Thursday, November 17, 2011

The National Continued - Agility Workshop

I'm going to try and wrap up the rest of our national specialty trip in the order of events. After our morning obedience runs, we had the agility workshop. I got working spots for both dogs. My original goal for the workshop was just using the opportunity to work them on the equipment in the exact ring that we would be competing in the next day. We hardly ever do any outdoor trials and after all the travel getting to AZ and then throwing their schedule completely out of whack, I figured that both dogs could use the time. Unfortunately the work shop had been originally scheduled for the morning, but that got altered so that obedience could be in the cooler morning time slot. I don't regret that, I just regret having a working spot and running my dogs during the heat of the day. And it was hot. I'm just not really a hot weather person. Hence why I take the summer off from competing with the dogs.;0)

The workshop wasn't entirely what I was hoping or needing it to be. Right now, the biggest problem I have with both of the danes is me. If our runs end up being NQs, 99% of the time (leaving a little room in there for Bess' zoomy runs) I do something little that screws us. And that's annoying. While it's nice to generally not be making huge mistakes right now, it's still frustrating to be doing stupid little ones that cost us a run. And I'm finally to the point where I'm getting irritated enough with myself that I'd actually like to be more proactive in doing something about it. So what I needed out of this workshop was for someone to really hammer me on my handling. To catch me as I'm doing these things and explain to me why I'm causing the problems that I'm causing. That's basically what I stated during our individual introductions as to what we hoped to gain from this workshop. That wasn't quite what I got out of it.

The two pieces of advice (and I got this more from one of the instructors than the other) that I personally got from my time in the ring were to not worry about the contacts and just run with my dog when Bess goes into zoomy mode. To just run with her and encourage her because she's showing such great enthusiasm for the sport. I will tackle these pieces of advice separately, but first a disclaimer. The two people putting on the workshop are accomplished handlers and have each put a MACH on their respective dogs. That in itself is an achievement and kudos to them for getting there. I'm not knocking their skills as handlers. They are also both very nice people. However, not everyone is cut out for putting on a workshop.

Piece of advice #1, don't worry about the contacts. I can honestly say that I have never had someone tell me that. And that specific piece of advice was handed out to more people than just me. I have put in enough time with my dogs and training contacts to know that if I just ignore the contacts, the contacts WILL be blown. With this knowledge in hand, I'm not going to intentionally blow a run by ignoring the contacts. Heffner, for the most part, will always nail his contacts. He usually needs a reminder on the down contact of the a-frame in order to decelerate and hit it. If Bess is not reminded about her contacts, she absolutely will use the a-frame as a launching pad. And that's exactly what happened this past weekend during her otherwise lovely standard run. I forgot to give her the "easy" command, and she ran with it. I also cannot just run with her while she's on the dog walk, which was another piece of advice that was being handed out. If I do not stay with her, she will bail. For whatever reason she still gets weirded out by the texture on the dog walk and she will happily use the excuse of me getting too far ahead of her to bail off the dog walk. I don't want that to develop into a habit, and since I know what my dog will do, I stay with her.

Piece of advice #2, just run with her! This piece of advice was doled out during Bess' first run when she did a little zoomy loop. If you've been reading this blog since back in the late winter/early spring, you know that Bess' zoomies got to a very debilitating point and were a very obvious manifestation of her stressing out. We couldn't get through a single run without massive zoomies. Hell, we couldn't get past obstacle #2 without her taking off! It took MONTHS to get her to a point where she has them only occasionally, BUT they are short lived AND she comes back to me. We didn't have that before. After the first recommendation to just run with her and encourage her, I was a little dumb founded. I have never heard anyone tell someone that they should run with their dog when they take off. It just doesn't make any sense to me. Then when we were getting ready for her second run, they had me play with her a little bit in what I think was supposed to be an attempt to get her more excited to play WITH me. That doesn't really work with Bess. I really have to go to the line with a calm dog or else we are screwed. But I figured hey, we're doing a workshop and we might as well try it a little and see if it helps. It didn't. She took off. At which point I was then encouraged to run with her, play with her, encourage her. WTF??? Running with her will only encourage her to zip around more. Trust me on this one, I do actually know my own dog. Not to mention we have been down these many roads before. Bess got so amped up from being cheered on for her zooming that she ran right out of the ring. Awesome. At that point, I was done. My dog had just been encouraged to do what I had spent months gently working her out of. Even worse, she had been encouraged not only to rip around the ring, but rip right OUT of the ring. And in the very ring that we were supposed to be competing in the next morning. To say that I was upset, was an understatement. I had already put Heffner back in the air conditioned room before that run, and I then put Bess away as well. I was pretty confident that I had just totally shot myself in the foot.

While I understand that it can be beneficial to be pushed to try new things, as an instructor, you always need to remember that each handler and each dog is an individual. Just because something worked for you and your dog, doesn't mean that it is appropriate for others. And you also need to understand that the handlers often do actually know their own dogs well enough to know when something isn't a good idea. That was frustrating. My philosophies and goals for my dogs are different than what they have. I also have different expectations of my dogs both inside and outside of the ring. All of that plays into how I run my dogs the way I do and why.

By the time I decided to call it quits, I had so many things buzzing through my head. It really made me think about the goals that I have for my dogs and where my priorities are at. While I enjoy competing with my dogs, it's not the entirety of what we do. It's great to have competitions on our schedule so that I have something to keep training and working towards to push myself to keep improving and working with the dogs. However, the reality is that I'm not a super competitive person. I'm competitive in that I compete and I enjoy doing well when it happens. I don't enjoy competing weekend after weekend though. It burns me out. Two weekends a month is more than enough for me! Add to that the fact that I take the summer and December off from competitions, and I have to be realistic about my goals for my dogs. As far as agility is concerned, I flat out won't be competing enough for a MACH to be a goal for any of my dogs. And that's even if we got to the point where we were just running awesome and were guaranteed to have a high Q rate. I just don't want to trial that much for it to be realistic. Now that's not saying that once we reach a certain level, I'm calling it quits. I still plan on continuing to compete, I just don't have that pressure to get the perfect runs every single weekend. Nor do I really want to travel all that far for trials to ensure that we keep racking up those points and legs. I'll do what's convenient for the dogs and I and call it good. I have friends who are quite competitive and they have competitive goals. I admire that about them. But then I see the schedule that they've set for themselves and the tremendous pressure that they place on themselves, and it makes me realize that I really have made the right decision for me and my dogs. I just can't, nor do I want to do that.

After this experience, I was understandably very concerned on Saturday morning when Bess' first run of the day was spent with her racing around the ring and NOT coming back to me when I called her. I was seriously afraid that the encouragement she received had left a lasting mark. Thankfully after that run she worked with me and my fears were alleviated. No matter how fast her potential is, I prefer a controlled and accurate Bess to one who's mind is about to explode so badly that she ceases to listen to me. I am a failure as her partner if I allow our connection on the course to disappear.

So not quite the experience I thought it was going to be, but on the up side, I still had a surprise birthday party ahead of me as well as Parades with both dogs. My evening could only get better!;0)


Catalina said...

Oh yes! The 'run with your dog while they are having a zoomie' advice.
I have been given that advice by more than 7 agility instructors - one is a very well known muti world agility champion.
Yeaaaaah doesn't work so great.
I think people who don't have zoomie dogs shouldn't give advice on this problem!

K-Koira said...

The problem I see is that the instructor who told you to run with her during the zoomies was seeing it as an expression of enthusiasm for what she was doing. You classified it, here and in previous writing about it, as an avoidance behavior when she is nervous. Two WAY different things that may cause the same behavior.

On that line, I would say that, should you ever end up in that situation again, it would be reasonable and probably for the best to just tell the instructor, no matter who it is, NO. At some point, we each know our own dogs the best. A good instructor will listen to you if you say a certain exercise is not a good idea for your dog.