Thursday, August 18, 2011

Job descriptions, multi-tasking and the word 'annoy'

My most recent word obsession is 'annoy'... now words are the only thing, other than agility, that I get slight OCB about.  My weird little mind just fixates on random words and I cannot seem to stop using them... past examples are 'umbrella', 'Zeus's hat', 'confoculate'... as you can see their is absolutely no discernible pattern or explanation or theme or even any rational thought attached to those words, they are just another quirk... oooh, yes, now I remember how much I like the word quirk...  Anyhow, I have been telling things (including the fridge, the step in the passage and my bedside table) that they annoy me, just to be able to say the word...  oh and I am not intoxicated in anyway as I write this, it is just how weird I REALLY am.

Now the actual topic of this post, doesn't actually annoy me, as much as it breaks my heart... okay it DOES annoy me a little, but that is not the point.  Before you read this I need to clarify that me, Alett Reedm the harker of independent obstacle performance, is actually not referring to that aspect of agility in this post at all, whatsoever in any way, shape or form.  So even if your dog has perfect contacts and poles, I might still be of the very biased opinion that this very long ranting post is applicable to you.  I also have to categorically state that the theme of photos in this post is 'Alett pulls funny faces while running agility' all for your amusement.

Teaching a dog correct obstacle behaviour, varies in difficulty, depending on the obstacle and the dog.  Teaching a dog handling behaviours (turns, crosses and such forth), depends the dogs natural tendencies and your ability to compliment these natural tendencies with training and handling.  Now those are the two basic elements of agility, right?  Obstacles + Handling = Agility... true, but only to a certain extent... the missing ingredient is 'getting it ALL together'... this is actually a very vague concept and some dogs just 'get it' without being asked while others need some help and nudging in the right direction.  

Now the first few shows/trials/competitions with any dog, are possibly the most intimidating, nerve-racking, nail-biting, soul wrenching experience for all of us(yeah yeah, exaggerating again, I know, deal with it)... even though most of us won't admit it and will really try to play it down.  Regardless of who and what we are, we are proud of our dogs (and if you are not, then why the hell do you have dogs?) and it is in our nature to want that first experience to be memorable.  Most of the time this is not the case, seeing as we put so much pressure on ourselves and our dogs that things... well I wouldn't say falls apart necessarily, but they don't always go as planned...  Okay so I am getting slightly side-tracked again, so let me get to the point.

The thing that annoys me (I have thought about it some more and it actually DOES annoy me), is that in the last year, I have seen an alarming amount of young/new dogs that enter shows that actually have no clue what their job is.  Now here I am not referring to dogs not knowing obstacles (even though there are a ton of those as well), I am not referring to those that allow their dogs to break waits and self-release or even leap contacts (although this annoys the beliving Apollo out of me too though)... I am referring to those dogs that do not understand their job... The keep looking back to check, they cannot identify straight lines, they cannot negotiate two obstacles in a row without showing a sign of insecurity...  I could post videos here, but that would definitely offend some people and get me completely black-listed in the local agility community, so I am going to refrain from doing that...

Now I know those first few months competing are... well interesting would be my positive term, nightmarish would be slightly more correct... You tend to discover new little issues that need to be fixed, you need to adapt to your dogs 'show performance' etc etc... and that is just fine, I mean if you take my poor special needs child, the Awesome Quake... in his very first round he was convinced that he had NEVER seen the poles before  and got his trade-mark panicked 'OH MY ZEUS' look... we went back and corrected it and by the next round he was doing nice confident (albeit considerably 'slower-than-home' poles).  Now I am working on his confidence issues, no problem, but I can assure you my dog knows his job, you line him up at the start and he will take any line you point out to him...  And I am hoping to vastly improve with Volt and looking at his training, we seem to be on the right track.

Now the things I have seen include dogs missing several jumps on dead straight lines because they are too busy looking back/sideways/skew/horizontally/cross-eyed to ask their handlers what the hell they are supposed to do.  I have witnessed dogs circling the poles... seven times... all the while watching their handlers... once they get INTO the poles they are fine, but getting their... eish.  Dogs that stop on the down ramp of a contact, looks back and when they don't get positive feedback, they will creep down two more step and look back again, wait for positive feedback, creep another two steps... rinse and repeat...  It would have still been frowned upon, but accepted in my books if it was one or two of their initial shows, but I have been forced to witness some of these dogs for months, with NO improvement...  The sad thing is, that these are more often than not dogs with immense potential, because after all it tends to be harder to 'get it right' with faster dogs.

Now with my method of training and my beliefs, my dogs are trained with following philosophy:  I will create a straight line for you, you negotiate that line until I tell you to do otherwise. Of course it gets a lot more complicated than that, but that is the basic principle. 

Now I don't train with these unfortunate souls (referring to the dogs, not the handlers), so perhaps they do it perfectly at training or at home or anywhere else, but since the whole point of the training and practising and proofing is that your dog understands its job at trial/show/competition... well then you should be devising a plan to kind of achieve this right?  From my experience teaching, I would probably guess one of the following as the cause:

1.  Sloth - People are damned lazy... some agility handlers really remind me of those floaty chair people in Wall-E...  Even if you are a 'weekend warrior', you should ensure that your dog understands it's job... now this might take a lot longer for you, since you only train once a week (probably more of a social event) for an hour long at a local club, your dog lives boundary-less for the rest of the week, eating the mail man, eating out of your fridge and pee-ing on the couch... haha okay, so really embellishing again... you should try it, it is fun.
2.  Multi-Tasking Extreme Disorder (MED) - Some people feel the need to attempt to train every single behaviour (needed for agility) or seven different disciplines all at the same time.  Now even though I am a COMPLETE agility addict... and I mean seriously, if you could bake agility and slice it up into little juicy bite sizes pieces, that would become my staple diet.  If you could liquidize agility, I would stop drinking beer.. okay who am I kidding, I would never stop drinking beer, but I might replace my coffee with liquidized agility.  Despite that severe addiction, I have NO issues with cross-training and often encourage it... I am actually starting to teach my dogs flyball for some variety.  BUT (and this is the point where many, many, many people will disagree with me), there is a time for everything and you cannot possible expect your dog to learn everything at once.  First of all, unless you are a complete moron and train your dog for hours on end every day, there is NOT enough time to teach your dog poles and contacts and pull-throughs and go-rounds and obstacle discrimination and tracking and heelwork and scent and manwork and box turns and tricks and stays in the same month.  Just not going to happen.  Let's take the Stein as an example, you have all seen my videos, I have done a lot of end position work for the contacts, but this week I started weave pole training (sigh the training I hate the most), so for a little while, we will take a break from the contacts.  Yes, I will still do some jump training with him and a few tricks... but no need to completely overload his little brain.
3.  The Rush-Hour Traffic - And this one is very often applicable to those dogs with the vast potential that I spoke of earlier.  These people are like those cartoon pictures where people get the little dollar bill signs in their eyes right?  Except in this case it is agility trophies and AWC podium places that appear in their eyes...  so they rush things, because the sooner they can get there, the better... ironically these shortcuts often get them caught in rush-hour traffic where they encounter many obstacles.
4.  The Giver-Uppers aka The Inconsistent Crowd -  They are the bunch that will jump on that pyramid scheme so quickly that you just see a puff of dust in the distance.  For a dog to understand their job, they have to understand their job-description... so the equation is as follows:

Dog's Job = Agility
Dog's Job Description = Training (method)
Frequent Change = Confusion

Those that have read my blog for a while, will know that I moan about this last lot often and I often give them new creative names because they irritate the crapzamoli out of me!  In this context however, it is a very simple concept.  If you read a new book, watch a new dvd or make a super-duper smart new agility friend and subsequently decide to subscribe to their Agility Bible, you have to kind of stick to it for longer than three training sessions and seven failures... by changing your methodology at the drop of a hat, you are 100% guaranteed to confuse the beliving Apollo out of your dog.

Oke dokes, I could go about this for another three hours, but if you haven't gotten my point already, you never will... I am by no means professing to be perfect, hat, if only was, wouldn't THAT be awesome.  I have made oh so many mistakes including a good number of the ones that I have already mentioned... and in fact I should thank those that inspired this post, as you taught me a whole bunch of new things...  So thanks and gooood night.

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