I am very new to the sport of agility (like, 2012 new.) So when I saw that the topic for today’s blogging event was “Continuing Education” I thought, “My education is nowhere near to being complete, let alone moving into the phase of “continuing!” I also thought over the many ways that an agility enthusiast can pursue learning our sport: classes both live and online, books, videos, seminars, workshops. Team Unruly writer Michelle wrote a great post last February about Continuing Education through seminars. (Go check it out!)
But for somebody so green as myself, I would have to say that a lot of my education comes straight from watching my three dogs. Over the last three years I have learned all about “it is never the dog’s fault” and how true those words are. If my honest dog does something, or does not do something, I respect them as the mirror of my own errors. It took me a while to learn to think this way, every time, but it is the truth. I like to maximize the “lessons” that my dogs have to teach me, so for me a very important tool in my education is to video my training sessions and runs at trials.
A lot of people don’t like to video themselves, the reasons are numerous. It can be tricky to wrangle in a helper to take videos for you, or to set up a device to capture your training sessions. It adds additional work to our training session structure to set up the camera and have it positioned correctly. Knowing that we are being video’d can make us feel additional pressure, even if there is not another person present to run the camera. And quite honestly, it can be humbling and embarrassing to watch ourselves make mistakes. It is not a whole lot of fun to see ourselves messing up an agility sequence or confusing our dogs, so maybe we prefer to not capture that on video.
I am a person who constantly asks “Why did that happen?”. That train of thought can spiral into obsession and over thinking (I cannot help myself!), so having a video of exactly what did happen is very helpful to me. If I feel like a training session was unsuccessful, reviewing a video can teach me Why. I can watch everything that I do, I can watch my dog respond to my actions, I can better review the quality of the behaviors that I am training. There are many times that I am making subtle mistakes that I truly do not remember making. Having a video allows me to become aware of those mistakes. It allows me to pinpoint specific weak areas. It teaches me how to better structure my training sessions, moving forward.
Capturing my runs at a trial on video are just as valuable. My own stress and excitement jacks up at a trial and clouds my memory, and my reactive girl Molly can become very high on the environment. We are quite a pair and my biggest mistakes at trials can come from overhandling Molly. I was not even aware that I was doing this until I started to consistently get my runs on video. I started to watch myself panic, overhandle and stress her out. If I video what I am doing out there at an agility trial, and I can pick out the same mistakes over and over again and be honest about myself with that information, I can learn and improve. When I walk a course I am far more mindful to identify the areas where I might overhandle Molly, so that when we are actually running the course I am less likely to fall into the trap of doing so.
“Eventually people will realize that mistakes are meant for learning, not repeating.”
I don’t think there is a more constant way to learn from our own mistakes than to be able to watch them in all of their glory. To be able to see what we are doing with our dogs and not just recall it whisper-down-the-lane style form memory. And if we do not understand what exactly went wrong, we can take a bite of humble pie and show it to somebody with more experience who can help us learn. Agility moves so quickly. I say things that I don’t remember saying, (“Did I really say tunnel and not jump?!”), I move my hands and body in a way I do not remember (“Did I really overhandle there?!”) but a video helps me to be aware of these things and move towards being a better partner to my dog in the future.