12 March 2012


One of the things I value most about agility trainers is their ability to problem solve. Actually I value that in my dogs too, but of course they are not people and so the problems they are asked to solve are a bit different. And one of the things I've always enjoyed and prided myself in are my own ability to increase my skills without needing to ask for help. I do attend seminars occasionally, but I don't really go to "get better" in a general sense. I'm open to tips, of course, and I like a certain style of teaching. I try hard, when i teach, to get students to understand the "why" and not just repeat "the rules" meaninglessly. Since basically the early 1990's I've been self-taught. I would definitely say certain people and systems have influenced my handling and training, but I don't mimic anyone completely.

I am a horrible audio learner. Tell me a set of directions, and if I'm not able to quickly map it out visually in my head, I will completely forget. If I write it down, I'll remember. Or I can look at it on a map and remember, or if I go there myself once, I will remember. Talk to my about agility courses though, and I will quickly get lost. Use your hands or silverware and you've got me! I do enjoy talking about the technical aspects of agility - if you get me going I can really talk too, despite my natural quiet nature. And I believe a large part of my ability to talk in-depth is that I've worked through things myself. Kinetically learned them, visualized them, trained them.

Anyway, the point of this post is supposed to be that I have always enjoyed learning "on my own". That definitely includes watching great handlers closely to see what their dogs are responding to. It also includes a lot of YouTube analysis, with gratuitous pausing to create slow motion effects. I like to see why the dog is responding to things a certain way before I will mindlessly mimic something. Just because it works today, doesn't mean that tomorrow it won't erode the cues for something else in your system. And yeah, I do think every person has a "system" - a toolbox, whatever you want to call it. If you aren't consistent within your own system, your dog will be confused. That's why I'm slow to dive into fads, but when I decide to do something, I DO IT - I train it, I implicate it, and then it's just a regular part of what I do. If I don't work through it myself first, I am unlikely to try something new just because "so and so" said it was awesome.

I think every handler should take time to consider their own system of handling, where it may resemble a famous person's system, and where it may differ. If it differs significantly from an established system, then is it consistent to itself as well? If not, where and why? How can you fix it?

Don't be upset if you, too, like to do things yourself. I have a lot of respect for those who think things through for themselves. I always try to get my dogs to problem solve because I strongly believe that when someone works through a problem by using their own brain, they will always remember the solution faster than if they are told the answer over and over. Dogs included!


Tori Self said...

Great post!

Sarah Duke said...

Agreed. Well said!

Elf said...

I have relied on my agility instructors for, gads, 17 years now, and they've been indispensable because I don't figure out a lot of things on my own, don't like course designing much, and am basically a klutz.

However, it is interesting to see that two instructors who work together and agree on a "handling system" still often give contradictory instructions. This tells me that there's a lot of variation among top handlers even in established strategies. And sometimes, after evaluating how things work for me and my dog, I come up with an approach that's completely different from what my instructors think is a successful training strategy.

Because the biggest difference between any instructor and myself is: They're not me. Your post is a good reminder that everyone probably ends up doing some self-training themselves, and if they're not, they probably should be.

Rosanne said...

and of course, being an instructor myself, I don't mean to say that every competitor should just do everything on their own. I just mean that you should strive to understand the WHY of everything, and feel free to improve and improvise on what others have taught you, based on your own understanding!