Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012, Flooding and Philosophies

I cannot believe I haven't blogged in almost three weeks.  I guess with no shows, I don't always feel the 'urgency' to blog.  I have also been busy with some random things, new on-line syllabuses,  training plans, round analysis and then of course the house and The Nerd, shame the poor dud deserves some attention every now and again.

Happy New Year!

2012 is off to a very good start training-wise, goal-wise and attitude-wise, hat but NOT weather-wise.  I am sitting here like a welted flower, sweat dripping down, trying to maintain consciousness and fighting heat-stroke.   And this is while a thunderstorm is going outside. THAT is how hot it is.  Of course that is a limiting factor in the  whole 'agility training' deal.  Not that I am fussed, the very short sessions we have been doing very early in the morning and late in the evenings have been ALL good.  Thus far all short-term training goals achieved.  I have a lot planned for agility in 2012, I will be trying out for the team again, Volt's career will officially start and I am aiming for clears and placings and 'agility harmony'.  We have also been doing walks and up-hill sprints for conditioning and the dogs are LOVING that.  A lot to look forward to this month too, first shows of the year, seminars with Lee Gibson and Lucy Osborne from the UK, lots of agility stuffs *claps hands together like only an insane agility person can*.  And a (very) mini-getaway, which I am REALLY looking forward to.

After a conversation with a friend who started Agility less than a year ago, it dawned on me... I am SO glad I am NOT starting out with Agility now.  When I started in 1997, there just wasn't THAT much information available.  There were a handful of schools, limited methods.  No on-line class rooms, no blogs, only a few dvd's and books.  I could develop on my own and kind of evolve 'with' the sport.  This friend of mine, is completely flooded by information.  Different methods, big names, specialities, opinions.  And let's be fair, how SHOULD he know what to believe?  Or what would work for him?  There are of course the undeniable massive advantages to all this information.  This evolution is critical in our sport.  But it also creates so many more opportunities to 'get it wrong' or 'try to many things' (haha, face it, you all know someone like that, that wants to try everything, but follows through on nothing).  It floods 'newbies' with so much information, that only the most sensible with common sense will make it through the gauntlet without scars.  Yes, I am exaggerating, I am not predicting 'agility dooms day' for all alike.  I am just sympathising with those souls that are wading through the floods.

Now some of my 'training philosophies' on compensating, as requested: (Quoted from my 'Analysing and Planning Agility' document).

When designing your handling system, you want to keep the following in mind:  You want a system that suit your needs, on the long term teach your dog to compensate for your weaknesses, but will give you the room to improve your own handling, without affecting your core handling.  You want to create handling rules for your dog, that you will be able to improve on yourself, without changing your dog’s understanding of his job.

I will use myself as an example.  I am not always a running handler and often lack in aggression.  It is not that I do not have the speed, I have just not reached full capability of using all my speed as a handler on an agility course.  I lack in acceleration in my own running.  I am not a sprinter, I am a long-distance runner.  I sometimes lack the confidence to attack a maneuver or obstacle.  I have a constant fear of falling if I run or turn too fast. Obviously these are things I want to improve over the long term, but seeing as this may take months or years, I cannot wait until I have perfected my imperfections, before commencing training with my dogs.  Therefor I want to create a handling system, where my dogs can do complicated turns with me further away from them or still accelerating towards them.  I want them to be able to do this at full speed.  But I also want them to be comfortable to perform these complicated tasks with me right on top of them touching their tail hairs (in case I have a moment of brilliance and attack the course).  Just because I lack in the speed NOW, I do not want to create a training method where I HAVE to be far away from my dogs or where they will drive away from me if I try to get closer.  I want my dogs to be able to compensate for my weaknesses (if I am just too far away because of a lack in confidence in running) but I do not want them to be trained according to my weaknesses (I have to be far away).  All of this while maintaining consistency in my expectations.  I want my physical and verbal cues to have the same meaning to my dogs, regardless of my course positioning and movement.


In order to negotiate pull-through’s (threadles), I teach a ‘come’ command (verbal) which is combined with my physical cue of turning my body into my dog, opposite arm is lead arm pulling the dog back to me, slightly rotating my body (continual movement) towards my dog.  This means come towards me at full speed, without negotiating any of the obstacles in your path, regardless of MY movement.  The end of this behaviour is signaled when the lead arm is changed to closest arm, body rotates in the opposite direction and a verbal marker ‘yes’.  My dog will then reverse their path and move away from me and take the next obstacle in their path.  Ideally I would be as close as possible to my dog, while not obstructing their path.  This would leave me in the best position to judge the tightest path for them, but as I mention repeatedly, our handling cannot be based on ideals, due to course design and our own weaknesses, so:
I do not want ‘come’ to mean come ALL the way to me every time.  Then I would not be compensating for my weaknesses.  I might be 10 meters behind my dog and the ‘come’ would signify that the dog would have to come 10m back, reversing their path back in the opposite direction for another 10m, there by adding 20m (and 5 seconds) to their course.
In this case, I do not want my movement to affect the behaviour.  I do not want my forward movement to cause my dog to continue his forward movement (away from me), because I might want to use this moment to get course position.
I want my dog to negotiate this behaviour regardless of the distance between us.  I do not want to force myself to always be 5m away.  Then I am not creating room for my own improvement. 

It all boils down to thinking plans through, before initiating them!

Okay, I will leave you with that for now....

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