The topic of “If I Knew What I Know Now…” is one that many bloggers are writing about today (actually now yesterday) as a topic for agility bloggers as part of a Dog Agility Action Day.
I figured I’d give it a shot even though most of my posts are just longer updates about what’s going on in life.
This topic has had me thinking all day about the path that agility has taken me on in life. That and thinking about what I would tell people new to the spot.
Agility has changed alot since I started. Dog training has changed alot since I started. I have changed alot. My dogs have changed alot. Society has changed alot. Technology has changed alot. Gosh, I’m sounding old! Agility has gotten more serious and technical. I too long for the days when things were simpler and just fun. And I don’t think you can go back to that innocence once it’s gone. But we’ve also made alot of improvements to make things safer for the dogs and we know so much more about conditioning and taking care of their bodies.
I was always obsessed with dogs for as long as I can remember. I’d walk the neighbor dogs and pin for a dog of my own. I’d groom the neighbor dogs and teach them tricks and enter pet contests with them. Then we finally got a family dog. I did obedience and junior showmanship with him thru 4H. Then I moved out and left him home with the family.
When I was 18 (barely) I got the first dog that was all my responsibility. Sadie. She was the sweetest dog. I figured I knew what I was doing from my 4H training (and I was super poor) so I put her in intermediate obedience classes. Those classes led to flyball and agility classes. All the training I had been taught was compulsion – choke chain collars and praise. Agility classes were with Kramer style equipment and it was in 3 rows. We’d go up one side then down the middle then up the other side. The equipment was very different than it is now. And we were jumping dogs on thin green mats over concrete.
I entered Sadie in an agility trial. I didn’t know anyone there but did make new friends that day. It was USDAA as they were the ONLY game in town. Sadie had to jump 30″. We had never trained anywhere but at the school. We did not do well (we didn’t Q) and I thought for Sadie to jump that high and make time and not have any faults would never happen. Agility was not for us. So we went back to classes and just trialing in obedience and running flyball. Places we struggled but were closer to having success. Years later as a member of the Minnesota Mixed Breed Club I was working a NADAC trial. I thought it looked like a lot of fun. So I entered Sadie in the next trial. She loved the lower jumps and the flowing courses. She was a 25″ GSD/Doberman mix. One time a judge commented to me outside of the ring that Sadie did agility for me. I took that as a compliment at the time. Now I don’t see it that way. But it was true. I’m sure she was stressed. I had no clue about handling and I had no clue about training obstacles and I blamed the dog for mistakes. I retired her when I discovered that her wrists were starting to get sore. She passed away from cancer not too long later but I’m glad that I made the decision to retire her to protect her soundness. That set the stage for all of my dogs.
My next dog was Copper. He was a high drive dog (still is a crazy old dog!). Bouncing off the walls crazy. I was always learning about dog training via the internet email lists. So my training methods were changing. I switched to a pinch collar and I used food rewards. But I did not teach him that the reward was contingent on the behavior so I got alot of “show me the money first”. Plus, he’s just a different dog than Sadie was. She wanted to be right. He wanted to have fun in life. I did get alot of compliments on his great upbeat attitude in the ring. Lots of NQs though but I didn’t care. Agility was a mess. My handling was late so I got alot of jumping on me and biting me and barking at me. I would get mad at him – it was the dog’s fault after all. He leapt over the yellow on the contacts all the time. I think we did classes here and there but they were so different back then than they are now. But I did get he and Sadie into classes at a place where they held trials and it was big enough to setup trial like courses. I remember being so impressed with one of the instructors Border Collies. He was super high drive and responsive and he bit the bars as he went over them. He was pretty too. Copper enjoyed agility even though he was super frustrated with me alot. At the time I just blamed him for being naughty.
Then I got Vada. I was trialing Copper here and there mostly just in the MMBC NADAC trials. I tried USDAA with Copper and Sadie again but Sadie did not care for it. She had to try really hard in USDAA but in NADAC she smiled. So we did NADAC. I also just trialed Sadie in Novice and never moved her up. My first experience with USDAA left me feeling like she was a slow dog and she’d never be able to make Open time. A shame that I never even tried. So I was following the same pattern with Copper. I think he could have done well enough in USDAA too. So Vada got a little training and a little trialing. We mostly did Schutzhund and flyball. So she learned to jump flat and in extension. Vada was smart and fast at agility and I wasn’t quite sure how to train her. Then I got asked to teach agility classes. The school only had an open training type of format before and wanted to start formal classes. So I was able to design the lower 2 levels. I wanted to give my students the best start to agility so I started buying DVDs and watching them and incorporating things into my classes. The internet is an amazing place to learn about stuff. I started going to seminars. And, of course, reading books. I also forked out the money for good agility classes and went to a place that had very experience instructors. Teaching classes and feeling responsible for giving the students good quality information and skills is really what pushed me to learn more. And that has just kept going even to this day and even though I am no longer teaching. I’m always wanting to learn more and more.
My quest to learn more about agility lead to learning alot more about dog training and I have continued to morph how I train. I’m always learning more and things are becoming clearer. I get frustrated and struggling with generalizing training to different behaviors that what I specifically learned. But I’m thrilled with the relationship that I have with my dogs.
I’ve also been training some of my (formerly) husband’s dogs. It’s be great for getting the opportunity to train more dogs and work with their different personalities and foundations and to develop relationships with them. I just wish I had more time and energy as I know they could all do so well at so many sports.
Now I’m training a 21 month old puppy. Lots of new challenges!
So I guess the biggest lesson for people to take away from this is to always keep learning and stay open minded.