Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blog Event Day: If I Knew Then...

Today is a Blog Event Day, thanks to Steve at  To see more about the event and read other posts, see:

Anyway, I haven't yet had time to read any of the other posts, so this is a peak at my first thoughts on the topic, which is, "If I knew then what I know now."  Granted, I still consider myself very new to agility (I started in the fall of 2010), so it's not like I really have that much knowledge to consider.  I've also been very blessed to work with a number of wonderful trainers, so I don't have too many bad experiences that I would try to avoid if I were doing things over again.  Nonetheless, I hope my thoughts will be helpful or at least might spark some discussion.

I have three main points that I would give my former self:

1.  Know Your Dog
     This is always an evolving process, but the better you know your dog, the better your agility partnership will be.  In our case, Jonah had only been with us for 2 months when we started agility training, and he was going through some significant change.  When he arrived, he was terrified and distrustful.  While he quickly adopted us and became more comfortable by the day, his behavior was still rather unpredictable.  If I had spent more time building our relationship and focusing on obedience basics (we only went to 3 obedience classes!  Yikes!), I would have been better able to understand his behavior, and I would have been able to do a better job at my second main point:

2.  Be Your Dog's Advocate
     As hard as it is for a dog's parents to know her or him, it is much harder for a trainer to do so!  While trainers are experts and see lots of dogs, they do not live with your dog, and sometimes they will 'misread' a dog.  In our first agility experience, our trainer was spread thin between all the dogs.  Jonah was absolutely terrified to the point that he could not focus on anything.  The trainer diagnosed him as being disobediently distracted, and advised me to take a hard line to get him to work.  When she did recognize his nervousness, she wanted me to just push on and keep asking for the behavior.  At that moment, if I had known my dog more fully, I would have had the confidence to disagree with the trainer.  She had good intentions and I trusted her expertise, but I wish I had been able to make the decision sooner to stop going to this facility.  As soon as I chose to move to a different training center, Jonah immediately began to grow into the happy, agility-loving dog I now have the pleasure of working with.  Now I know that it is my responsibility to put my dog in the best situations I can provide for him.  There may be people to help along the way, but at the end of the day it is up to me to follow my conscience and always act in my dog's best interest.

3.  Don't Be Afraid to Be Different
     Especially in introductory classes where trainers have many dogs at the same time, there is an understandable tendency to teach 'one-size-fits-all' techniques.  The first thing that comes to mind is the 2o2o contact behavior.  I understand that this is a practical choice for many dogs, and I have decided to keep Jonah's 2o2o on the dogwalk, but insistence on the 2o2o performance on the A-frame made Jonah very tentative and slow.  Ever since I taught him the running contact, he charges over the A-frame happily.  That doesn't mean I think the running contact is right for everyone, though.  Again, you just need to know your dog and have the courage to advocate for her or his best interest.  It's alright if you do something different.  I always love it when I'm walking a course and everyone else is walking a different handling strategy.  One of my favorite things about agility is that there are so many ways to do it well!  

Dave has one more point to add to the 'if I knew then...' list.  He says:

4.  "If I knew then what it would be like to have a dog, I wouldn't have been able to wait this long!"

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