Dec 2, 2011

What motivates you?

Don't you love when something pops into your head and you HAVE to write about it or you won't be able to sleep? Well, love may not exactly be the right word ;) but here I am anyway. On my soapbox of sorts tonight. I have a bit of a pet peeve, and it's a two-sided one.

"I just do [insert dog sport here] for fun." and its cousin, all the variety of ways to imply that if you compete you must be in it for ribbons / winning / titles / fame / [insert selfish stereotype here].

I know some people like the latter, and I'm sure you do as well (regardless of your chosen venue(s)). Frankly, they're probably some of the unhappiest people I have ever met... and in my experience they're in the minority (for which I'm grateful). For the most part, when I attend agility trials (my primary sport of choice), I see people who adore their dogs more than might be considered sane by non-dog folk, and are there for the fun of it.

Let me repeat that. That the majority of people I see at agility trials are happy and adore their dogs regardless of whether the bars stayed up, the contacts were touched, and certainly regardless of the color of the ribbons earned (if any).

Three of my dogs are retired from agility, but they were certainly never candidates for new land-speed records when they were competing -- often experts at coming in exactly at (or less than 1 second over) course time. My young dog, on the other hand, has more speed than she or I know what to do with and the learning curve has occasionally been known to provide comedic relief. I admit, I have been lightly chided by a well-known seminar presenter because I tend to find my dogs' naughty behavior amusing and have a hard time stifling a giggle when they do something creatively naughty. ;)

I do agility "for fun" just as I do all the venues I try with my dogs. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. If I can't find joy in simply taking part in an activity with my dog regardless of anyone else's opinion of it (judge included)... then I need to find something where I can. My joy is in those moments where it feels like everything just flowed together (even if it was to an off course jump or caused a refusal), where the problem we've worked on has even the tiniest breakthrough, or where I almost get there fast enough to do what I wasn't sure I could. I enjoy getting Q's, placements, earning titles, etc. -- and I'll be the first to admit I get a goofy grin on my face seeing how much under course time my young dog was because it's so novel to me... but that's not why I'm there.

If I truly just wanted to run around with my dog on equipment, I can do that at home -- so yes, there is indeed more motivation to it than that for me. That motivation, however, is the course; the environment. A test to see how well our skills hold up against the test of generalization, and if our teamwork can solve the challenge created by someone else. Even if I pick a course designed by someone else to set up at home, I still may subconsciously pick a course that plays to our strengths or tweak it so it's not as intended. I want to see how we handle what someone else came up with. And regardless of the outcome, I hug my dog, process the information, and return home to train based on that information. That's all failure is really... information. Information about what worked, what didn't, and what you need to explore further.

So yes, that is my advice to you tonight. Find your personal joy in whatever it is you do - not dependent on someone else's opinion or the results. Set goals that further your personal joy... goals that you can obtain regardless of other people. Take the "personal-ness" out of failure... failure in training, failure in a trial, failure in whatever it is you do. It didn't work - so what? Failure is an informative event -- not a character trait. It gives you an opportunity to grow and further your and your dog's teamwork, training, and joy.

Sep 4, 2011


Since we're on a bit of a hiatus for the next few weeks, I figured it would be a good time for reflection and planning.  I have a few things I plan to work on over the next 2-3 weeks while our activity level is still pretty limited, but I also have some things I'd like to do once we're back at it. :)

Over the next few weeks I want to fine-tune her understanding of finding obedience positions from anywhere, and improve our sit/stand/down discriminations.  I also want to introduce hand signals to down and stand. Additionally I plan to work on heeling with distractions more, as that tends to be a weak spot for us.

I'd like to start on scent articles, and the directed retrieve - but not as high priority as the ones I've listed above.  Later (possibly this winter when agility is pretty limited) I'll focus on teaching her the remaining exercises and proofing understanding.  Lots and lots of mileage to go still, but feeling pretty pleased with the home-schooled puppy since we really haven't done much with obedience.

When we start up more activity again, my main goals are to clear up holes in our foundation work.  Two of the "biggies" for me are working systematically through DJS, and narrowing down our a-frame criteria and truly training it. Up to this point I have "managed" her a-frame performance because I'm hesitant to do the amount of repetitions required to get a consistent, independent performance with a young dog.  Currently she does literally a couple repetitions a month at most.

Also I want to further proof her understanding of weave poles, which have had a similar story to the a-frame -- we do minimal repetitions and I've not proofed her understanding in depth because of that.  In hindsight, I should have probably done slightly more proofing to get them more functional in a sequence, because we've done more weaving repetitions from pop-outs than I would've liked her to do at this stage.  We spent some time proofing understanding on a short set right before the hiatus and I think it really helped clarify expectations for her, so I plan to continue that some and ramp up the distractions.

Another obstacle that could use some fine-tuning of understanding is the teeter.  I noticed right before the hiatus that in certain scenarios she didn't understand to drive to the end regardless of me and would instead turn around at or near the pivot point and come back to me.  Happy she's so comfortable with the teeter, but need to clarify that is NOT what I expect when I rear cross or send to the teeter from behind it. :)

And last on this list of projects (which is in no particular order), is to work through Control Unleashed.  It's one of those books I've always meant to read, but never found the time/motivation to do so.  Potion stresses up in exciting settings (and IMO it's getting a little worse instead of better), so I'm hopeful that CU will help us maintain a functional arousal level.  While Dewy stresses up at things in daily life, he wasn't one to stress up in trials, and Merlin and Rio are both the type to stress down so learning to read Potion's stress level has been a real learning curve for me. 

As a long term project, I would reconsider a running dog walk if we can ever get our arousal level issue sorted out and get everything else fine-tuned.  I still find it interesting and would like to work through it with her, but I think right now 2o2o is a more realistic criteria for us (i.e. I think the wheels would fall off if we added even more excitement to agility ;)).

So... yes, those are most(?) of my performance training goals for the reasonably near future... we still train random things but I don't really see a reason to ramble about those, since they mostly interest me and entertain the baby BC. :)

Jun 17, 2011

We're "Legal" :)

Tomorrow Potion turns 15 months and becomes "legal" to participate in AKC trials. She's still very much a baby dog, I'm still figuring out how to best handle things with her, and we're definitely still sorting out our teamwork - but that's part of the fun! :) We'll attend our first agility trial together next weekend, and I'm feeling relatively comfortable and excited about that prospect.

I have no actual expectations for the trial - while she certainly has the skills the qualify, she's still very much a baby dog and there are a lot of things we've yet to experience and figure out together. My goal for the weekend is simply to have a good time with her, to generalize our skills to another new location, and see how our behaviors hold up in that setting. We have a bit of "zero tolerance" criteria (primarily start lines, and any deliberate bailing of a contact obstacle once on it), but for the most part I plan to have fairly forgiving criteria because of the completely new setting.

Since we started agility training she's done agility in 8+ different locations, on 4 different surfaces. She's encountered both AKC and USDAA tires, rubberized and non-rubberized contacts, and I think some variation in weave pole spacing (but I believe all have been at least 22" spacing). We've trained in a variety of circumstances including multiple dogs working at once, class/seminar formats, and agility demonstrations in a crowded park. We've hung out at a few agility trials just to experience them, an obedience show & go, and participated in several dog shows. In almost every case I've been incredibly impressed with her ability to generalize behaviors to new situations and equipment. :)

I made a video of highlights since we started agility training in October through last month. We'll have up to 2 more agility classes before the trial on Saturday - tomorrow we're dropping in on a class at Pawsitive Partners, and then Monday we're attending a class at MOTC if the weather permits. I doubt we'll have video from either, but I do hope to have video from the trial. :) Until then!

Jan 16, 2011

A quick update

A quick video update on some of what Potion and I have been up to recently. Hard to believe Potion turns 10 months tomorrow! :)