So we’re talking about continuing education (training) in this blog event, but first…let’s talk about those courses. I promise this leads straight to training!
Anyway, you know the courses I mean. During walk-through half the handlers are grimly unhappy and the other half are quite blithely and vocally certain that those who are unhappy would in fact be happy if they had only trained properly (or completely, or with the right system, or…).
To some extent, I, too, think this is usually true–even when I’m the one who’s grim. But I also think it’s just never that easy or that simple—and that because people like things to be easy and simple, they resist hearing the message of complexity (in ways that usually come back to bite those who offer it).
Me? In the big picture, I think it’s really that the agility community (and its various organizations) need to decide how inclusive they’d like to be.
Because—harking back to those courses and those grim handlers—I think that at some point, an escalation of necessary skillsets demands training to the point of exclusivity. Especially when it’s possible to put together a course that challenges handlers across the spectrum. I’ve run plenty of them!
The inconvenient truth is that not all dogs are of the same body type or mindset. Not all handlers have the same training opportunities, and for certain sure not all handlers have the same trialing opportunities—it all varies by region and by personal circumstance. That all makes “just train more/better/deeper/stronger” a much more complicated solution for some than for others.
To continue this escalation of the necessary skillset (especially when a course is just plain ugly for no purpose other than to be ugly) leaves these people out. Maybe that’s the decision the community wants, right? But if so, let’s see it done with deliberate purpose and thought. To ignore the fact that training resource and opportunity are in fact significantly variable factors reflects a lack of compassion and empathy.
This past year in particular, I’ve seen too many courses designed to the point of exclusivity. That is to say, hard courses done stupid versus hard courses done smart. I’m running into three basic kinds of courses:
- Deceptively simple courses with lovely flow…and a pleasingly challenging need for ultimate precision when running fast and hard. Challenging across levels of skill.
- Courses full of escalating skills with well-integrated sequences and exciting moments. Challenging for all, fun for all, Q notwithstanding.
- Effing* stupid courses where the entire design strategy appears to be** getting in the way of the handler and randomly inserting escalating/fad/regionally unfamiliar skills without integrating them into the design as a whole. Usually both at once.
*That’s right, I said “Effing.” I am such a thrillseeker.
** I can’t claim to read a judge’s mind. But I can assess the effect.
The first and second allow a handler to enjoy a course regardless of how it goes. The third isn’t fun even if you qualify. It is suckage.*
*That’s right, I said “suckage.”
Obviously, course challenges of any sort can be overcome with training, just as other difficult elements of agility can be overcome with training…and luck…and having the right dog…and having the resources. Which is fine, because really, that’s the way it always is. It’s just entirely unnecessary (sayeth I) for a course to be that ugly and that demoralizing in order to create challenge. I mean, when it’s not fun to run when even you do happen to do everything right, then what’s the point?
But in the meantime? To those folks who righteously mutter about “more training” while making sure the grim people can hear it? Especially if you’re blessed with resources? Stop it. Just stop it. It’s not that simple, and you’re not being nice. In fact, you’re just making other people feel bad.
It’s about a billion percent more gracious to say, “Yeah, this is a tough spot. I think we’ve trained to handle it, but it’ll be a challenge for dogs who are less familiar with this sort of combination because it’s not a spot where it’s easy to compensate for skillset.”
Okay, that was all set-up for training chat. 8)
Last month, I took a good hard look at what I want to do with my dogs. The past year of trialing/preponderance of stupid courses has also been complicated (for me personally) by the way my multiple dog conflicts have been handled during that time. And guess what. Agility trials—after twelve effing* years, a string of championships and nationally ranked dogs–have come to equate crying. In public. A lot.
*I did it again! Such a rebel!
That’s really not the way it should be.
So what’s been exciting and happy during this past year? Training the dogs.
Local training remains primarily out of reach. But earlier this year I went in search of online options found Daisy Peel’s Blind Cross class. And I took it! I’m still integrating those skills into course handling, but the experience was…fun. It was exciting. And I got to play with it on my timetable in my own way.
So when I decided last month to prioritize training over trialing for a while simply because I don’t have the resources to do both (especially not with tracking and obedience also in the mix), I went looking online. I ended up with a couple precision handling classes from Daisy, and I’m really happy with those. I had structure, I had fun exercises that challenged both me and the dogs, and I was able to pull out some “big picture” sorts of lessons that I can apply to my handling decisions in the future.
Running the exercises with both dogs has also allowed me to see the widening gap in their running styles and support needs, as Dart and I push our envelope while Connery is winding down his career. So I hope to keep doing that, but at the same time I want more. I want to be better.
I want to be morebetter!
I want to provide Dart with the handler/training he needs in order to run like I know he can, and I want to be able to start the new puppy (I swear, I’ll blog on that soon!) with a better skillset from the start.
So I recently signed up for Handling360 (a more extensive series of classes online), and have committed to a couple of local seminars next year. I’m kinda scared, actually—that I won’t be able to keep up, that I won’t be good at this, that it won’t give me what I need to get through what’s become an extensive rough patch.
Not to mention that trading off non-local trials for training means slowing down Connery’s PACH progression and Dart’s MACH progression, which really hurts–but I don’t have the resources to manage both extensive ongoing instruction and trial-travel even if we were enjoying the patootie* out of the trials (and most of the trials around here aren’t actually around here at all…).
*Yes! I said “patootie”!
So that’s my solution to the no-clothes equation. It’s not training for the sake of managing those courses—it’s training for the sake of training. It’s removing us, to a large degree, from the stress of the conflict logistics and the unpredictable frustration of the courses that go too far, and acknowledging training as the thing we do to have fun, not the means to an end.
How’s it all work out for you?