2-minute dog trainer, class format for trial focus

The experience of attending trials and showing a dog results in heaps of information. Processing that information in a way that improves performance is key to providing a worthwhile class experience for our students.

When Bud and I leave a trial site we immediately beging processing information. Whether we’re both showing, or one of us is showing and the other is observing, we process without blaming either the handler or the dog.

These conversations can be “edgy,” and I tend to only get into them with Bud because I’m certain neither of us will be thin-skinned about anything said. If, on the other hand, a student wants to have this conversation with me, I must choose my words carefully and edit myself.

If the conversation takes place immediately upon leaving the ring with your dog, it’s too soon. Neither of us are ready to be objective. The adrenaline has to wear off a little.

If the conversation takes place ringside with other people listening we must edit ourselves slightly.

So we do our best debriefing in the truck on the way to the motel, or home. And, running these two young BCs, there’s plenty of information to be processed.

Once we’ve discussed, debriefed, and developed a solution we have to ask ourselves  1) is this information equally relevant to our students, and  2) is there a shift in class format which will fascilitate the solution.

Last night’s class format was designed to make us and our students think about focus at trials. Instead of an entertainment round followed by an instruction round we had 5-6 sequences which we walked and ran and scored — no extensive instruction, just learning through doing.

About 15 minutes into class I heard, “well now you’re getting to see what our trial experience is.”  As for me, I felt myself keeping my head about me and calculating more appropriately “what’s the best fix in this moment?”

Tempest was in good form, dropping one bar in 90 minutes, missing a couple of weave entries, but nailing countless teeter performances in his 2/2 posture and — most importantly — HOLDING that position while I shifted sides or moved into a better position.

Additionally, we worked nearly 2 hours with no treats. His reward involved his tug toy only.

Because it was very hot, we did no drilling. And I was careful to allow Tempest plenty of water, potty breaks, and down time between sequences. Just like at a trial!

Our score was the lowest in the class, but — except for Bud and Kory — we’re the only team in the class not trialing in Excellent / Masters / Superior classes.

Tempest is the only un-titled dog in the class. Considering that, his performance was not too shabby.

In about 5 days we drive to Cincinnati for 2 days of AKC agility. Using my newfound capacity for focus, and Tempest’s newfound capacity for keeping bars up, I hope to come home with a qualifying ribbon or two.

I must say that our typical class setting is relaxed, upbeat, and VERY social. Students bring snacks. We have an informal rule that — if you fall during a sequence — you must bring cold beer to the next class.

So last night we had beer and chocolate-cherry cookies.

Because of the “trial format” we also had a meltdown or three. It felt JUST like a trial setting. People started with tunnel vision and it wasn’t until sequence 4 or 5 that we started relaxing a little.

Bottom line — Tempest and I had a great time and learned a good bit about working with each other.  Bud and Kory had a great time and learned a good bit about working with each other.  I think Vicki, Jackie, and Beth had a great time and learned a good bit. (Turns out we have a student who objects to the consumption of beer. Our apologies to Denny. No one knew you found beer objectionable.)

So for the next 4 days I’m going to take Tempest to the building a couple of times a day for reminder sequences. Keep the bars up, hit your contacts, nail your weave entries, and have some obstacle focus.

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