Monday, September 08, 2008

More Weekend Trial Stuff

I did have fun at the trial even though that last post may have sounded tired and grumpy (I've had a good night's sleep and some caffeine so I'm feeling better now). I got to visit with people, work on Strummy's manners, watch some great runs, play with the dogs, hang out in the sun. Better than mowing the lawn and doing the chores though that always catches up with me in the end but it's good to have a day of hooky from the endless 'to do' list.

Heard a great word for A-frame from a novice handler-'Upstairs'. Always funny to hear some of the untraditional words people come up with. Though I suppose that bites you in the butt if you ever need someone else to run your dog if your dog is heavily dependent on verbals for the obstacles.

I was jump setting for 2 rounds of standard for both the novice and advanced classes so I got to see a lot of new dogs I've never seen before. Lots of mutts and rescue dogs running in the novice ring, very cool to see. One awesome little dog handled by a junior handler looked for all the world like a McNab but when I asked him he said no, it's a Dobie mix, probably Dobe with BC. What a cool little dog though and he did a great job of handling her. Also lots more small dogs, big dogs and variety of breeds than you normally see at a USDAA trial.

Overall though watching the novice ring was something akin to enduring fingernails on a blackboard. Let me preface by saying that Cody had many stress/distraction/control issues when we started out so believe me I am more than sympathetic to the teams that have these issues, especially those handlers just starting out who don't know what to do about it. If you could have seen Cody's Time Gamblers run you'd have wondered how on earth this dog ever made it to masters. But the amount of dogs taking off after 3 or 4 obstacles and the ensuing screeching, clapping, yelling and cajoling that followed was something I've never experienced before. And the judge let it go on and on and on. One woman was chasing her dog around the ring for 4-5 minutes and the judge never forced her to leave. Believe me I realize that if you have these issues sometimes the only way to work through them is to keep plugging away at trials. However if a dog is taking the first 3 obstacles then running off to a far corner of the arena to cower and then maybe a minute later taking a jump or 2 and running off again, well, chasing them around the ring and screaming their name a million times and clapping your hands is not going to solve the problem. The shocking thing is that it was not one or two dogs either, I would say 1/2 to 2/3 of the class had some serious issues. There were also quite a few handlers who had handling and/or baby dog mistakes (eg run bys on jumps) who insisted on stopping and making the dog 'fix' the mistake, screeching and clapping all the while. Many of these dogs were trotting by the ends of their runs or simply shut down and refused to continue which only brought on more screeching and clapping. I've never seen so much ring stress in the novice ring in my entire agility career. Very strange and somewhat depressing. Hopefully just a weird day and not a foreboding of the future of agility.

Along those lines though I wish the instructors out there would place more emphasis on the importance of it all being fun rather than getting titles. I talked to one woman who's dog was actually shaking just walking around the grounds and by the middle of the day still had it's tail tucked under its legs. I told her some of the things I did with Cody, including keeping on running even if he missed a jump or did something wrong, I didn't worry about the NQ. She said 'oh, running by a jump is just an NQ and not an E? Because I don't mind an NQ but I don't want an E'. I told her so what if it's an E? It's not like they kick you out of DOCNA or you get a bad report on your permanent record. She looked at me like I was crazy and I'm not sure why. I told her none of it matters if her dog won't run with her so go out and make it fun for your dog and don't worry about the rest of it. Take 3 obstacles, run out of the ring and have a big party with the treats. She smiled and looked like she was about to burst into tears at that point. She was a nice lady, I hope she works it out. With agility becoming more popular I wish the teachers would focus more on fun and motivation rather than Q's and titles for those dogs that have stress issues. In the end it's supposed to be about fun with your dog right?


  1. Anonymous7:18 AM

    I think you hit the nail right on the head- instructors need to take better care to make sure that their students are ready, prepared, and understand trialing.
    At the trial on the weekend- two times someone ran their dog with a collar on- they didn't know. Lots of very novice dogs that in my opinion were not ready to trial yet...lots of people don't know the rules, and of course there are those even at starters level that are all about the Q- which is not going to get them any closer to that Q! And you can bet those people will always have that frame of mind. It is unfortunate that some instructors don't tell their students what it's really all about- fun with your dog!

    amanda at manymuddypaws

  2. I don't think it's always the instructors' fault that people go into agility focusing on the titles ... I know a lot of people who go to the same instructor I do who get waaay too serious about the whole thing even though Val emphasises that it's not about titles and that you shouldn't start your dog without being prepared to forgo a Q for the sake of reinforcement and training. And she leads by example--she's cut many a run short to go party if her dog does something she wants to reinforce.

    I think that some people just don't understand the value of the journey over the destination. I admit I didn't really understand at first and I equated qualifying with success. Things got a lot more fun once I learned to relax. I started Qing more, too ;-)

    What's truly unfortunate is that so many of the title-obsessed people also blame their dogs for human mistakes. When my friends do it I usually tell them right up front "Don't you dare yell at your dog for your own mistake--he did exactly what you asked!" But when it's someone I don't know I have to bite my tongue and just feel sorry for their poor dog.

  3. Absolutely there are overcompetitive people who are going to be that way no matter what. But the woman I was talking to seemed more like she didn't understand the rules of trialing or she'd had it drilled in that she should make the dog stay out there and do the course. When I told her she could leave the ring after just a few obstacles she looked relieved, she thought she was obligated to do the whole course. She really didn't understand that an E was no big deal. It wasn't her first trial either, I can't believe her instructor wouldn't have suggested to her that she should just do a few obstacles and leave. The sad thing is that she saw Strummer sitting next to me and said, 'I should really just get a BC shouldn't I?' I felt so bad, her fearful dog could possibly gain some confidence from doing agility (maybe not, hard to say) if she went about it the right way. His problems weren't due to being a non-BC, they were due to being fearful and not getting enough reinforcement. There were lots of basic things she could have been doing at that trial but she's obviously not getting the type of help she needs. Maybe the dog is inherently too fearful and won't ever compete but maybe not and you don't know until you try.

    I've seen instructors at fun matches pushing their students to do aversive things to get the dog to focus and just do the course whether he likes it or not dammit. 'He's blowing you off, don't let him get away with that', type thing. One place that does fun matches has people sitting around the ring spray the dogs that run off with an oil/water mixture. There are some great teachers around here who know how to deal with motivation issues but there are some really terrible ones too and I hate to see them having such a bad influence.

  4. As for the people who should know better who blame the dog for their own crappy handling, well, don't even get me going on that. And if you think the dog people are bad you should see the horse people. I once saw a woman smack her horse in the face with a riding crop at the end of a jumping course on national television after he dropped a bar and she lost the championship.

  5. You know what I think. That, as people we want to do things right. We take a test and we want the right answers or you get a bad grade. Thats how we are brought up. So you get out in the ring and dont have the right mind set. Your nervous and probably not thinking right. You have no idea that you arent being fun. I think we get caught up in doing things perfect. Just think of all the things you have learn and had to redue until you got it right. I think if they saw themselves on video a few weeks later the would be surpried. I saw a video of my first dog running his first few trials. Boy was he slow. I had no idea. I was one of those people that had to do it right. I would never run my new dog that way. If she blows by the weaves in her first trial, Im going to keep running. Some lessons are hard to learn. I didnt realize that my wanting to do the course correctly was negatively effecting my dog. Im hoping to do a better job with the next dog. Diana

  6. Yes, I've definitely thought this too in the case of some teams. I'm sometimes guilty of it myself, I get the course set in my head and without even realizing it I'm fixing something. But many of the handlers I saw on Sunday had such a harsh tone and were correcting a mistake as often as every 3-4 obstacles. DOCNA allows refusals and has a fairly generous course time so you can worry your dog through the course and still Q, esp. at the novice level. And I think some instructors encourage their students to do this or at the very least don't discourage them. Sometimes I even see instructors doing it themselves. It seems that with the increase in the popularity of the sport that many instructors are popping up and they don't seem to have a clue what they're doing or how to prepare their students for competition.