Video, Seminar, Stress, Guilt – (i.e. Good Times!!!!)

Here is the video from Phin’s trial last weekend. Got all his runs and I am really proud of how he looks overall. Some blatantly crappy handling on my part, but he is pretty forgiving and doesn’t seem too bothered by it, thankfully (though, more commentary on that later). I have decided to keep him in Open STD for a while, even if we Q out of it, until he gets a few clean runs, not just Qs. We have yet to qualify with a perfect run, so that will be my goal and indicator that he’s ready to move up to Excellent. Right now, so not ready!

We survived another seminar, another tough one. We were one of the minority in a seminar filled with mostly-experienced dogs all heading to USDAA Nationals. I was more-or-less the least experienced handler there and had the youngest and least experienced dog. (I seem to somehow keep sneaking into these seminars where I am WAY in over my head….) We got our asses handed to us, at least Phin physically and me mentally. Much of it was fun (blinds, backsides and Ketchkers {sp?}, oh my!), but a lot of it was grueling and I feel like I really wasn’t up to speed in where I should be handling-wise. Again, Rachel was incredibly complimentary of Phin, but she also said at one point if I don’t fix things I am going to ruin my dog. Great. Not that I don’t believe her, but not exactly what I was hoping to hear. I wasn’t the only one she was tough on, but it was still pretty ego-bruising. I couldn’t sleep the other night, hashing and re-hashing what I had done wrong over and over… However, time heals all wounds and I did get some good key points out of it. Main highlights include; eye contact eye contact eye contact, and focusing on teaching him and rewarding him for reading my motion properly and not allowing him to just “guess”. Obvious, yes, but sometimes you need to hear the obvious.

After this Thursday’s class, we all will be taking a mini-vacation from agility. My instructors will all be out of town for Nationals and other events, so Phin particularly will have a nice extended week of Not Agility. I may do some Motivation and Engagement class games with him (I have yet to write about that fantastic class we are taking as of yet), run him through some wide open channel weaves (retraining for better speed), and/or play some body awareness games but that’s all I will be allowing myself to do. No equipment. Period. We both need a mental break and he needs some physical rest.

On a completely different note, Diego has been having issues. He’s been having some “elimination trauma” over the past few months that went from occasional to fairly frequent, and I was blaming it on the raw. Took him off of it—went to cooked chicken and rice—and it still continued. I have been trying to get into a highly recommended local holistic vet, but that’s like getting in to Fort Knox apparently. Last night he was having some serious issues and I thought he was having an anal/rectal prolapse. Fortunately it receded back in but it freaked me out enough that I caved and called my old vet down here in SD. A human was there to actually answer the phone last night at 9pm (shocker #1), and got us in first thing this AM (shocker #2).

We went in and I braced myself to argue with them about his diet, not being up to date on vaccines, etc. Instead, the vet tech complimented me on his weight, and the vet was just lovely. She was fair and thorough and berated me about nothing. When I mentioned I wanted copies of everything to take to the holistic vet I was trying to see, she asked who and said that the one I chose was who she would have recommended (shocker #3). She did an exam and Xrays and found a growth in his rectum. She wants us to go in soon for surgery, so we have a consult tomorrow AM at fancy pants surgery/specialty practice tomorrow. My faith in traditional veterinary medicine is temporarily restored in part, we’ll see how we fare through the rest of the week. Mentally, physically, financially… Ouch.

Poor D. I am glad though to know what it is and feel a little less guilty—I was sure that I was killing him with the raw food. While that may not have made things anything easier, now at least I doubt it created the issue in the first place. Phew.

Wish us luck this week.

He is a Baby Dog, Still.

He is sprawled out right this moment under my desk chair, leaning heavily against the back of my foot. He is not gentle this dog, delicate not in his vocabulary. He is wiped out from the trial–even though we were under cover, it was stiflingly, mind-meldingly hot and we both were very much out of gas by the end of the day today.

Overall, he did great. 3 Q’s out of 5, somehow getting 2 Open STD Q’s by the skin of our teeth and one much needed Novice JWW. We have continued our streak in Standard; my biggest fear at this point is that I end up in Excellent Standard and Novice Jumpers, which we are only one Q away from. God help us if that happens. Q’s aside, I have been forgetting, too frequently, how young Phin actually is. I have been letting my exceedingly high expectations propel us along, and while he is standing up to the challenge, I also need to be aware that I also need to back off and reevaluate frequently at this stage of the game. Some of his baby dog shenanigans this weekend combined with the sad fact that I saw too many dogs clearly physically and mentally over threshold the past two days was my wake up call to take a brief break and assess where we are at.

We have been doing mostly coursework and not enough continuation of building individual skills (ie. contacts mainly at this point). His contacts already show signs of erosion, and those are going to be a continual work in progress. I myself need some handling refresher work, big time. The unfortunate scenario of no longer having a class with Laurie is definitely going to surface if I don’t come up with another option. Phin and I communicate surprisingly well for the most part, but I always am going to need that additional push and help from someone who knows a lot more than I.

On that front however, I do get some time with Rachel Sanders again at the end of this week which is great timing. I’m planning to take time off of trialing ’til mid-October, instead focusing and building game plans. We’ll be hitting one day of the Coursing Ability Test up in Chino at the end of this month, and other than that, plenty of thoughtful skills and foundation work, alongside hiking and swimming and general happy, healthy dog stuff. For all the dogs, not just Phin.

I love agility, obviously. But I refuse to get sucked into the void of trialing endlessly in pursuit of stats and titles. I was somewhat shocked at the number of dogs I saw this weekend struggling due to what appeared to be physical issues. I know that I have my own moments of losing sight of what’s important, so I am reminding myself here that my dogs are my companions and pets first, agility dogs a distant second. Anyone who reads this that catches me acting otherwise has full authority to call me out on that! 🙂

Speaking of not over-obsessing, I sprung the cash for all of my runs this weekend—hah! Once they show up in my inbox they will be posted here.

Dog Agility Blog Action Day; What Makes a Good Instructor?

Dog Agility Blog Action Day, Round 4. “What makes a good instructor?”

There are many given qualities that any instructor of any pursuit needs; knowledge, patience, reliability, empathy, fairness, and the ability to see each student as an individual, to mention a few. Those are all givens, if you don’t have any or most of those qualities you probably shouldn’t be teaching, period.

Past that however, it really depends on what each unique student needs. And even when I say “needs” that could be in a very specific space and time. What I need from one instructor today, may be totally different than what I need two weeks or two years from now.

Personally, some qualities I need in a teacher are assertiveness and the ability to explain what I need to do in fairly graphic detail. I do better with someone that makes me cry than props up my ego. I have a bit of an ego, and I usually need a reality check far more than hand holding.

I grew up being instructed from a fairly young age not just at school but on the back of a horse. For the first 7-8 years of my riding career I rode at the same barn. There were different instructors, and they were all proficient in their own ways, but it was all quite comfortable. I was a big fish in a small pond, one of the more capable riders who was a bit too big for my britches (har har). When we changed barns due to some political fallout that I dont remember much about, I had a fairly extreme change of leadership. Our new trainer was tough, and he didn’t care that I thought my shit didn’t stink. He kicked my ass, pushed me HARD, and took no BS attitude from me. I do remember crying the first time or two he really took off the kid gloves and MADE me work. Shortly thereafter I won an important year end finals event that I had been working up to for years. He was not afraid to tell me what I needed to hear, rather than worrying about upsetting me (or my parents for that matter, god bless him). I only was able to ride under him for a year or so before I was off to college, but I will always be grateful for what he taught me, both equestrian- and life-related.

And really, that’s still how I am now. I don’t want someone who will make me comfortable, I want someone who will challenge me and who I can look up to as having more knowledge than I ever might possess. I wrote last year about the Daisy Peel seminar and how that mentally that was a rough one for me. However, I walked away with a very clear understanding of what I needed to work on and I will going back for more this year in October. I respect her hugely; both as a teacher and as a competitor. To me, that is the ideal. Hurt feelings and bruised egos will fade, but knowledge IS power and I will willingly give a bit of my own self to get it.

I am a teacher now as well, in puppy and obedience classes, along with agility foundation. How this all happened I am not quite sure, but my Dad is also a teacher at heart, so it must be in my DNA. I always am struggling to find a balance between teaching what I know they NEED (particularly in agility) and keeping them engaged and enjoying themselves (the students more than the dogs! 95% of the dogs are easy if you at all know about working with dogs—the people are the tricky part). Especially in agility, there is a dichotomy—people want the “sexy stuff”, but you can’t let them hurt their dogs or themselves either. I tend to err on the side of too conservative when it comes to that (I am sure my continuing students want to scream each time I tell them *again* to practice their sit stays and body awareness and shaping exercises), but I mustn’t be too horrible bad; I just filled another Level 2 Foundation with continuing current students.

I enjoy the challenge of new situations each class and the problem solving that I get to do. I involve the owners in the problem solving, again it is a balance between what I bring to the table and what the student knows about their dog that I may not.

I feel fortunate to be a student and a teacher simultaneously. I strive to be both an enjoyable student and teacher and I hope that I continue to grow on both fronts.

Lastly, I have been in the position of not getting what I need from my current instructor. I am fortunate enough to live in a dense area with quite a few options, so I have continued to find situations that work for me at that given moment in time. However, I also believe that there is validity on going it on your own, if you can find help in some way shape or form—online, occasional seminar, friends to train with, whatever. Don’t get stuck where you know its not a fit for you. If you think you can do better, then you can. I am not going to be the best instructor for every student who crosses my path, I want people to get the most out of their lessons and to truly enjoy their partnership with their dogs. That is why we are all doing this at the end of the day and we should never forget that, no matter what anyone may tell us to the contrary.

All the posts on this topic can be found here. Phin’s next trial this weekend!