Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fear of Failure, Knowing when to let Go and Finding Balance

As you can see, all serious agility stuff... Quick recap on this weekend's show.  Chaos is working really well at the moment, and even though we are working well together, I still fail him more often than I would like.  Partly because I have a small war raging in my mind at the moment.  I personally do not think that there is a lack of quality in dogs or handlers in South Africa... we have brilliant dogs and decent handlers around, but our entire system and attitude in the country leans towards complacency and more detrimental 'laid back' handling.  I have made up my mind that I want to work on a more aggressive handling style, well when the course calls for it of course.  This is all fine and well, but all my coaching and influence locally has favoured the laid back attitude.  And have you ever tried to overcome deep-seated learnt reflexes?  Eish, not the easiest, we are getting there though.  Here are our rounds for the weekend and yes I was in quite a silly mood when I made the video...  Oh and by the way, I KNOW there are glitches in the videos... I re-wrote the movie files a million times and this was the best I could do...

I am not particularly stressed with our mistakes, in my eyes Chaos is doing well and we are slowly achieving my long term goal.  This does not take away the fear of failure, not so much with Chaos, as with Volt.  Chaos has already proven that he can cope with my shortcomings and correct my mistakes.  But that fear of failure with a young dog is something we cannot get past.  Every time a new 'agility puppy' joins my household, I am faced with the fear that I will fail my dog completely.  This fear diminishes as a partnership builds, but it is still a reality.  I honestly believe that I owe it to each of my dogs to train and run them to the best of their potential.  Of course they only do agility because they love it (a love which I create by the way), but since they always give me everything they have, don't I owe them the same?  Yes, they don't give a damn about winning the World Champs or Qualifying Certificates, but that is not the point.  They are guaranteed to enjoy agility all the more if I do it properly.

Having said that, I don't think perfectionism has a real place in agility training.  That is the beauty of what we do, it is all about try, react and adapt. Each dog is different and the best dog trainers in the world are not the ones that hammer on perfection every single time.  Training is about conveying what you want, but then making the dog think and WANT to do what you want every single time.  It is also about recognising when it is time to adapt YOURSELF to enhance your dog's performance.  So often I see the two extremes of this scale.  There are those that hammer on the finer things from day one, they tend to do so many repetitions it makes ME dizzy, never mind their poor dogs.  On the other end, you have those that always just 'let go', creating so many bad habits in their dogs that you need a whole alphabet to list them all.  As much as I like 'getting it right' and as much as I think we should all strive towards that golden phrase, we have to be realistic... in you agility career you will NOT get every turn perfectly tight, your dog will NOT stride every line perfectly.  Of course we need to learn from these mistakes and try to do better, but we have to find a balance between 'letting go and correcting'.  Sometimes letting go, is actually good for our dogs.  I am not talking about obstacle performance.  There, you as a trainer, damn well better give your dog all the skills necessary to perform obstacles correctly.  It is 100% our responsibility to give our dogs these skills, so no, I will never let a missed contact or a missed weave pole entry go, but that is because I train these. The right way and a lot.

Having moaned about that.  In the last week, I decided to test Volt's skills.  I have worked hard on foundation training and at some point, you have to string all these skills together to actually see where your weaknesses are. Then go back and do some more foundation work to strengthen those shortcomings.  You will see a lot of mistakes here.  A lack of commitment to the tunnel, some wide turns, one or two striding problems on tight sections, hat I can name a mile long list, some of it I let go and some I corrected. That is the way the cookie crumbles.  This whole exercise made me nervous, because of my fear of failure, but I think Volt came through it with a good grade.  I very rarely do technical training like this, but it was time that I tested myself.  Obviously we have tons to work on in the next few months, before he competes, but all in all I am happy with our progress.

My other big problem has been that I am a LAZY COW.  I am so lucky to have a full set of equipment in our yard, that I have been lazy to go and train anywhere else.  This of course has massive implications, especially since I only have a small space to work with, which forces my dogs to work tightly.  I have now made a deal with myself that I WILL WILL WILL go and train in different environments, in fact I am blackmailing myself... no beer if I do not go and train somewhere else at least once a week!

Last but not least, I am continuing my informal long term study of 'small dog vs. large dog.  More accurately at this stage it is Volt vs. Chaos, but I will branch out on this later.  The subject of today's comparison was Slaloms.  Both needs some work on this, but that is why I make these videos... to learn.  You will see I adjusted the distance of the jumps this time, to suit their different sizes and try and get a more accurate comparison of their actual movement and striding.

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