Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Cheap Ass Continuing Education Following the Pareto Principle

Today is another Dog Agility Blog Event and we're discussing Continuing Education. 

The Pareto principle, or 80-20 rule, states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes.  And when I think about all the seminars, books, DVD's, seminars, classes, magazines (did I mention seminars?)  that I've ever bought, read, attended, etc. this holds true.  Don't get me wrong, I love going to seminars and learning new stuff.  Love it more than or at least as much as trialing.  But I'd say that 80% of the useful stuff I've learned has come from 20% of the seminar presenters.  And that precious little information that I've heard at seminars has actually worked its way into my training and even less into the ring.  Let's be honest here, hands up who goes through their seminar notes from 4-5 years ago?  Two years ago?  Last year?  Ever?  I did finally wise up and shoot some video from one of the 20% seminar presenters and I have occasionally gone back and looked at that.  Enormously useful.  My notes?  Can barely make heads or tails of them.  And I take careful notes.

I'm also terribly guilty of charging on to learn new fancy handling maneuvers when my nearly 10 year old dog still struggles with weave pole entries.  Because an enormous amount of effort has gone into those weave pole entries with little improvement.  So why not let it go and practice something fun like that fancy blind cross serpentine move?  And fess up people, I know I'm not alone, I see plenty of people struggling in the masters ring with super basic training/handling holes.  I'm not judging here, I'm right there with you.  But I wonder how much more gains I might get from just a little bit more effort with the basics?

I don't take lessons or go to a lot of seminars and I've never taken an online class mostly for economic reasons but also because after 15 years in the sport I'm not sure if the time/effort/money are going to give me big gains.  I'm not for a second saying I know it all or that I have nothing to learn.  There's loads to learn.  Asstons.  The sport has come so far and continues to progress at such a pace that I wonder if we'll soon have two tiers of agility (if we don't already).  But I think there's value in taking time to practice, working on and reinforcing the basics as well as the fancy stuff, and perhaps most importantly of all, learning how to figure stuff out for ourselves.  I work with a training partner and when something goes wrong we help each other troubleshoot.  I learn from helping her almost as much as I learn going through the exercises myself.  I've also learned how to spot stuff on my own, how to feel when I've done something wrong without needing a teacher or even a video camera.  I'm not always right but I'm getting there.  Seminars and the occasional lesson are super fun but it's these once a week little training sessions along with playing short little games with the weave poles and teeter (another issue that crops up if I don't keep on it) in my backyard that give me the 80% of results.  Plus I love farting around, experimenting with things, why should the experts be the only ones who get to invent handling moves?

I also learn a lot from watching handling at trials.  I don't typically experiment with a completely unpracticed move at a trial but I'll often go home and set up a similar scenario to practice something I saw someone else do.  Or I may not like the exact handling move but it'll spark an idea of something to try.  So much great stuff out there to learn from other people but I think we get the most bang for our time and effort by spending the time working with our dogs and learning how to learn for ourselves.

This post is part of the Dog Agility Dog Event.  For more posts on Continuing Education go here.


  1. Yes! I use my seminar notes - or at least my typed ones. I go and look up quotes and diagrams and homework lists and ideas for classes. But it did take me a long, long time to learn to take worthwhile notes- things that would mean something later and with enough detail that I knew what the note was even about. My older handwritten notes - not used so much - mostly because i can't read them. But part of all of this is knowing the time and money I took to be at the seminar and so I feel like I have to be sure I got a lot of 'value' from it.

    Sometimes I don't train because I want to just fool around and I know that's not 'good training' and then I'm sad that I'm just doing 'good training' and not just fooling around.

  2. Good for you Kristen! (and I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically). My biggest problem is that the notes made sense when I took them in the context of the seminar but looking back afterwards it's often hard to know what they mean out of context. Of course if I was good about going home and typing them up and adding context to them it might be different. I think when we're doing things for a living we put more effort in. I often refer back to notes from hypnosis seminars and I'll type up protocols that I want to use but somehow can't quite put that kind of effort into my hobbies.

    1. Realistically though - many people don't go back through their notes (though note taking may help them remember some of it? - or at least that's what they say at school). And it did take me a while to figure out how to best be making notes (very different style from the things I had to make notes of when in school). I don't do as much video at seminars (of my own dogs) as I did a few years ago - that's something I wasn't referencing enough. I now just get short pieces and label them right away.

      The nice thing is that now it's getting to be more socially acceptable to take notes on the computer while at the event - that saves me a lot of time and effort and lets me take more notes/drawings as needed.

  3. I haven't had the chance to do more than one seminar (and audited it, as I am le poor) but I have done a bit of online stuff on top of my weekly class and I can say it's worth it. The nice thing about online is that you can pick and chose a trainer that is going to complement what you have going, and you can decide whether to focus on foundations or do something more advanced. I kinda love the variety of options available, even if it's super hard deciding which option to go with!

  4. I'll probably take an online course or two when it comes to training my next dog but my current dog turns 10 in March and while he's still going strong we're at the stage of not sweating the details. Thanks for the feedback on them though, I wonder about them and it's good to know people get things out of them.