Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Think or Sink...

For someone that has been doing agility as long as I have, how little I have really thought about the sport until recently. Please understand, I have always read books/blogs/websites, watched DVD's and studied many training methods and handling systems. Eversince I was a kid I have been obsessed to know all there is to know about agility. But there is a huge difference between having knowledge and applying it 'as is' and actually THINKING about agility.

Last year, I had to change training partners and was also forced to train on my own a lot more often. My agility schedule was no longer planned out for the week, no more 'having' to make it on time or having courses/sequences set up, no more having my turn at whatever it was we were practising. I still trained every single day, but it was no longer organised. Most of the time I was too lazy to change the set-up in our yard or I would only focus on one behaviour/obstacle for weeks on end. My routine was very habitual, I would get home at the same time every day, train at the same times, train my dogs in the same order and mostly train them all the same behaviour every day. When time/travel schedules/weather allowed, I would train with friends and fellow handlers, but it was always a hasty affair. No-one would arrive with a plan and we would randomly set up sequences and run them. After a dissapointing start to our show year, I realised that I needed a new game plan.

I started off by dividing my training into three categories (I did a seperate one for each of my dogs): train, maintain and improve. The behaviours/obstacles/maneuvers I still needed to teach myself/my dog. Those that I was happy with, of course continous maintenance is neccessary throughout our dog's agility career. And the things that I had trained, but could do with some improvement. I divide my training time (which compromises of 3 x 5-10min sessions twice or three times daily, depending on my dog) into 50% of what I want to train, 25% maintain and 25% improve. Initially I planned out a month's training schedule ahead of time, but in all honesty this did not work, as that did not take weather or life for that matter into account. Now I do it on a weekly basis. For every week I plan four days of training, the fifth is allocated to refine the things I was not entirely happy with on the other four days. I define what I want to do in great detail, literally thinking about how many times I would like to attempt whatever it is I want to train. Honestly it is sometimes difficult not to attempt the weave poles 'one more time' or do one more back cross, but this way I am forced to THINK about what myself and my dog is doing.

Recently I started running into weave pole problems, my normal training would involve me doing the poles repeatedly and rewarding, but since there was no limits on my attempts there was no reason for me or Chaos to really 'want' to get it right on every time, there would always be a next time. I have changed my ways, before I start training, I will already have the idea in my head that I want to do 4 poles twice and 8 poles three times. So if he fails at doing 4 poles once, I open them up a fraction to ensure that I will have something to reward for.

I specify some things to the finest detail, these days I rarely train my contacts as a whole. Some days I will just train the end-behaviour of the dogwalk, using various approaches to maintain my two-on-two-off position. Some days I will put a jump to the side and ask Chaos to jump over the obstacle into a two-on-two-off, other days I will race him halfway down the ramp. I use different distractions and vary my release times, but no matter what I stick to my '5 x times a session' principle. This applies to longer sequences as well. I try and work basic foundation into my routine as often as possible, yesterday for example, I recalled Chaos to the end of the see-saw and just tugged with him, before picking him up off the end without letting it drop or asking for a two-on-two-off.

This routine works well for both the dogs I am currently training: Quake does not like repeating things, so he loves doing 5 small behaviours a few times and then having a huge game; Chaos is always ready to go and now runs into the training area looking at an obstaclel, then looking at me... what are we going to do first. After each show I watch the video's ov my rounds and this has a huge influence on my training plans for the week. I try and work through the weaknesses I had at the previous show and more often than not, they have improved by the next week. This really helps my mental game for each show as well, when walking a course I can confidently tell which sequences I would excel at and where my problem areas might be.

I keep a regular record of all my training and show results. I also make monthly appointments with myself to watch old videos of my rounds to record improvement/regression. Me and my training partners now have a system that works when we have the time to train together or when we train alone.

Now my training system might differ from others, but the important thing is to have a system in place. This system should definitely include a review/assessment of your progress on a regular basis, this is what encourages you to really think. It is so important to keep a record of your agility career, because regardless of how vivid at that exact moment, memories fade so easily. Making a list of all the possible aspects of agility, will help balance your training program AND ensure that you cover all your bases in training. There is no such thing as too much foundation, so remember to include all of these exercises in the schedule. There will always be new sequences and concepts to add to the list, so this is a proccess of conituous change.

Try not to overthink your problems, rather put the thought into the training!

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