and come out in force to wish you well.
  • I no longer think everyone is watching my runs nor cares how I do.  They don't. They are mostly preoccupied with their own performance.  I don't expect them to notice as my performance improves, certainly never as much as I notice it myself.  This is a very personal intimate journey.
  • I am learning not to let one bobble on course cause me to lose focus and throw the rest of the run.  I'm learning to "let it go instantly", stay focused on the next obstacle and "get back in the program", and that this is a learned skill.
  • I realize that even the champions NQ a bunch.  It's no big deal to NQ.
  • I no longer expect my dog club, or any one teacher, to teach me everything I need to know. It's my responsibility to branch out on my own and learn from many different instructors, including online courses, magazines, blogs, etc.
  • I keep a checklist of everything I need to take to trials, one for summer, one for winter.
  • I have agility outfits, including socks and underwear, that I don't wear any other time.  They get washed and put right back in the suitcase; a separate toiletries and makeup bag that stay packed.  And so forth.
  • As of this year, I have a separate set of crates for home and trialing, so I can keep my car packed.  Packing and unpacking the heavy stuff was wearing me out.
  • I take notes on every trialing venue, so next time I visit I know which hotels to stay in, what to take, where to crate, distance from home, directions, etc. I keep a page on this blog called "Trial Site Summaries" which I review whenever I go back to that venue. It's very helpful.
  • For the venues I compete in (AKC, USDAA), I fill out a blank entry form for each dog and make about a dozen copies, so I don't have to look up the info and fill one out every time.  I just cut and paste the premium header for each trial in the top slot, check off my classes, and I'm good to go. I also prepare about a dozen stamped envelopes with my return address label affixed at the beginning of the year, so I can grab and mail without spending all morning getting each entry together.
Here are some things I've been doing right from the beginning, and still believe in:
  • Video each run and watch them over and over again.  You'll find out you and your dog are doing most everything right.  That's very gratifying.  And that you mostly always make the same mistakes, which you can easily train to remedy once you identify them.
  • Don't listen when people tell you you're too analytical or self-absorbed, i.e., watching your videos, analyzing course maps, considering different ways to handle, etc.
  • Despite all the scuttlebut, I'va always seen a problem with the "handler is always at fault" didactic. It's value lies in that only if the handler assumes responsibility for the dog's errors is there any chance of correcting the dog's behaviors, and it also minimizes the "blame game".  But I've seen handlers take full blame for sending their dog over the wrong obstacle (too much pushing or pulling, failing to accel or decel), when the video clearly shows the handler was supporting the correct obstacle but the dog just wasn't watching, or felt like taking off for the A-frame or tunnel.  These handlers consistently fail to notice that their dogs are at fault and need more and/or different training.  Result, they stay stuck in the rut they are in rather than dare to expect more from their dogs.
  • It's always been okay to take a break.  Sometimes me and my dogs come back from a break doing measurably better than before.
Winnie Pooch/Honey Bear
I just can't decide on a name, but he
answers to either one.
That said, we're on break from trialing for 5 weeks while I play Crate Games, Clicker, fetching and tugging with my new Papillon puppy, and taking him around to socialize him.  Welcome 4 month old Winnie Pooch (Honey Bear) to the Fry family, unless and until I find him another forever performance home.  This little tri-color pap is just too smart, too fiesty, and too eager to learn to let go for a mere house pet.  We are having some fun!

P.S.  I've waited a week and it seems all the bloggers have added their Blog Action Day posts on this topic.  Here are my favorite take-aways.

Upwards and onward!


Elf said...

Lots of truth in the things you say. I am intrigued to see your photo of Lucky Lucy, the Blackmouth Cur. Many, many years ago when I was competing with my first agility dog, a couple of ladies (from the south) came up to me at a trial and asked me whether he was a Blackmouth Cur. I'd never heard of such a thing. But I can kinda see the resemblance in this old photo of Remington. Here in California, I'm pretty sure he was really just a random mix (he was a rescue, so don't know). But he was a good dog.

ViewFr4Inch said...

Wonderful thoughts. I'm taking some home with me. :-)

Catalina said...

Wow! Very good list of things to remember. I think I might print it out :) and save it for when we start trialing. Although the one's dealing with people I've already started to figure out :P
What a CUTE puppy!!!

Natalie on papillon Training said...

Wow! Those medals are a lot. I hope my dog will win in contests someday. J What’s your dogs’ secret?

Agility Boxer said...

Love your post, so many great thoughts to consider. I often listen to others when I should be listening to myself.

I also plan to keep track of the of trialing site information, what a wonderful idea.