Just like as if I'm not going to change my mind
-From 'Knowledge' by Operation Ivy
The topic I'm supposed to write about is, 'If I knew then what I know now' and I'll get around to that eventually but honestly more and more I'm wishing I knew now what I knew back then. I've been doing agility for over 10 years and yet it seems I know so little now compared to what I knew back then because there's so much more information available now. The selection of books, DVD's and online classes is overwhelming. Different handling systems, different methods for teaching weave poles, different ways to perform contacts, even different types of courses between the venues demanding different types of handling, it's easy to feel like a deer in the headlights. Then there are all the conditioning, stretching, bodywork type videos. Pilates for Dogs, try explaining that DVD, or the giant rubber peanut leaning in the corner of your living room, to the normal people in your life.
When I say, 'I wish I knew now what I knew back then' I don't mean in a nostalgic, back in the good old days sort of way but rather in an embracing the beginner's mind sort of way. The mind boggling amount of information we have these days as well as my own experience level can send me into an over analytical, narrow, jaded frame of mind where I get too far inside my head and slam the door shut on new ideas if I'm not careful. It's necessary to have some sort of filter for all the stuff out there and maintaining consistency in training and handling is important but I also like to try to channel the spirit of that inner beginner every once in a while.
Anyway, if I do have to pick one thing that I wish I'd known about back in the day it would be a way to cue the dog to know where he's going before commitment to the prior obstacle. By that I mean if we're turning left after a jump the dog should know about the turn before committing to the jump so he can collect and prepare for the turn before taking the jump. I've always had fast, big strided dogs that prefer to know where they're going ahead of time so I've always puzzled over ways to accomplish this. I had one instructor suggest using verbals to cue the obstacles ahead of time as well as a couple of simple verbal directional cues but I never had great success with that. Once I learned how to use my motion and other cues like eye contact, location, etc. to cue where to go ahead of time then handling became so much clearer to me. I'm far from perfect handling but at least now I have a road map and I know where I want to end up and how to get there. Breaking old ingrained habits is hard as well, it would have been great to learn this stuff right from the start but that's the fun of a hobby-learning, unlearning, learning some more.
While it's fun to look back on our beginnings and have a laugh at our naivete it's also important to hang onto that openness, energy and enthusiasm that we had when we were starting out. Despite the frustrations inherent in the initial learning curve it's fun to learn a new sport or activity and as long as we can hang onto that feeling we should never have to suffer burn out or stagnation.
Edited to add: If you'd like to read more posts about this subject, go here.