Continuing Education for Dog People

agility8I never could have imagined back when I first started training in agility that I would become the sort of student who would end up taking multiple classes and seminars both with my regular instructor and others.  I started it for fun and somewhere along the line decided I wanted Dahlia and I to be as good a team as we possibly could be.

We’ve taken weekly (and sometimes bi-weekly) classes at the same awesome training place since we began in 2010.  The classes are fantastic and we’ve certainly learned a lot.  But there’s a minor problem with classes: they’re fairly short.  While each student gets their allotted time with the instructor, it still amounts to only about 10-20 minutes at most of the instructor specifically working with you and your dog.  Yes, you learn a lot from watching the other students and their dogs and the mistakes they make, but nothing helps more than having the instructor specifically telling you what to do to improve your performance.

At first I wasn’t all that interested in taking seminars.  They can be expensive.  They’re time intensive (sometimes 4-5 hours, sometimes all day).  And the idea just never really crossed my mind.  But my instructor suggested I try one out and so I did.

The first seminar I learned to release Dahlia from her start line stay a little bit differently from most other people.  Most dogs are raring to go off the start line.  Dahlia is a little less confident and a little more mellow.  So instead of putting her in her stay, walking away, then standing there and releasing her, I walk briskly away, start to jog and release her while I’m moving.  She sees me moving, wants to chase, and takes off with a lot more pep!

The second seminar I did, which was with my regular instructor, I learned about keeping proper connection with my dog and how that can influence her speed and drive.  I remember going home and writing of the experience and saying this: One minor little change and BOOM I had a dog who looked like a real agility dog.  It was a minor change, certainly, but it took us several times through various sequences for the instructor to latch onto the problem we were having and to fix it.

The third seminar I did I learned about getting Dahlia really hyped up and ready to go.  I walked out there with a handful of treats for the first course we did and simply put Dahlia in her stay and ran off to do the sequence.  She did it, but she was fairly slow about the whole thing.  She was in a low arousal state, which is not really conducive to working.  The instructor had us come out again and get her excited and tugging.  Each student had enough time to really work their dog up and get them ready. This was my description of Dahlia’s second time through: This time Dahlia was FAR more up…eyes bright, tail up, eyes focused on me. When we took off it was like someone had lit a firecracker up her ass. She was MOVING.  I’ve used this in every class since that seminar.  At trials, she won’t tug (usually), but I used treats and movement tricks (like standing on her hind legs, running after me, spinning, etc.) to get her up and moving.

The fourth seminar I did, I started to figure out how to trust Dahlia more and have begun to stop babysitting obstacles.  Let me show you what “babysitting obstacles” really means.  Here’s Dahlia and I at a trial in November.

Can you see how I hesitate and before each jump?  I wait for her to get close and actually start to jump before moving away.  What does this mean?  Well, it means we got a Q.  But it also means we were incredibly slow (36 seconds) and Dahlia wasn’t totally sure what I wanted from her.  There were a few times (coming out of both tunnels, especially) where I should have kept back closer to her, run with her, and indicated the jumps as I kept going.  But I slowed down and raised my upper body, which indicated collection (and turning!), which was confusing.

Compare that to this video, showing two clips of us at the last seminar we went to.

See how I’m not hesitating?  See how she’s less confused, especially when coming out of tunnels to take the next jump?  That’s the seminar talking.

Each and every seminar we’ve taken has pushed us forward by leaps and bounds.  This is not because my instructor is anything but awesome and amazing.  This is because at each seminar, you get a chance to really focus on the problems you’re having and fix them.  Right there.  That send to the jump from the dog walk?  We did that several times, each time rewarding Dahlia for going out away from me and taking it and eventually worked our way to my turning and running when she committed to it.  What you see in the video is the end product of several minutes of intense work on just one thing.

Were we perfect there?  Obviously not!  But it helped move us forward and we’ve been able to carry those lessons with us into our weekly lessons with our regular instructor.  It’s completely changed how I run her in class and, I hope, will completely change how I run her at trials in the future.

Every dog sport has their seminars.  This is not an agility-only phenomenon (in fact, every sport I know has their seminars!).  There are seminars for obedience, rally, herding, tracking, you name it.  If you’re involved in a dog sport and are getting serious about it, I cannot recommend going to seminars enough.  Those moments of complete focus on you and your dog will push you to try new things and help to sort out the problems you’ve been having.  They will make you a better team.  That much I can guarantee!

So tell us readers, have you ever been to a seminar?  What was your experience like?  Come share your stories and your questions in the comments!


2 thoughts on “Continuing Education for Dog People

  1. Your improvement is phenomenal! I’m so proud of you two!

    All the seminars I’ve attended have been horse related, but I agree that they allow another person’s experience/point of view to help you improve!

    • We’ve come a long way! And the seminars are definitely a big help in getting there.

      I’m sure that the horse-related seminars are amazing too!

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