Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mental management...and why I don't care for classes for teaching young dogs...

As I sit here getting things finished up before I take Lynn to her first agility class, I realize I need to get my mental management up to par.

Lynn is green, she is a baby dog, and this will be her first class. My brain immediately goes into all the things that can or will go wrong. Will people be watching? Will they be happy if we fail tonight? Will they be happy if we do well? Will Lynn hit her contacts? Will Lynn weave? Will Lynn get so overstimulated she does nothing but drool and spin?

People think that just because a person has trialed several dogs, that they never get butterflies. WRONG. Taking a new dog out into the world of classes and competition can be a daunting task. Filled with the prospect of utter failure.

If you let it.

And I don't. I have to switch my brain over to expecting NOTHING from my dog. If she runs with me, tries hard, and has fun I have accomplished my task. I have to mentally turn everything else off, others opinions (and boy are there many!) and not care. Check my pride at the gate so to speak. And go out there with confidence and work my pup. It is about Lynn and I...not anyone else.

Is she going to make mistakes? SURE! I am 100% positive of this :) And I also realize I have to be 100% OK with that. Mental management comes into play a lot for me during these times :)

Lynn most likely will do what she has been trained to do, for the past 18 months of her life. I need to be confident in that.

Yes...Lynn is 18 months old and has been to one puppy socialization class...I don't dislike all classes, I obviously put my dogs in classes, but I feel using classes to teach new agility dogs and/or puppies is just not for me...

I do not teach classes, I only do private or semi-private agility lessons. Why? For me personally, I feel that students get ignored in classes. Just by the fact of time constraints, nothing more, nothing less. I like to be able to focus on each student, work through their individual problems, and reach a goal with them--private lessons allow this.

Another reason? To me a class is a really hard way to teach a dog something. Distractions, other dogs, people, noises, smells etc etc. I don't want my puppy going into that environment when I am completely out ranked in the entertainment department. I wait until I have a very solid relationship built before I worry about classes with my dogs. I want a strong history of reinforcement built up for playing with me, before I put all that stimulating stuff in a dogs face.
Dogs have to do a lot of thinking, and if not able to concentrate on the task at hand, it will take longer to teach behaviors.

My dogs are all VERY motion sensitive...they were bred for herding and I like that. However, I want them to learn first to control that BEFORE I put them in a fenced in area with 10 dogs running agility and tugging. Sets them up for success and also is much easier on me!

I also want to be able to work through problems when I am working my dog, so if that takes 10 seconds or 5 minutes, I want that ability...which in a class isn't fair to the rest of the teams. S you end up skipping over a problem to hopefully remember it, try to replicate it and work through it at home.

I want success, if I am in a private lesson, I can set up all my skills so the dog wins. When going to a class, I have no ability to control the dogs situation so they can be successful. So I feel at times I end up putting a bandaid on something and then I regret this later.

My dogs do not go into classes until I am ready to run them in a trial. My personal preference.

NOW...I am lucky in the sense, well...maybe not lucky, I worked hard to get all my agility equipment, build jumps, paint, sand etc so I have everything available to me. This is a great thing, and enables me to train at home.

For those that their only option is to attend classes, my suggestions would be:

Get in as small of a class as possible.
If your dog isn't picking up a concept in class, write it down and go work on it at home. Instead of repeating failures at class based on the dog being overwhelmed.
Accept the fact that your dog may get distracted, overstimulated, overwhelmed etc.
If your dog is losing it, step away for a bit..regroup your dog and try again.
Don't let your dog watch other dogs and bark like an idiot at the end of the you WANT that behavior?
If your dog has recall issues, zoomies, etc. Find out WHY, stress...etc. If needed, please pull the dog from class, realize you have work to do, then try at a later time.

Those who want to comment, please feel free to add to this list!

If classes are not working for you and your dog, and you don't know who gives private lessons near you, just go to trials, look at handlers who are successful, and ask them! They can only say no, and many would be more than happy to help out people :)

There are many great teachers out in agility, and there are lots of great classes...but for me personally I just do my own stuff until I have a very solid foundation in place before class exposure.

Now...tonight I will see if this will pay off for Lynn in her first class :) Wish us luck!


andrea said...

d good luck - and more importantly - Have FUN!

fulltiltbcs said...

Thanks Andrea!

It WAS fun, a complete blast! I am so happy with my pup! :)

Your good luck must have worked!

Kathy said...

I really appreciate you posting your feelings about how you teach your dogs and classes. I am just starting my nine month old bc and the classes in our area are not ones I feel good about starting her agility career with, I have all the equipment in my back yard and have even sub. taught agility classes and was still feeling nervous about the prospect of "homeschooling" my girl...I have done lots of the teaching for my other dogs at home of course, but felt nervous about going it without classes....but there are always privates here and there as we need... everything you say is what I was thinking and just mkes me feel even better about my plan. Once I can get Cricket to trialing level we do have some good classes. Glad you had a good class ;-) . Kathy-with bc's Lizzie/Breeze/Cricket

Karissa said...

I echo your thoughts exactly! I am not a fan of group classes for myself -- I don't feel like I ever get my money's worth. I didn't start to really accomplish my goals until I was able to buy my house and a yard full of regulation-sized equipment. It was an investment, but an investment worth making. I've likely paid for it twice over in what I've saved by not going to class.

I also agree on the teaching aspect. I always feel guilty in group classes, like I'm leaving someone out -- because there is always SOMEONE who is not "on par" with the rest, and what do you do with them? I feel like I can help people a lot more when we're one on one.

But alas, group classes are what's available to most people, so hopefully they can find one that works well for them!