I am in a major learning time right now. It seems that, out of nowhere, I've come across quite a lot of new training and performance insights and realizations. I guess that has come along with Tessa and I reaching the end point of where we really can go at the level of training that we have done so far. If we want to go farther, I need to learn . . . a lot . . . about . . . a lot . . . And this goes for Dean, as well, and maybe even . . . Speedy!
There has been a rather popular topic of discussion on a few of the lists and groups that I read this past week: the tension, if you will, between use of food in training and the fact that one cannot have food in the ring in competition.
Some have observed - and rightly - that many handlers who train with food and/or toys have a difficult time making the transition into the competition ring where such reinforcers are not typically permitted. Granted, there are exceptions, such as World Cynosport APDT Rally, Cyber Rally-O, and the DCD Challenge in the Honor Class. But, by and large, such reinforcers are not usually allowed in titling events.
Now, this isn't really something that I'm concerned about with Tessa. She's a dream. I know that I will have whatever I have with her whether I have food with me in the ring or not. If something is trained to fluency, she will perform.
But Dean is another story. This has been something that he has always struggled with. He really does stress in the ring when I do not have food or a toy. If there is food in my pocket, he is fine.
Dean is complex. I always have to remember that his anxiety disorder can be in play when he stresses. I can't make the simple assumption that any issues that he encounters are just training issues and I must make my training choices with that in mind.
At the same time, I also know that Dean is capable of a lot more than he has previously achieved. He has it in him to be more confident and enthusiastic in the ring. If he can do it when I have food in my pocket, he can do it when I don't. I just have to learn how to build the bridge that he needs to understand that the two different scenarios are actually exactly the same!
Dean and I are at a crossroads. I can put some consideration, thought, and work into his training and he can go into the ring and do some nice work. Or, I can cut my losses and just play with him for fun. And, really, I think the best approach is somewhere right in the middle of those two options.
Tessa, on the other hand, needs skills, skills, skills! She is a thousand times more confident and comfortable than she was even a year ago. She is ready to soar, but I need to provide her with skills! Agility skills, Rally FrEe skills, and Freestyle skills!
And I think that my skill training needs an overhaul. I think I can learn to train better, and I am ready to start exploring ways to do just that.
This is an exciting time, but it is rather daunting, as well. When the comfortable tried and true has been exhausted and you have to move beyond the comfort zone, there are questions, uncertainties, and some degree of cluelessness! Of course, there is also excitement and anticipation.
Tessa and I are going to go where I've never been before. That's pretty cool! But if we are going to do that, I have work to do!