The No Clothes Equation

by Doranna

_DSC3932-(ZF-4919-11231-2-001).SM“The emperor has no clothes” has never been a popular (or easy phrase) to utter.  Not even in agility.

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:

  1. Deceptively simple courses with lovely flow…and a pleasingly challenging need for ultimate precision when running fast and hard.  Challenging across levels of skill.
  2. Courses full of escalating skills with well-integrated sequences and exciting moments.  Challenging for all, fun for all, Q notwithstanding.
  3. 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?

(Other handler takes on continuing ed are at the blog event home base!)

About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
This entry was posted in Agility, Dog Agility Blog Event and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The No Clothes Equation

  1. Diana says:

    Nice! Love that you managed to hit this topic with humor.

  2. Mona Karel says:

    I’ve been looking at Handling 360…what intense courses she puts together!
    For me it’s still more about the fun of training but I’m coming into this with an entirely different end goal. Trialing will always be difficult for us but fun is inevitable

    • Doranna says:

      I gather it won’t be offered at this price point again. So far I think it looks like fun–plenty of indoor-type work to keep us busy over the worst of the winter months, and it’s not anything that’ll interfere with what we already do. But it also looks really intense! We’re already playing some of the games, things I chose because I can see they’ll teach me to have fun as well as the dogs. I gather we’ll be able to sign on for a following year at some reduced terms (not everyone gets through the program the first time, some people are bringing along another dog…), but that’s a bit of hand-waving right now.

      • Mona Karel says:

        even her ‘teasers’ are a huge help.

        • Doranna says:

          This year’s teaser series was significantly more complete than in the past, I think. Those videos are coming down any minute now so if you want to cram, go for it!

  3. Heather Dryer says:

    I think it sounds like a great plan. I hope you get what you need out of the courses and fine the FUN in it!

    • Doranna says:

      Thanks! It’s a year-long course with enough content so it might easily overlap to the next. I have fine point sharpies and a special notebook and overall, it feels as if I’m back in school! But we’re already having fun with some of the early games, and the great thing is that we can (and should) always come back to those games when we need an infusion.

  4. Marilyn says:

    Nice touch of humor to this, yet you made your point. Especially about courses and having events which end up not being fun, even if you get that ribbon. I sympathize because I am, sadly, running into some of that with Barn Hunt. Due to a back injury, I’m limited in how long I can stay vertical. So the last event, I entered Harper and Babette in the morning events only. That worked well for me. I didn’t have to spend the next week in bed recovering. (I maintain that it is one thing to do nothing because that is what you CHOOSE. It is another thing to do nothing because you CANNOT do anything else.) And the dogs had a blast. The event people even let me take Mr. Shadow in for a fun run
    beforehand, and he had a great time Finding the Rat, and doing the
    Tunnel, even if he’s too old to do a Climb. No, we didn’t get any ribbons, but they had fun, and that’s why I’m doing this. The event people even let me take Mr. Shadow in for a fun run beforehand, and he had a great time Finding the Rat, and doing the Tunnel, even if he’s too old to do a Climb.

    However, the event which is in reach decided they would have two levels of entry this time. Those who are signing up for all four runs (two on Saturday and two on Sunday) get to enter first. If you are only entering part of the runs, you don’t get to enter until about 20 days later — and the closing date is three days after that. Since the dogs’ running order is in order of their entries being received, obviously, they may (a) fill up before they even get your entry, and, if they don’t fill up, (b) the dogs who are doing part of the runs will be very late in the day. Except that since the run order isn’t posted until the day of the trial, one must be there absolutely first thing on the off chance your dog IS running first.

    So Harper and Babette are entered in four runs apiece that weekend, and I’m praying I don’t collapse. I did write the trial secretary, but I don’t think she understood my objection to what amounts (in my opinion) to discrimination against people who may be financially or physically unable to endure four runs per dog in two days. Dunno. Maybe I just don’t understand how performance shows work. Sure, titles on my crew would be nice, but the key is that we have a good time, and the dogs come away feeling like it’s been worthwhile.

    • Doranna says:

      Boy, do I hear you. And I could carry on about something similar that I experienced a year or two ago. Not the same logistics, but the same cause–the club making decisions that seemed reasonable from a very simplistic viewpoint, but failed to take people’s realities into account. Sounds familiar, right?

      • Marilyn says:

        Very familiar! I was never able to do agility with Shadow and Sunny because of the back issues and logistics. It’s a pity, because the Big Guy especially would have been very good at it.

  5. Pat Hughes says:

    I’m an original Handling 360 member and can assure you it’s worth every penny and all the time I’ve invested in it. I’m becoming a better trainer and my dog is becoming more and more enthusiastic about his training sessions. We are doing things I truly never believed we could do. And wait…there’s more……we’re having so much fun. 🙂

    • Doranna says:

      I love the enthusiastic comments about H360. I looked at it last year and just wasn’t in a place to commit, but things do change. Just knowing how much people love the program and knowing I have this resource to play with has helped me feel more relaxed about the trial this weekend. That’s something right there!

  6. Carol Renton says:

    I am also an H360 original person from last Feb. I was all excited and then my 3 yr. old Sheltie ended up with a psoas tear so has been on the sidelines since last May. We are now good to go and I am finding that the desire to get back in the ring ( we were in EX when we had to stop) is no where as great as the desire to train. The forced withdrawal from agility for so many months has brought me back to the desire to teach rather than test my dog’s skills in a trial setting. Conditioning with Bobbi L on Daisy’s sight and H 360. Love to learn new stuff.

    • Doranna says:

      Oh, those psoas tears! Connery had one two years ago now, due to compensating for a hidden stifle injury (he was on meds that made him more vulnerable than anyone knew). I think it was two years. It’s hard to keep track as the time goes by–! I’m glad your dog is now recovered and good to go!

  7. Marilyn says:

    So… here’s a question. H360 is geared for agility. But would it work in other training venues, like Barn Hunt or Rally?

    • Doranna says:

      Rally, probably. Barn Hunt, prolly not. I can certainly already see ways the prep work will help build confidence/responsiveness with obedience. 8) That’s just a small part of the course, though. (Critical and fun, but small!)

      • Marilyn says:

        Confidence / responsiveness through obedience. Yeah, that’s what’s needed. Babette is fascinated by Barn Hunt (she is getting over her ring shyness and her worries about all the other people and dogs, and I’m glad to see that!), but definitely not motivated to find the rat quickly, because that would take her away from all the fascinating smells. Harper is of the opinion that finding the rat is the KEY thing. Nothing else matters. And, the little wretch is VERY aware of the differences between on and off leash — put a leash on the boy, and even if no one’s holding it, he follows directions nicely — because the possibility is there. Take the leash off, and he does whatever he darn well pleases. And unfortunately, most of the training clubs around here are of the “jerk ’em into order” variety, which is NOT what I want for my crew.

  8. H360 does look like fun, unfortunately it’s at a price-point that would necessitate not training with my local trainer, not trialling for the year, doing extra commissions, and hoping like hell no “unexpected” expenses show up. Fortunately people like Silvia Trkman, Daisy Peel, and a host of others are still offering classes that I can actually contemplate taking. But kudos to moving forward. I am one of those people who likes a more technical course, but also I agree that there’s a big difference between “challenging” and “ugly”. I was thinking the other day that it would be interesting if agility moved towards having “course designers” and “judge” instead of making one person do the same job. There are some who can do both, and there are some who are really good at one and not the other. It would be to everyone’s benefit if we could select for the really good course designers out there no matter where you’re located.

    • Doranna says:

      I loved the Daisy Peel precision handling and the blind cross course! I’m still finishing out a few precision exercises. I’m sure at some point I’ll be back there…

      What’s included in H360 is far more than is being charged for the course, but to some extent that depends on how much the individual can get done, right? Fortunately training here at home suits my learning style. 8) The cost was a huge hit, but because of the way I use animals and training as an underpinning in my fiction writing–and my plans for future projects–it comes out of the “spend it on resources or pay it in taxes” fund. Either way, it’s not available to me for things like…groceries. Hurt cat care. Horse hay. Etc. :/ (The working writer’s life. Yay.)

      I absolutely love your idea of having course designers separate of judges as an option. I suspect judges would look at it differently (and I kinda wouldn’t blame them!), but from this point of view it seems like a win. Especially if judges were able to tweak the courses a little to suit exact ring logistics and their own preferences.

  9. EMoonTX says:

    As a non-dog-owner (for now), trainer, exhibitor, this sounds like other situations in which someone decides competitors (be it horses, dogs, or college applicants) are “doing too well, let’s make it harder so the REAL cream rises to the top.” Someone wants to make it easier to decide who’s *really* the best, and “weed out” lesser types. Particularly for competitions which aren’t life-determining (e.g., the training of dogs to locate survivors in a disaster might very much need to be “ugly” and “almost impossible” at times to mimic disaster situations) making something not just hard but unrewarding in all ways is more about the philosophy of the course designer than the “quality” of the competition. The purpose of agility, as I understand it, is to have happier dogs and owners…so making things “harder” just to make them harder is counter-productive. (Admittedly, I’m not in this game so this is a pure outsider’s view of it.) I suspect that the people who design (and want) the ugly, uselessly hard courses are people who don’t agree that the purpose of agility is to have happier dogs and owners…who think “fun” isn’t a justifiable goal, but “seriousness” and “weeding out lesser competitors” is.

    From what I’ve seen in videos, I admire all you dog trainers and your dogs, and love it when a dog looks happy and confident–as I admire good riders/trainers and happy, confident horses in partnerships that look as if dressage or riding across country are fun. But then I think “fun” is a very worthwhile goal in a world that most of us experience as stressful, difficult, and confidence-damaging in the rest of our lives. Animals shouldn’t be dragged through human angst–our time with them should be rewarding and pleasureable for both.

    • Doranna says:

      Boy, did you nail how I feel about it. On every single count.

    • Marilyn says:

      Wow, yes. Nail on head. And then some!

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