In agility class the other day I was doing what I do every class: I was creating a course map in my sketch book. One of my fellow classmates, a long time competitor in agility and other dog sports, came over to ask what I was doing. “Do you recreate the courses in your backyard?” While that would be a great use for the course maps I write down during class, it’s unfortunately not what I do with them. I have no backyard, you see. So there’s little chance to recreate a course, much less a full one, for me outside of class.
So what was I doing then?
Well, I tend to be the kind of person who likes to keep track of things. Oh, I don’t keep lists or anything. But I like to document things. I like to be able to look back and relive moments in my life that I really enjoyed. And so when I started agility classes three years ago it was natural for me to make a log of what happened each class.
I didn’t start doing it with any real goal in mind but the longer I took classes, the more I realized that there were really several reasons to keep such a record and I’m glad I did so from the very beginning.
1. Tracking progress. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it all, you feel like you’ve been struggling forever. There have been days I’ve walked out of class and felt like we would never ever improve. I would come home so disheartened. I’d see all the other dogs so easily taking some complicated maneuver that we just never quite got the hang of, or that we blundered our way through with Dahlia occasionally hesitating and looking to me for help. These are the moments I go back to the log. Sometimes I go back and skim through entries from the year before, just so see where we were at that time.
Here is a course we did in class at the end of May last year. As you can see it’s a fairly simple course, one cross (change of sides), only 9 obstacles. My note on the beginning of our run was this: I got Dahlia out there and she was slow. Not like she was trotting through it. She was walking through everything. This was pretty typical of her at that time. She walked through courses, occasionally trotted. Even the easy ones without pinwheels and fancy maneuvers. She hesitated at the entrance of the second tunnel, another one of her tendencies at the time. Forget pinwheels! She would hesitate before each and every jump.
Here is a course we did in class in May of this year. Notice the difference. 17 obstacles and that wasn’t even the hard part! The beginning consisted of some crazy handling maneuvers that required a bit of a serpentine into a rear cross with the dog taking both jumps 3 and 4 from the same side. The sequence of 8-9-10 required a front cross and a strange turn that sent the dog wrapping tight around 10 before moving on (and then getting them to commit to jump 11 so that you could front cross before 12!). We struggled with this. I won’t even pretend otherwise. And I remember feeling a bit out of my element while out there. But we did it. It was messy and not perfect, but most importantly we did it. A year ago that would not have been possible. So even though we struggled with it, the fact that we could even contemplate doing it was a huge thing.
I enjoy comparisons like this because it reminds me that this really is a journey and that we’ve traveled along from where we were before. We’re not at our final destination (we never will be), but we’re constantly moving forward. It reminds me that the journey is the important part of all of this.
2. Assessments. I also keep track of what happens at trials so I can compare those notes to what happens at class. Being able to see it all written out in black and white gives me a chance to see what is consistently going wrong (both at trials and at class) and allows me to try to fix the issue. For instance, back a year or so ago, we realized that Dahlia wouldn’t take the A-Frame or Dog Walk in a trial situation. That gave us a chance to work on more confidence and more distractions on her contacts. We also know that Dahlia shuts down a bit at trials. She doesn’t have nearly the verve and excitement she does in class, so we’re working on that one as well. Having specific notes as to why you didn’t Q each time allows you to see if there’s a pattern causing them. Is your dog always taking an off course jump or tunnel? Then maybe your handling is not clear enough or maybe the dog hasn’t been taught to turn properly at a cross. Is your dog taking off to sniff? Then maybe he/she finds the trial atmosphere stressful and you need to work on stress issues. Does your dog like to go greet the ring crew? Then more distraction training is needed! On the flip side, if your dog has several Q’s in a row, seeing what happened to cause those can help you continue doing what you’re doing right! If you don’t write these things down, will you remember them from one week to the next? I’m not sure I would. And so having them there to re-read and find the patterns, both positive and negative, is very important to me.
3. Memories. This one is a little bit sad. But someday my best girl is not going to be here. She’s going to be nothing more than memories and so instead of saying “Yeah I used to do agility with my girl” and allowing those memories, the triumphs and the frustrating moments, to fade I have them all written out with complete clarity. The courses we did, the trials we went to, the moments of triumph and failure. I can relive all those wonderful moments with my girl sometime down the line. It’s like keeping a diary. Sometimes it’s wonderful to look back, even if it is bittersweet.
4. Future dog’s training. Dahlia will not be the only dog I train in agility. I plan to get another rescue dog sometime down the line and do agility with that dog too. I hope to even have a yard at that time so I can do some training at home! But having all those struggles outlined with Dahlia, including what we did to help her through certain things, will really help when I run into stumbling blocks with Future Dog. Yes, I’ll have an instructor (hopefully the same one I have now, unless we have to move from the area), but when I’m working on things at home it’s nice to know I can go back and look at suggestions that were made for issues Dahlia was having to see if I can find anything to help me work with Future Dog.
Do you keep training logs? What reasons do you have for keeping them or even not keeping them? Come share your thoughts in the comments!
Or, let them, then throw it in their face.
Back in April of this year, I agreed to work at a dog show. I also showed my dog because I believe I need all the ring practice I can get to help me be a better handler and a better dog person. I wasn’t expecting to win anything – after all, he was the only APBT at the show that day, and even though he had won a Group 1 in the Terrier Group for Show 1, he was given a Group 3 in Show 2*.
We went on to win Best in Multi-Breed Show for Show 1 that day. I was over the moon, dancing on clouds. It was my first BIMBS award – ever. After 2 years of showing.
Later, I was told that people were talking behind my back. “Not bad for a dog that shouldn’t be bred.” The person that said this particular comment has been someone I have contended with personally since I started conformation, but this person has also been a person I have tried to prove wrong. Their negative comments have been a source of inspiration for me to do better.
That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate everyone who has been a source of support for me and my dog. Jax’s breeder has been a huge source of support for me – he cheers me on, rejoices in our accomplishments, and handles my freak-outs and break-downs. The woman who owns Jax’s sire has been my rock, my mentor, and a great friend; she is who I aspire to be, the kind of dog person I want to be. My friends and family, even though they don’t always know what I’m talking about or exactly what I do with my weekends, and often think I’m spending too much money, are there to cheer me on, too. Dog show friends come and go, but I’ve met some fabulous people who I can’t imagine living without. Without all of these people, the nay-sayers probably would have pushed me out of the sport.
Instead, I used them as my inspiration. I could have left because a fellow competitor didn’t like my dog. I could have left the show ring because my dog was dumped by a judge. I have my own issues that I have to battle with, and it makes dealing with nasty people that much more difficult and that much more tempting to just walk away.
It took me a long time to realize that a good person will not purposefully tear down another. A good person may not specifically go out of their way to help you, but they also won’t purposefully hurt someone else. It’s so easy to let someone get into your head, to take their words to heart, to leave the show ring because no one seems supportive. The trick is to find even just one person who will help you, one person who will support you, one person who will cheer you on. Surround yourself with the good people, because no one else is worth listening to.
So, I am here to tell you that you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do whatever it is you have your mind set on doing.
We may never win a BIMBS award again. But that’s okay – we did it once, we proved them wrong. My little buddy and I have accomplished a lot together in the last two years – Multiple group placements with and without breed competition, 10 UKC titles, 1 AKC title (CGC), 2 C-WAGS titles, 9 Total Dog awards, a High In Trial award for Rally, a placement in UKC’s Rally All-Stars, an Award of Merit and a Total Dog award at our National breed show, and now this BIMBS. He’s my companion, my best friend, and he never lets me down.
I will strive for better, because it makes he and I better.
* Unlike AKC shows, UKC shows generally hold 2 shows per day, instead of 1.