Thursday, July 8, 2010

Through the Eyes of your Trainer

I thought I would share with you a little secret Ladies and Gentleman... It is a secret not because secrecy is neccessary, but rather because trainers are never able to announce this in a class full of paying students.

First off, let me start by saying that most trainers learn as much from their students as the situation vice versa. Often as I watch my students, I will take notice of their solution to a specific problem and adopt their strategy for future agility dogs. Since I especially have a keen interest in the relationship between anatomy and agility (ie the styles of jumping, running, striding etc dogs adopt to accomodate their physique or specific quirks), I watch every dog that crosses my path from a completely different point of view. And so many trainers have their quirks and concentrate on these specific qualities. Often, while training a beginners class, I will remind students of some basic techniques, methods or excercises and realise that I haven't applied these to my own dogs or more advanced students. The point is, that I learn along with my students, so if you for one second, that your agility trainer has capped knowledge on the sport, think again...

At the risk of making a terrible generalisation, I have to sort my students into three categories though and this is where the problem arises. I make a point of asking my students on a regular basis what exactly it is they want from agility. Of course there are a wide range of answers: to win the Agility World Championships; Make their dog up into a champion; Reaching the top level of agility; Just being able to compete in a show; Some only want to do agility on a informal level and have fun coming to training every day. Of course there are always the more specific answers: Perfect contacts (and here I sigh... who doesn't?); to solve a knocking problem; to speed up around the course; learning proper directionals. Those are just a few, but there is always one common denominator: Every student I have ever trained wants to do it RIGHT. Now of course this as such is a vague answer, but I think we all get the idea. None of us want to teach our dogs bad habits and want to be able to run an exercise or course or even just a simple obstacle to the best of our ability. But the execution of this vague statement is what seperates my students into three groups: The Executors; The Ignorant and The Feisty.

The first group of students are every Agility trainer's dream. They listen intently to their trainer, watch their fellow learners and do research, not only do they train at home, but they do so correctly. This group will come to training merely to get a regular input form others in order to solve their problems to the best of their ability. If, for example, a student has developed a problem with their contact behaviour or are still teaching the basics of the method, I will advise them NOT to incorporate the obstacle when we are training a course or exercise that does not have the sole purpose of teaching contacts. Obviously all my students are on different levels and so I cannot accomodate one student by training non-contact exercises until said student has corrected his problem. Thus the onus rests on the handler to have the sense, to miss out on some of the class. As a paying student this is hard and since Agility is not a dictatorship I cannot fban anyone from engaging in any activity. The Executors will do just this. With the knowledge that by rushing their dog or by allowing an unwanted behaviour to continue, they may potentially be creating far worse problems for the future of their agility career. With the proper training at home (their are always little exercises you can do without equipment) and some dedication you can solve your problems and be good to go in no time. Often these students do not follow my exact advice, but will think about the obstacle in their way (no pun intended) and then discuss a solution with me. Since there are so many options, their method may hold just as much credit as mine. Whatever the situation may be, I appreciate the student that is willing to work and to LISTEN and they are always the ones that have a good Agility future ahead of them if they choose to do so.

This brings me to the second type of pupil. The Ignorant. This handler is always enthusiastic, in fact their enthusiasm may contribute to their downfall. Despite all the knowledge that have been imparted on these handlers, they will continue to fall back into their bad habits. These students will come and ask for advice, lets use our contact example again. They have taught a four on the floor contact, for example, but the dog is still leaping off the dogwalk. My first reaction would be to test the dog's downs independantly, 'drop-downs' as we call them around here. I will suggest target downs and a whole load of exercises. I will create an ideal mental picture with the handler in order to create an end goal, yet next week in class I will have to watch the same student repeatedly attempting the dog in exactly the same manner. It breaks my heart to see a dog so utterly confused by what is expected of him, that he shuts down to the training completely. Here is a harsh newsflash for you: If your dog is not doing what he is supposed to consistently and independantly, you have failed. If you taught your dog correctly, done the BASIC training that IS agility and your dog still fails to do what you ask, then he does not understand. And if your dog does not understand, the problem lies with you. Please note that I do know we are not working with machines and some days your dog may just ignore all his training to please himself and have fun, but if there is a pattern, then there is a reason for the pattern. Often people argue habitat, but since we are talking about a training sitation, which implies that it is something you do on a regular basis, then the habitat argument becomes invalid.
And if habitat is the case, bring all your training tools to training and do all your exercises until the dog DOES understand.

My third and least favourite students are The Feisty. These individuals, will attend trainig and also ask their questions, in fact they are very similar to the Ignorant. The difference is in their reaction, once you have answered their query, they will jump on their high horse and argue with your (or anyone else's) advice. The argument is often compiled from a large variety of excuses, but their closing argument is always the same: They are right and everyone else is wrong. Quite frankly, in my opinion of course, if you ask for advice, you have to be open to at least consider it. Once again I cannot force my agility students to listen to me and I don't want to, I enjoy nothing more than someone doing some creative problem solving in Agility. But those who stick to their out-dated or ineffective methods and then have the audacity to complain week after week, these are the handler's that break any trainers heart. You have to believe in your training, but if it does not work, you have to be willing to try alternatives. It is as simple as that.

I realise that this article is harsh and since agility is a hobby to most and depends solely on the dog's and handler's enjoyment, alot of you may frown upon what I write. But at the end of the day, doing it RIGHT (as most agility handlers claim they want to do it) results in complete enjoyment of agility. I would like to appeal to all inidviduals that attend a dog-training class of some kind somewhere, to take into consideration that your trainer is trying to help and if you are open to this and willing to engage in the hard work that it takes, you may just find yourself having fun while getting the best results possible.

If you want to attend my agility class for the sole purpose of doing your own thing on the obstacles, please feel free to tell me this. I will happily ignore your short-comings and both of us can enjoy what we are doing. And maybe even salvage a friendship or acquantance. If you do not want advice, if you are not willing to follow advice, if you think that you are right regardless of... well anything, please do not ask for advice. If you are not in my class to learn, please inform me of this, then I will avoid any expectations that I may have had. Because the reality is that I can see the potential in each and every dog and handler that I train and it breaks my heart to see this potential fade away because of an unwillingness to learn.

In short I am asking all Agility pupils in the world, to have some consideration for their trainer too.

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