The Parable of the Dog Trainer
…Behold, there came through the gates of the city a dog trainer from far off, and it came to pass as the days went by, that he trained his dog plenty.
…..And in that city were laggards and complainers, they spent their days in adding to their alibi sheets. Mightily they were astonished at the performance of the stranger’s dog. They said to one another, “What the heck, how doth he do it? He must have an easy dog to train.”
……And it came to pass that many were gathered and a soothsayer came among them, a very wise man. And they questioned him thusly, “How is it that this stranger has such a well trained dog?” Whereupon the soothsayer made answer: “He of whom you speak of is one hustler. He arises very early and goeth forth full of pep to train his dog. He complainth not. Neither doth he despair. While you lie in bed and say verily this is a terrible day to train a dog, he is already abroad. And when the eleventh hour cometh, he needth no alibis.”
……”He taketh with him two angels, persistence and perspiration and worketh mightly. Verily, I say unto you, go and do likewise.”
How much is your agility instruction costing you?
Now, I know you know how much you pay per lesson. Have you tallied those costs over the month? the year? What about the other costs–what you have sacrificed for the sake of agility; the money you spend, the time you spend, the other things you could be doing? I know you have thought about this, and you probably have shaken your head and said to yourself, “Well, there’s nothing I can do because my dog and I are simply addicted to this sport. We have to have our weekly fix!”
Been there. Done that.
The Price of Agility Addiction
I, too, was, and am, an agility addict. I paid dearly for my habit over 3 consecutive years. I started out at 1 class a week. Then it was 2 classes…oh, and a seminar upcoming. I was constantly on the highway. To the cost per hour of instruction, I added 3 hours driving time (roundtrip). At 2 classes a week, that cost me 24 hours per month. A whole day! Added to this was the strain of household dislocation. My week effectively lost 2 days since I could do little else on class days, but DRIVE.
There Comes a Time to Reflect
I had gone over these facts many times, and I had had many hours driving to contemplate them, and still, I was paying the price. I am grateful that there finally occurred an incident which sparked my total rebellion. Ultimately, I sat down and assessed the local agility world and its players, as well as myself, and my dog. I took the time time to draw experimental lines in the sand and say, “I came from here; I’m going there.” I took the time to assess ALL possible agility resources. I found a great wealth of information and the availability of much enthusiastic coaching that had always been there and was indeed, even growing at a rapid rate had I only been bright enough to seek it out. I came to some interesting conclusions.
People and Dogs BOTH Need Positive Reinforcement
Although my dog was talented and highly motivated, we didn’t have a high Q rate and I spent a long time (and a lot of money) blaming myself, seeing myself as an totally inadequate handler. Well, it had to be me, right? I also knew I had a lot of company. Many of us existed and still exist in such a small world where we are exposed to and shrink under the often ineffective and unimaginative instruction delivered by well-meaning people who represent dog agility at the grass-roots level. I was egriegiously self-conscious, totally cowed, and lacked any shred of self-confidence. I had become my own worst critic.
Of course, I realize, now, that that isn’t the way my dog felt at all. My wonderful dog went out on every run, just to have FUN, come what may! So I had lost focus upon the joy of being a team–just how much fun dog agility was– and I had lost confidence in being able to find the answers independently. When I finally was able to take a breath and reflect, investigate my options, I found that I had been blind! There was a splendid world of top-notch dog agility training on the lost horizon.
Wisdom Beyond Our Locales
Fortunately, we have access to the wisdom of successful handlers BEYOND the local scene like Susan Garrett, who increase our knowledge of dog training and encourage inspection and introspection of our role as handlers. The Susan Garretts of the world are few, but brilliant in their knowledge of dogs AND (most importantly) their ability to communicate effectively with those who are learning the sport. Afterall, you can have the best skills in the world, yet not be able to communicate them to others. Disregarding the issue of specific handling systems, Garrett is firstly, a superb trainer, and secondly, sincerely devoted to encouraging people to develop their mental game. Those 2 aspects (training techniques and the mental game) can easily help individuals transcend the limitations of small agility communities. From one of her on-line seminars, I have kept these words taped to my project table:
Think bigger. Forget limits. Embrace the idea of endless possibility….It will change you.
Of course, there are several notable on-line mentors besides Susan Garrett, names like Sylvia Trkman, Daisy Peel come to mind. These enthusiasts may also embrace specific handling systems, but their tremendous importance is the manner in which they approach dog training and dog agility in general.
For me and for you, they all offer current top-level guidance well beyond the sometimes frustrating limits of our local venues.
What’s In It For Me?
So, I’m going solo! For the most part, excluding for example,the moments when my dogs need socialization, I train independently!
Why? Well, why not? I have the equipment, the time, the space. . . . and I have counted and weighed and balanced the costs. I embrace “endless possibilities.”
I am seldom alone in the field. Often I have an on-line course or exercise set up, and the video camera recording, so that I might receive excellent feedback, and I’m able to see how other individuals have handled the same.
Agility training celebrates the special relationship my dog and I possess. It may or may not bring us into contact with folks we like and people we admire. It may or may not bring us Qs and titles. It does and will bring us happiness at being together as a team.
It is FUN. We have fun; we are fun. We are careless; we are careful; we are clumsy; we are graceful; we are goofy; we are sober; we sail over; we backjump; we are reckless; we are thoughtful; we breakdance; we waltz; we learn; we cringe at our video replays; we discover things we don’t yet know. The sun shines on us; the rain muddies the field; the wind chills; bars drop. And every now and then, together we make a run that sings a siren song to us through the hours.
May you have such fun on your journey!
Comments or questions are welcome.