Thursday, March 1, 2012

Training Problems

Before reading this post, read the header stating what this blog is about, and remember, it's partially about the people involved in the sport.  It's a place for me to vent, and it isn't always pretty.  I do my best not to mention names, because it isn't about anyone in particular, just the principles involved.

The way our dog club is set up, volunteer instructors who have put titles on their dogs and have time available, are our teachers.  They get to practice their own dogs too. This works out well enough, all things considered.

At the more advanced levels, however, instructors are more "coordinators" than teachers, making sure there are courses to run, suggesting sequences, and keeping the class moving along in timely fashion.  Instructors become reluctant to critique a fellow competitor's style, paticularly if that competitor has been in the game longer than they have, has a different training style, a different type of dog with different training needs, etc.

It's also an issue when a seasoned competitor brings a novice dog into a low level class, primarily for the benefits of socialization and learning to take turns with distractions, but has a training style different from the instructor's.  Competitors have firm ideas on how to train. They often ignore the planned program.

Which is why my second agility dog, Lucky Lucy, has thus far never made it through a single 6 week class without some kind of snafu.  Not that it's the instructors fault, it's just a situation.  Nobody knows my dog like I do.  Lucky, above all else, needs to improve her speed.  I don't give a fig if she misses a jump in a full course run, or if I misdirect her to the wrong obstacle, we are going to keep running to the end.  In my attempt to develop momentum, I don't stop for knocked bars or popping out of the weaves, except for incorrect entries.  I plan in advance where I will reward her by throwing her ball: to encourage fast go outs, to come out of a tunnel fast, race over the dog walk, not pause on top of the A-frame, or complete her weaves as fast as she is capable of.  More than one instructor, however, has had different ideas, wanting me to stop mid-run and correct any mistakes, or yelling at me as I run to stop and try something else.  I've learned to make it clear before the first class starts what I'm striving for with Lucky.  I'm willing to try new things, just not mid-run.  (This, of course, does not apply when training specific skills or short sequences, in which case I back-chain mistakes until they are right.)

Last night in Maxie's class, however, the instructor (who shall remain nameless because it isn't about a person but a principle) kept yelling at me during a full course run to stop and pay my dog.  "Pay your dog."  Pay your dog."  I got so discombobulated and Maxie got so confused, I started yelling at her to quit yelling at me, that I always pay my dog.  Which I do at logical intervals -- at the bottom of the see saw, on the table, at the bottom of the dog walk, and whenever we have trouble with a sequence, when I go back and practice it later.  It doesn't make sense to Maxie or me just to stop every 3 or 4 obstacles and throw down a treat.  That would be counter-productive and destroy his drive.  Even though my spots are exactly where she pays her dog too, she threw her hands up in disgust, turned her back and completely lost interest in us the rest of the evening.

In my view, she was way out of line.  Ridicule is NOT a valuable teaching tool.  At least, it doesn't work for me.  I came home wondering how an instructor might handle this differently.  What I'd suggest is:
  1. Watch my runs and evaluate my team's performance.
  2. Praise something I did right.
  3. After my turn, or before the next one, make constructive suggestions and/or ask me to repeat the sequence in that way, if I want to.
  4. If I choose NOT to do it that way, realize it's my decision.
  5. Don't make derogatory comments about the student running to the other students who are standing around.
  6. Keep it fun.  I don't go to class to be made to feel like crap.
Once in awhile, I'd like to give a fellow instructor a tip or two as they struggle with their own dog, but I tried that once and got my head bit off.  That was a year ago and the instructor still has the same problems.  Okay by me.  I did give one tip to a fellow competitor successfully, outside of class, and it's made a huge difference to that competitor's performance.  Critiques must be carefully timed, and never embarassing.

Okay, so I got that off my chest.  Now I finish packing and head for Monroe.   Three days of trialing and hopefully some Q's, or at least some faster course times.  I can't help but remember last year in Monroe, me with a torn calf, in pain, with others running (and Q'ing) my beautiful babies.

Upwards and onward,

No comments: