Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to measure success

Kili and I attended a trial over the Thanksgiving weekend. We did not have a fabulous trial. There were no Qs, she blew me off in our first run to do laps, and I mishandled our last run several times. But we did have a successful trial.

Wait. What?

That’s right. My dog stressed in the ring, ran away, did her own thing and I am calling the trial a success. Apparently I’m a little confused. But remember this; there are many ways to describe success, and one cannot reach large, lofty goals if you do not first meet the small ones. We had a successful trial because when I look back at it, I can honestly say that I was an awesome dog owner and an awesome trainer. And that is ultimately what matters.

I went into this trial with a plan. Three runs. Two standard and one jumpers. The first of which was an FEO run. I checked all the course maps ahead of time and made my plans. In my first run I intended to do the first five obstacles only, after which we would leave on a good note and Kili would get her jackpot. In the second run we would maybe do two short sequences and leave. And jumpers we would go all out for.

The thing about dog training is that sometimes – okay, frequently – your plans fall apart. Mine certainly did. The sequence I intended to do in our first run was: jump, jump, dog walk, jump, weaves. Well, Kili blew her stopped contact on the dog walk and proceeded to start taking obstacles at random. Previously, I would try to call her back and get her refocused and keep going. But it becomes a repeating pattern. I went back to my notes from the Tracy Sklenar online course we took last fall and had been working on a lot of them over the last week or so. I had worked on them while we were waiting for our turn in the ring. I thought things would be good. Unfortunately, a lot of times dogs learn that what happens in training… doesn’t happen in trials. To truly train a dog, you need to hold criteria at all times, and that includes in a trial. And so, I didn’t call her. I simply walked away and got my leash, got it on her when she came to investigate why I was leaving, and put her right back in her crate: the “not scary, but definitely unwanted” reward as Tracy calls it.

But that wasn’t what made me a fabulous trainer that weekend. To be completely honest, I was feeling really dejected and frustrated. After all, I’ve put in the time to go back and work on focus exercises. She had such an amazing class on Thursday where I could really see them working. But in the trial… not so much. The decisions I made next are what made me a fabulous trainer that day. I shook off the frustration. I reminded myself that this is a part of trialing a young dog. Especially one that is not handler focused, and that is independent. I reminded myself that if I wanted a border collie, or a lab, or a spaniel, I would have gotten one. I wanted a greyhound and that means working harder and being more patient. With that in mind, I went back to the course maps to plan our second run. Looking at it I realized that the last three obstacles were the same as the first three in our original run.

Our second run arrives and I want through the “in” gate with Kili. And I keep walking until I get to the “out” gate. We have a little personal play on her leash and then I put her in position. A couple of nice people in the ring crew informed me that the start line as at the other end. I said, “Thank you. I’m just doing something a little different”. And then I asked Kili to do the same three obstacles as her previous run. Jump-jump-dogwalk. She performed her stopped contact at the end of the walk and then we had a huge celebration and ran back out to where her jackpot was waiting.

I was happy. I was proud of myself. I am not an amazing trainer. But I do my best to do right by my dog, and so long as I think that’s the case I am happy. It makes me even happier though, to have validation that I’ve done the right thing. After our second run I had several other competitors from my agility group (very talented agility competitors, I might add) come up to me and commend me on a great training choice. One of the ladies who had been in the ring crew said, “That was great. I didn’t know what you were doing at first, but that was a really good idea”.

Our jumpers run is below. Kili did nothing wrong here, I just mishandled the transitions a couple of times. Not my best handling, that’s for sure. For some reason, jumpers is always fine for us. It’s lower pressure without all the contacts. I suppose contacts require thinking as opposed to just running and jumping, and that puts pressure on a dog. In trying to keep with being a fabulous trainer I am making more plans. My plans are to enter Kili in trials more frequently. However, only to do one or two runs so I can continue to train her in a trial environment and get her used to the commotion of a competition. I want her to have lots of opportunities to be rewarded.

 I don’t always make the right decisions, but when I do, I’m a fabulous dog trainer and that makes me and my dog very happy.

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