Wednesday, March 07, 2012

If I knew then what I know now...

AgilityNerd (aka Steve) has brought the agility blogging community together again for a blog action day. Dog bloggers all over the country are preparing posts on a common topic "If I knew then what I know now" - the timing is perfect with lots of newbies getting ready to enter and run in their first trials.

The rest of the blogs for the DABAD (dog agility blog action day) can be found here:
P.S. - I haven't had time to read the other submissions yet - but I love the title of Susan Garret's post:
Dogs Are Amazing and Will Do Everything You Want if You Have Cheese

I've written a bit about preparing to trial from a rules and regulations standpoint (you can find that series here). But from a personal perspective what do I really wish I'd known eight years ago when I got into this sport? There are so many things - but that would take an entire semester of classes or blog posts to get through so I'll touch on a few:

Run each run
Titles are cool, titles mean something in the cosmic universe for sure - but going into the ring or into the weekend with "I need one more leg in blah for my blah title" was really counter-productive. That kind of thinking was all about ME and not so much about my dog or the relationship - or even my training. Yes it's nice to move up in the levels, but its so so so important to run the course you have in front of you rather than running for a certain Q. Take the pressure off the title and enjoy the run. To be fair - this concept truly didn't hit home to me until I was up in the high teens of QQ's with Teller - we started to get the crowd 'ohhhhhs' when we made a mistake and we sat 18 for a few trial weekends with one mistake runs. Then I started running each run as a stand-alone course (one of the advantages to USDAA I think is that single Q's count over there) and it was so much more fun!!

A fit dog is a sound dog
Keep your dog moving, get to the chiropractor regularly - be very concerned with your dog's fitness. It matters - mind and body. Agility isn't a conditioning sport - your dogs are not going to increase fitness running around for 10 minutes one night a week at class - or even an hour a week. You really need to get your dogs out on the trail - on the field - around the block and on hikes. All that mental release, conditioning and fitness is going to improve your dog's 45 seconds in the agility ring more than hours in a ring rental. Pay attention to nutrition and pay attention to movement - watch for subtle changes that signal that it's time to call the chiropractor and setup the next round of appointments.

Footing matters
I started Murphy and Teller both on bad footing - horse stall mats that were slippery, hard, uneven. I have dogs that were so careful on course because they learned to protect themselves running. Then you have the dogs that don't protect themselves on that footing and you have injuries - or dogs that learn to compensate for the footing by torquing their bodies. At some point Teller finally figured out that various facilities (mostly trial facilities) had good footing and he'd really step it up and run differently! Gah! That's not the dog I have in training! Once I quit running the dogs on bad footing I started to get that trial dog in training - what a difference!

Fundamentals matter
Boy do I wish I'd had a better foundation in the fundamentals when I started with Murphy - contacts, handling, etc. Murphy ran contacts because he naturally strided into them. Baby Teller seemed to do the same and boy did that come back to bite me when he gained confidence and extended. As an instructor its really hard for me to impress upon new students (especially in that first 6-week intro class) that it's worth putting the time into the end of the board and the end of the plank when they really want to put their dogs up and over the a-frame. Side-loads are boring, plank-work is boring - but it's so necessary!!! Put the time into it now - it'll pay back 10-fold. And when your instructor says something like "we're going to need to put a behavior on that dogwalk" we're really not trying to make class less fun - we're trying to help you with the future.

Fun and Friendship matter
The best thing about agility and trialing are the human relationships - the people, the shared goal, the camaraderie, the challenges to get through courses...We know (or you will soon find out) that agility is not an inexpensive sport (not as expensive as showing horses, but I don't know anyone who shows as many weekends as most agility competitors do) - we know that we won't Q every run, but we do know that we can count on a laugh or three every day. Make friends, be involved with the trial process - agility is so much more than those 45 seconds in the ring ;-)


Anonymous said...

Great topic -- and nice article. With my first dog I *thought* I trained the basics. Not even close. Now on my third, I did things way differently and so far the outcome is way different. Fundamentals matter hugely.
Sue M, Ohio

Kathy Mocharnuk said...

Love your post and love your pictures, gorgeous dogs ;-). I used to train my dogs in a field with thick grass and tons and tons of gopher holes, it was horrible between my injuries and slowing down and paying attention to where I was stepping rather then my handling --really wish I had thought about that then, but thanks for reminding us now!
Kathy with Liz/Breeze/Cricket

Muttsandaklutz said...

A LOT of valuable advice in this post!

Really interesting about the footing -- I'm ashamed to say it's not something I've given a lot of thought to. Thanks for getting me to start thinking about that. :-)