Friday, November 3, 2017

We were asked to run an ultra marathon, not the 50 yard dash

If you have been in agility a while then you know that each dog we have, will have something in their personality that gives us a challenge.  My pack of 4 has been no exception.  The challenge that Tangle gave me however was the one that I was the most ill-equipped to deal with.

Tangle is a very Zen dog, has been since the moment I brought him home.  Very thoughtful, in tune with his environment and a deep desire to keep the peace and balance of life.  Tangle did not come to me as a happy-go-lucky puppy ready to play always.  It isn't that he didn't know how to play, his play was just calmer, thoughtful and never out of control.

I am the opposite of Tangle, in agility I am intense, obsessed, and wired up.  Exactly what Tangle felt he needed to "calm".  On the surface, it wasn't the match made in heaven, but we are exactly what each other needed.

Tangle was always able to learn and work.  We never went to a trial or had a practice where he couldn't work.  He just never worked with the intensity and speed I knew he had.  I would always see more intensity and speed from him at home (a comfortable environment) than at a trial.  He was also never able to tug (play) at a trial in the beginning, he was way too worried and honestly, I don't think he knew he could "play" in those environments.

This wasn't what I wanted for us!  I wanted him to have fun and selfishly, I wanted an intense partner.

The ultra marathon began (and thankfully I didn't know it was going to be one).  I will spare all the details along the way, just know that along the way I celebrated, cried, got frustrated, took breaks, doubted, had faith, and saw break-throughs.  One thing that never changed was the desire to have the partner I knew he could be and it kept me coming back to the goal.

4 years ago we went to Cynosport in Murfreeburo TN.  It was a 5 ring indoor circus.  Loud, crowded, full of energy, girls in heat, basically every distraction and energy source on the planet.  Tangle and I had a really hard time.  Just getting to the ring was a stressor, we never arrived relaxed, playful and ready to go.

Fast forward, Tangle is 7 years old and we competed at Cynosport in Murfreeburo, TN again.  I felt more armed with tools to help my dog work through the stress, but something was different this year.  Right from the beginning Tangle was super happy to be there, partner by my side and tugging when ever I asked him to play.  I cried, multiple time, tears of happiness!  It dawned on me that we had finally reached our goal.  Every time I stepped to the start line I had a happy, ready to go, ready to play, INTENSE, fast partner.

It took 7 years to reach this goal, but Tangle is everything I know he can be! 

To make the goal even sweeter, Tangle and I made Grand Prix and Team Finals.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Agility, what does it take?

I haven't posted in a while.  I suspect because my brain has been really busy with some deep learning this last year and I haven't processed all the great info and put it in it's place.  I am not there yet, but I think little thoughts are beginning to eek out anyway.

For my students I ponder this question a lot, "what does it take to accomplish your goals in agility?"

There are so many levels of desired achievement, from weekend warrior to National/World Champion, but they all probably have the same fundamentals as an ingredient.  Perhaps the thing that varies is the level of proficiency that you and your dog have in each of these areas.

Hoot doing what she loves

Foundation skills for the dog
Foundation skills for the human
Dog training skills
Handling skills
Fitness and coordination for you and your dog
Mental Management for you and your dog
Resilience, both you and the dog
And mileage as a team

So when my students say to me, "I want to improve my Q rate", we have to evaluate all of these things and decide which areas to focus on.  To Q, you have to at least bring all of these fundamental together for at least one very important minute of your life.  It doesn't mean that you have to go bat-shit-crazy becoming an expert on each of these things, but it does mean you have to focus slightly more than you have been on one or more areas to accomplish your goal.

I, on the other hand do work all of these skills, at one time or another intensely because I am bat-shit-crazy for agility.  I love agility, I love teaching, and I love the learning process.  I have purposefully worked with some of the best in the world to learn this art. 

My current obsession is Mental Management in Agility, which I will describe as "the art of bring all your team's skills to the table at the same time to create amazing results."  Sounds easy, not so easy!

This area sounds like one focused area of concentration, it's not.  There are so many aspects to it and so many variables that affect it.  I am working on my second year as a student of this topic and am just beginning to learn how to incorporate it into my classes. 

For my students my goal is to incorporate this into their learning process, make it incidental in some ways, but always keep it fun.