Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Balance in My Training

For many in the world of dogs, "balance" can be something of an emotionally charged word.  The term "balanced trainer" is used as a designation for a trainer who holds a particular training philosophy, which I am not going to discuss here because that is actually beyond the scope of this particular post.

Suffice it to say, I do not fall into the category of "balanced trainer".  

But that is not to say that there is not balance in my training - there absolutely is.  However, the balance in my training is a different sort of balance.

Allow me to explain what I mean ....

When it comes to training, or to titling endeavors, or to competition, or anything that I do with my dogs, I always strive to balance: what is truly in the best interests of my dog with my own hopes and ambitions for that dog in that activity.

I am not always 100% successful in achieving this balance, but I do my best to make it happen to the greatest extent possible.

This was not always the case.  I would imagine that pretty much every dog sport enthusiast grows and matures and moves far beyond the point where he or she started, and I can certainly say that for myself.

When Speedy and I started in Rally Obedience back in 2005, I secretly wanted him to go out there and perform perfect runs, earning high scores and placements.  I really gave very little thought to how the experience of competition might benefit him.

After all, that seemed to be what everyone around me was doing.  I heard many talk about their scores, and about having hope for higher scores.  One time a fellow competitor showed me a binder that she had brought along to a Rally trial where she had a written record of all of her Rally scores.  She pointed to a page and said, "See, I used to get really low scores".  Then she pointed to another and went on to say, "Now I get high scores".  Her "low" scores were actually pretty nice scores that I would have been more than thrilled with at the time.  It was clear to me that working toward high scores was a priority for her.

Back then everyone's attitude seemed to be centered on striving for perfection in their Rally runs, and in earning high scores.

So, I poured my heart and soul into training Speedy to a level where he could perform perfectly.  I dreamed about earning those high scores and those pretty blue ribbons, and working our way up to the point where we could earn the giant ribbons!

There was just one teeny tiny little problem ..... and that was Speedy himself!

On one hand, Speedy was a trainer's dream of a dog.  He had a gorgeous work ethic.  He loved to learn.  He loved to drill.  I used to get confused when I heard people say, "never drill a dog".  The more I drilled Speedy, the happier he became!  Speedy had to-die-for heads-up focus that I find utterly astonishing when I watch video of him now.

But then there was the other hand ....!  Mentally, Speedy was a mess.  He started out fearful of dogs and people, and later he became reactive toward other dogs.  We spent years working all of that out.  The even bigger challenge with Speedy was his tendency to become overstimulated by movement - even his own!

Speedy was trained to perform all of the exercises in (then) APDT Rally at all three levels.  He was good at them, and he performed the beautifully .... in class.  But, when we got to a trial, he could become so overstimulated that he could barely perform in the ring!  He would make wild circles around me, run around cones, back-jump the jumps (which, in those days, was an automatic NQ!), and sometimes even grab at my clothes.

He completely and utterly shattered all of my dreams of perfection and high scores.

After banging my head against the wall for a time, trying to come up with ways to help Speedy be "perfect" in the competition ring, it came to a point where realized that I had to make a choice.  I could shift my focus away from perfection and high scores and create goals that were more appropriate for Speedy, or we could stop participating in competitions.

Because .... really .... with Speedy those were the only two choices.

Speedy and I ended up taking a break from Rally and we got into Musical Freestyle.  In Freestyle I was determined, right from the start, that my goals with Speedy would never be for perfection or scores.  When Speedy and I stepped into a Freestyle ring together, I had two goals: to allow Speedy the opportunity to express himself, and to entertain the people.

Speedy could do both of those things very well.  No matter what happened in our performances, he was always entertaining to watch!  He drew everyone's eye with his gorgeous movement, with his intense focus, and with the artistic flair that he demonstrated in just about every performance.

Speedy always expressed himself better in the Freestyle ring than anywhere else.  It was a joy and a pleasure to provide him with the chance to perform as often as we could.

That is not to say that I had no concern for the rules of the discipline, nor that I did not create our routines with the performance criteria in mind.  Those were simply not my first and highest concerns.

What happened is that I learned to find balance in our training, and in our work together.

I came to recognize that Speedy was an individual with his own strengths, talents, and limitations.  I started to see training and titling and competition events as means to enhance the quality of his life instead of as a way to accomplish something solely for myself.

Later, Dean came along and taught me this lesson yet again, so that by the time I started my work with Tessa, I was not even thinking of success in terms of high scores or perfect performances.  I consider any Agility run, or Freestyle performance, or Parkour filming session, or anything that we set out to accomplish together, to be successful when Tessa is confident, joyful, and she comes away from the experience with a happy and satisfied demeanor.  Results still matter to me on some level, my priority is always the well-being of my dog.

This, in my book, is the most important balance I can have in training and dog sports. Results matter, to some extent.  But the quality of the overall experience of training and working toward titles, and seeing a clear benefit to my dog from the experience is always what counts the most.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Quick Hike on White Oak Trail

Since this past summer, I have been getting out a lot more with the dogs.  We almost always film Parkour entries, but every now and again we just go for a plain-old-ordinary hike.  Yesterday evening, Bandit and I took a very quick hike on the White Oak Trail at Kings Gap.

This is one of two paved trails in the park.  It is a short loop - only about a quarter mile.  It is one of Bandit's favorite places to hike, and I appreciate it because we can complete the loop quickly.

The area is always beautiful.  Right now it has that poignant beauty of late fall.  Most of the trees have lost their leaves, but the leaves are freshly fallen on the ground.  There is still a "living" feel, but that will not last for very much longer.

Much of the trail is moss-covered, which feels really cool underfoot.  It can be a little bit slippery when it is damp, but I still love to walk on it, wet or dry.  And, of course, it is beautiful!

One thing that I have started to do on many of our outings is to take a photo of the sun-in-the-trees.

Bandit and I hiked around the loop.  I had some chicken from a bit of training we had done just before, so I did have Bandit do some Parkour Interactions - a Go Under a picnic bench, a Go Around a post along the trail, and a Get On 4 on a low rock.  Bandit really seemed to get a real kick out of that.

It was a quick hike, but one that we both enjoyed thoroughly.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Long Overdue Update!

Blog, blog ..... how long it has been!

I never meant to let this slip away, but in the rush and busy-ness of life, it did.  Somehow it has been almost a year and a half since I last wrote a blog post!

Life with the dogs has been moving along.

Dean is still with us, and he is now going on 13 in February!  Last winter he suffered an injury to one of his back hocks.  By summer he was doing better, but I was concerned about him.  I honestly did not think he was going to last the summer, but he rallied, and now he is doing very well.

I know that our weekly summer Parkour outings made a big difference for him!

He can no longer jump up to pluck frisbees out of the air, but every day we take him out side and roll these plastic rings on the ground for him to chase and retrieve.  He absolutely loves it!  So, Dean still runs every day.

Next, Miss Tessa!  She is doing well.  Tessa is also starting to show her age - she is "about 10" now.  But, she seems to feel pretty good, and she is still quite active.

Recently Tessa and I completed her second Grand Champion title in All Dogs Parkour, and we are now working in the Premier Division.  I hope to earn a Premier Grand Champion title with her.  We currently have 13 entries to go for that.

Ever since we finished our Grand Champion 2 title, I have been seeking out new locations to go film with Tessa for Premier, and we have really enjoyed going out to some new locations.

In addition, I have kind of started moving "beyond" just going out to film titling entries.  When we are out and about filming our entries, I often have Tessa perform Interactions, or train, on Environmental Features that actually do not meet submission criteria, just for the fun of it.  Sometimes I have her run over bridges, for instance.  Then, after creating our submission video, I make an informal "Parkour Excursions" video to document and share some of the fun that we had while creating our entry.  These videos contain a mixture of submission clips and clips that would not be submitted, and I set the whole thing to music.

Here is an example of one of these.  This is our Canine Parkour Excursions video from our filming at the White Oak Trail in Kings Gap several weeks ago:

Tessa is also still running Agility, although we are not as involved with it as we were when we were running for our C-ATCH.  We go to class weekly, and we do go to a trial every now and then.

Bandit, going on 5 in February, is in the prime of life.  He is a happy, active dog, and I could not love him more!

He loves Agility.  We are not super serious about it, but we go to class weekly, and very occasionally I trial with him.  He also enjoys Musical Freestyle, and I hope to have more Freestyle video to share of him in the near future!

Bandit and I have not been as involved with Parkour as I would like, mainly because I have been focused on my two older dogs with that.  But, he did earn his All Dogs Parkour Champion Title over the summer, and occasionally we get out to film.

Finally, Rocky, our little Beagle Terrier, also in his prime at about 4 years old!!  I do not do a whole lot with Rocky, although I do train a bit of Freestyle and Parkour with him from time to time.  Ben still takes him to Rally and Agility classes when his work schedule allows for it.  Rocky adores training, and it is something that I hope to get into with him more in the future.

Now that I have given a general update of everyone, maybe I will get back to writing a blog post every now and again!  It is good to be back, and I hope to stay!