Thursday, September 1, 2011

Patterns, Rewards, and Embracing Mistakes in Training

Schema heeling just as nice on my right side 
One of the things that is important when teaching something new to your dog is to be constantly moving and changing things towards the perfecting of the desired behavior or criteria. Of course, it's important to understand and know what you want that end result to look like, too. Many dog trainers - when teaching a new behavior, exercise, or obstacle - will continue to remain in a "safe" and successful place because the dog is not making mistakes. Or they just plain avoid the steps and the mistakes and jump to the end result while helping or aiding the dog too much. The dog never figures out how to perform without help or sort through any issues by doing them in smaller increments.

Most trainers are afraid of mistakes because they are concerned that the dog will not figure it out without help and lose animation or focus. So, when a mistake is made, they impatiently - and too quickly - jump in to help the dog or correct the dog. So, to avoid mistakes, they continue to allow their dog to practice something that should only be temporary on the way to putting all the pieces together for the final result. Or an even more common issue is that trainers don't complete the process of training so that the dog fully understands their responsibility for what has been taught because they feel that it is good enough to qualify and they can handle through it. The behavior/exercise/obstacle is minimally trained or too formally trained and yet the expectations for trials is to just trial and get experience and continue to train at home to develop the needed skills.

Unfortunately, trialing before foundation skills have been fully taught, is limiting and can lead to unwanted behaviors at the trials. "Practice makes perfect" so it's important to be MORE than ready when entering the dogs in a performance event. I do not want my own dogs to be practicing unwanted behaviors in the trial setting as those issues can become more difficult to solve when the dog learns to view criteria and reinforcement differently than I do in a trial setting.

There will always be issues that arise at the trials that are different than in training - those are to be expected and those are the issues that give us knowledge and perspective as to what more is needed in training. I certainly had plenty of issues when I started trialing Schema in agility that did not occur while I was training her. However, she had great skills and impulse control and a wonderful relationship with me. Knowing what pushed her past her ability to focus on task at the trials was important information for me in order to continue to develop her ability to bring her skills to the trials.

Mental maturity, impulse control, focus and a great relationship with your dog will ensure a better transition from training into the trial experience. When it comes to obedience trials, I believe it is even MORE important for the dog to have mental maturity, impulse control, and focus as there is so much more down time and precision in a very quiet setting. The quiet setting can be even more distracting to the dogs because any noise sounds louder and any movement seems more pronounced (dumbbells, retrieves, handlers running, or even just the judge in the ring). In herding or field work, the reinforcement is so high that the impulse control and relationship must be very well developed or bad "line manners" or issues walking to the post will develop and adversely contribute to poor focus and compromise in that run and future runs.

What is a reward? A reward can be any of the following and there are endless examples that are not listed. Some of the better known rewards would be:
  • food
  • toys
  • running and chasing something
  • sending a dog to a bird, dumbbell, or any other highly valued retrieve
  • sending a dog to sheep or allowing them to work sheep
Some of the following rewards are not recognized and dealt with as rewards or reinforcements for the dog and that is why the unwanted behavior continue to happen. There are many more than are listed below.
  • Pulling on the leash is reinforcing when you continue to move forward
  • Breaking a start line stay, contact, or table before you release them is rewarding them for doing that if you allow them to continue
  • In obedience, chewing, mouthing, or playing with retrieve objects are rewards for dogs that are stressed about fronts, stressed about corrections, or are not understanding requirements.
When dogs continue to practice unwanted behaviors in any setting and are continually rewarded for them (whether recognized by the handler or not), they develop a pattern and expectation for that particular behavior. It's more difficult to break that pattern, once it has developed and has become a habit. The other issue that occurs is that the dog has been prevented from making mistakes while they are learning and then they can not problem solve or cope with mistakes in training (without help and intervention from the handler) and the ring/trial performance then becomes something very different to them. This is what creates the so called "ring wise" dog (which is a really poorly labeled term). Basically the "ring wise" dog is created by a handler that has allowed patterns to develop as well as providing too much help and not enough independence in understanding the requirements. And because dogs are such brilliant observers, they notice the difference between training and the real thing and they respond differently as well.

So, in conclusion, what can be done to break this cycle of making the ring or trial a more comfortable place for both you and your dog? Ensure that your dog is well prepared and can train each exercise in obedience or each sequence in agility at a much advanced level than what is expected in the ring. Break teaching of the exercises down into small parts and challenge the dog's understanding by embracing mistakes. Be patient while the dog learns to solve problems and use rewards for correct behavior rather than corrections for incorrect behavior. Make sure that you are not rewarding something that you want to eliminate. Teach the first steps of any complex exercise or obstacle simple and as distraction free as possible and simplify the task when there are lots of distractions. Keep a good attitude and stay focused on your dog while you are working them.

We all make mistakes in training, but the most important thing is to find someone - a mentor or instructor - that is willing to help guide you to breaking those old patterns that are holding you and your dog's performance from becoming better.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not Your Every Day Off Course Obstacle

While trialing Schema in Standard, it has become very clear the table has become our biggest off course challenge. It's not something that I naturally look for when I am walking a course - in fact, many times I have not even noticed the table when I am looking at the dog's path while walking a course. Only to find out later, while running her, that she locked onto that obstacle and either got an off course or a very wide turn because of it. I have to actually remember before walking the course to look for the table and see where it might come into play for her.
Schema driving to the table
I did not specifically intend to make the table a highly valued obstacle, but because of transferring my Crate Games training that I've done on her to the table, it has now become one of her favorite obstacles. When I started training Schema, she had very little impulse control. By lacking impulse control, I mean that she was very easily distracted by movement by other dogs. She is still distracted by other dogs, but she works hard to focus on what I want, now. That's because I've developed a communication system with her so she knows she is accountable for her actions (this is an entirely different subject that I could write a long blog on). It is her choice and she rarely now makes the wrong one now because she knows that she won't get to play otherwise.

While transferring her Crate Games to the table, I realized as I increased the distractions that it could be a great way to get more training done with my dogs. By, having them all out  on the table when I am training, I can individually release each of them off to work. Score and Reason were both reinforced and trained to wait on the table until they were released and they both learned to be able to stay there and watch me work the other dogs - a HUGE time saver, as I was able to train 3 dogs at the same time during a training session.
Schema and Presto hanging out on the table, waiting to be released
So,  now the table has become such a highly reinforced obstacle as it leads to playing more agility. It's not your every day off course challenge, but I think I can handle it just fine.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Expecting More Than You Give

One of the things that I think people could benefit the most from during training sessions is understanding how important it is to establish and maintain a connection with your dog. This isn't something that you only need during competition or during training. Maintaining or establishing a connection prior to training or competing is so critical for success. Yet, this is probably one of the most overlooked or misunderstood training issues in dog sports.

I see examples of this lack of preparation and connection all the time. Dog is at the end of the leash and handler is distracted - either talking or completely immersed watching something. The dog knows the person is distracted and unfocused because this happens  frequently when they are together. When this happens, the dogs seeks out things that are more reinforcing for them (like sniffing the floor, investigating table tops and training bags within reach, going to other dogs, or just learning to be complacent and inactive). Basically, the dog and handler are not at all connected or focused.

People are consistent in how they remove themselves mentally from their dog and the dog figures out the pattern and applies himself to many other situations. This is well practiced during training sessions and classes - whether obedience or agility. The dogs perfect their performance of understanding how and when to disconnect from their trainers under certain telltale conditions. But what I find so interesting is how these people then suddenly snap into "working mode" and start focusing on what they are planning next.  They have switched from being focused on social things into immediately wanting focus from their unsuspecting dogs.

The innocent dog (who is now in a completely different world - totally immersed into smells, doggy interaction, sights, or tastes) is expected to recognize immediately that they are now in working mode and transition into that perfectly focused partner. There is usually no time spent trying to get the dog focused because the person is hurrying into whatever is coming next (as they probably pushed the socializing up until the last minute). They expect the dog to have some sort of mind meld and to be so connected to the trainers thoughts that it immediate knows that it's time to focus. And when the dogs don't immediately know that the handler has gone from unfocused to focused, they are corrected or overly handled or controlled. This gives a very poor start to the training or competition and causes some perceived attention issues in the ring.

What people don't understand is the attention issue is not the dog's problem. Rather, the attention issue is the trainer's problem. When you have decided to socialize or get unfocused while you are hanging around (or waiting for your turn) with your dog, put them into working mode by doing a sit stay or down stay or Crate Games - so they can focus on a task. Then it is up to you to be able to multitask (train AND socialize) at the same time. Continue to reward or address stay progress with the dog, while you socialize, talk to someone, or watch something in the ring. If you can not multitask training with these things, then you have two options.

1) put the dog away (in a kennel, tie out, x pen, car, etc) during the time you need to be unfocused on the dog.
2) remain focused on the dog and keep that connection with them and ignore what is going on around you

When both you and the dog have been disconnected from one another, in order to both be successful in training and competition, you need a short period of time to reconnect. It is unfair to expect any dog to immediately go into working mode when they have been "somewhere else" mentally, just because you can go from unfocused mode into working mode immediately. Take time to warm them up mentally with a game of tug or heeling or anything else that helps reestablish that very important connection.

Here is a great article by Bob Bailey on this subject: click here to read it.

Here's hoping that some of the things I've mentioned can help you become more productive and ultimately more successful with your training. Many times it's not the training itself that causes the issues, it's the fact that there is consistent lack of connection between dog and trainer which causes other training issues to arise.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wayne Dyer Quotes

I saw these Wayne Dyer quotes on my friend Gail Smith's Facebook status and simply had to share them - they are all too great not to share.

"Conflict cannot survive without your participation"
"When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself."
"Loving people live in a loving world. hostile people live in a hostile world. same world."
"You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside."
"You don't need to be better than any one else you just need to be better than you used to be"
 'How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours. '

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Consistency In Life and In Training

As I “grow up”, I find myself no longer wanting to fight, correct, defend, promote, or be apart of any type of life drama. The only "drama" I enjoy is the drama between me and my dogs as I run a course with them (Thanks to Tracy Sklenar for coining that term and helping me with that "drama" on course).

I've made many changes in my life over the years and have been able to gradually eliminate or add things into my life to support my wanted lifestyle. Some of the many things on this list of changes includes: 

  • no longer turning on the television
  • no longer reading the newspaper
  • never watching a video (or reading something) that looks to be sad, gruesome, or scary  (I would never click on a video that is described as "disgusting or horrible").
  • no longer "fight" for any "cause"
  • listening only to music on the radio (no talk or commercials)
  • never respond to negative talk
  • allow others to have opinions
  • not feeling the need to defend anything that I am doing (this one is the hardest for me and I am constantly working on it) 
  • acknowledging and appreciating things or events that are fun and pleasing
  • having the ability to look or walk away from unwanted things (accidents on the road, gossipy conversation next to me)

This is a work in progress and I am not perfect, but I am definitely improving. I feel it's important to be consistent in both life and in training and the more I go this direction, the more I am finding I love it and want to continue to live this way. Living life like this and training like this is just more fun and more fulfilling for me. I am sure that some people might feel that I have lost my mind. But I think I have actually found it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Keeping Up

Summer time in Minnesota sure makes it difficult for me to sit down at my computer and keep up on Facebook and my own blog. Lots of reading, relaxing, training, teaching lessons, and taking lessons. It's so much fun taking lessons with Terry Smorch as he always has practice courses built for FCI Worlds practice with Presto. Way too much fun and so good for both Schema and me.

Score has been critter hunting and batting around the handle-less horse Jolly ball in the back yard (handles removed because Schema is dangerous to herself and everyone around her when she has hold of the handle and is beating the ground and herself with it). Between finding chipmunks, moles, frogs, large toads as well as very teeny/tiny almost impossible to see toads, and now he is obsessed with dragonflies - he is easily entertained. 
A new obsession - dragonflies

What is so funny about the dogs is the simple pleasures they find to entertain themselves. 

Jolly Ball TIME!

Schema taking that handle-less Jolly ball down

Total ecstasy

Ya can''t get away from me!

Holes where the handle used to be. No one gets hurt, now.

And of course, Score has the ball that Schema doesn't want today (until it looks like he's having too much fun)

Score always plays with his Jolly ball by pushing it up against me

Then when they've gotten enough exercise, they look so happy.
On the deck, satisfied after play
Except that Schema is never done or satisfied...let's zoom in and see what she is doing....
Yep...that's the way she looks when she wants someone to come out the door
If it stays this hot, I think tomorrow we will go swimming, otherwise if it's cool we'll do some training or maybe just another day in the back yard reading and letting the dogs play with their Jolly balls. So many decisions.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Happy Birthday Reason

It's Reason's 12th birthday today. I am so blessed to have him in my life. All the clips in this video were taken in the last week. Happy Birthday to an amazing little boy. The video says it all.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Coming Out Of The Closet

For people that know me well, when my dogs have health issues, I prefer to be alone and I not to talk about it. I am most comfortable just being with my dogs and my family while I work through "things". That's just the way I cope with it all.

Because people cared so much and were asking, I was able to pull myself out of my comfort zone and post a note on Facebook to describe what happened on May 2nd after returning home from a herding trial in the Milwaukee area. Reason had 4 grand mal seizures (midnight, 2pm, 8pm, and 10pm). The 10pm seizure was the very last one he had and has not had one since then. Except for a few people, I never spoke about what was diagnosed from the MRI that was done on May 4th.

This blog entry is to explain what happened and to thank all the wonderful friends I have here in Minnesota and all around the country for caring so much about me and about Reason. I got so many messages of support and positive energy from people, I couldn't possibly respond to everyone. The dog community can overwhelm me with emotion as to how much they really care about other people and dogs - it's like a strong family that supports and respects each other and I am so proud to be a part of it all.

During the MRI, the neurologists at the University of Minnesota found a small mass in the left frontal lobe, which was now causing him to have problems with his right side and lots of ataxia. There was a small amount of edema surrounding the mass. Options were given to me - do nothing and he would have 1-2 months. Surgery and he would have 1 - 1 1/2 years. Side affects from surgery might involve a slight head tilt to the left and inflammation to the left eye. With a radiation treatment, he would have 1 - 1 1/2 years, with the exception that there are only 2/3 of masses that respond to radiation. 1/3 of them will not respond. Also, radiation would involve 3 or 4 weeks of treatments (radiation apparently has very little affects on dog being treated for a tumor in the head). The neurologist felt that the mass was meningioma, which is a benign/slow growing tumor.

I was fortunate enough to have some time in order to make a decision. Reason was stable and functional - just having difficulties with balance and ataxia, but was happy and vibrant. Dogs are amazing in how they adapt to what is presented to them physically - they never complain, they just move on. I constantly assessed his attitude and his will to continue and by the end of two weeks, there was no doubt in my mind that Reason wanted to continue to share this life with me in the physical world. Dr. Audrey DeClue, who has been responsible for keeping Reason and my other dogs physically able to continue to run in agility was an amazing support resource and friend as I talked to her almost daily on the phone over these last weeks (and this with her busy equine schedule travelling around the country).  She also saw him the weekend after the MRI to evaluate him. She did some research for me and helped me make my decision. I was also able to discuss this with one of my obedience students, who is a retired neurologist and he also helped me understand the process and verified my decision to do the surgery. In people, this is totally curable.

So, on Tuesday, May 17th, I dropped Reason off for the surgery, which was completed around 12:30. The surgeon was very happy with how it went and was able to get it all - along with some normal tissue as part of the mass went a bit deep. The mass was not part of the brain. Now it was just waiting to see how he would respond neurologically coming out of surgery. Reason always has issues coming out of anesthesia in that he comes out fast, but he remains anxious, whiny, impatient, and does not like to be confined so he vocalizes. He won't rest and won't lay down until his body just makes him collapse from being overtired. This usually goes on until 2 days after anesthesia. The neurologist was impressed and amazed at how quickly he recovered from  the surgery. He was responsive, alert, and everything was working from a neurological standpoint, except some normal weakness from the surgery.

I went to visit him on Wednesday evening and I wasn't prepared to see so much of his face having been shaved. But I was thinking the incision would look much worse than it did - it looked wonderful and it was already healing. I was able to see the MRI (really cool techy stuff) and it made me so grateful to have such an amazing resource that we have here in Minnesota with the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical School.

On Thursday, after talking to the neurologist in the morning, I was told that Reason could come home that afternoon. When I went to pick him up, he looked SO GOOD and really wanted to go home. There was no head tilt, no inflammation to the left eye, and the ataxia appears to be gone and his right side is working better. Now we start the healing process that is the most difficult one for all people with high drive dogs - keeping him quiet so that the incision and the surgery site can heal properly. Score and Schema have been so good about leaving him alone and still treating him with respect. Reason remains his bright and happy self as he adapts to the after effects of the surgery.

When I came home, I was so touched by my good friend and Reason's breeder, Janice DeMello as she made this video tribute to Reason. She used the song that I posted in yesterday's blog and put together some great memories of us from over the years. While the video made me cry (again), it also made me smile as I can see how blessed I am to have been able to share my life with this amazing little being that has touched my soul forever.

Jan describes this video, "This video is in honor of Nancy Little's brave boy Hob Nob Meant To Be aka Reason after he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor on May 17, 2011." If the video doesn't work below, here is a direct link: Click here to go directly to video on YouTube.

And because the video shows some photos of his incision just after surgery, I wanted to show Jan how well he was doing after he came home, so I include that video here for you to see as well. This is classic Reason, except with a facial hair cut. This is about 54 hours after his surgery.

So, while I went into a lot of detail through this experience of mine with Reason, I know you will understand that I will now want to move on from what is now "ancient history" to me. I am no longer focusing on what happened, I have now moved into looking at all the good times we are going to have ahead of us. Reason is my inspiration as he is strong, vibrant, full of life, and always having a good time. We should all live life like that.

Love you ALWAYS Reas!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Won't Let Go

Thank you Tanya for sending me this song. It made me cry...crying is good for the soul because it cleanses the spirit and can put things into perspective. I am back to smiling again with a new found determination - just like Reason.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Made Me Smile

"Worrying is using your imagination to create something you don't want."
--- Abraham and Esther Hicks

It was finally summer in Minnesota today. What a glorious day. As I took Reason out to potty this morning, he caught a whiff of something near the tree he was about to pee on and when I looked, I saw a healthy little tree frog just sitting there taking in the warmth of the day. That put a smile on my face.

Tree frog in the front yard 
Later on in the day, I set up two Susan Salo grids from one of her "Repeaters seminars" to run Score and Schema on. It was a grid that both of them had issues with in the past because of the spacing - Schema has had an issue compressing from extension and Score has had an issue extending from compression. I ran that grid hard with Score and he was fluid and strong. That put a smile on my face.

Schema did the sequence beautifully - even the parts she usually has difficulty with. So, I changed the height of two of the jumps from 22 (which is what she always jumps in practice) to 24". Schema had some initial issues in the section that she has had in the past with that height change. She got herself too close to the jump after the double and then tried to lift her head to get her body over the next jump. She is so athletic that this can sometimes save her jumps, but I don't want her doing that because that just means she is not reading her jumps correctly and jumping with poor form. That is wear and tear on her body. I want fluid, proper jumping from her. I added a foot in the compression section after the double and placed a diagonal bar in front of the jump that she had issues with. When I added that foot and the diagonal on the next jump, she jumped that sequence beautifully. I took away the diagonal bar and she did it nicely again. Then I put the jumps back to the initial spacing without that extra twelve inches and it was still good. These kinds of sessions where I can get her to figure it out on her own really make me smile.

Then, I got Reason out while I put away all the jumps. He is such an amazing dog. With all he's been through, he is still having the time of his life. He was doing his floating trot and smiling through that gray face of him. Demanding that I kick the toy. Living life to the fullest. THAT REALLY MADE ME SMILE!!
Kick that toy!
Relaxing in the hot weather

I want that toy!

Love you Reas!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Perfect Thought For The Day

"We practice the Art of Allowing. Which means reaching for the thought that feels best, not the thought that is the real thought, not the thought that is telling it like it is. Telling it like it is only holds you where it is: "Damn it, I'm going to tell it like it is. I'm going to tell it like it is, because everybody wants me to tell it like it is." Tell it like it is if you like it like it is. But if you don't like it like it is, then don't tell it like it is—tell it like you want it to be. If you tell it like you want it to be long enough, you will begin to feel it like you want it to be. And when you feel it like you want it to be, it be's like you want it to be."
~Abraham and Esther Hicks

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

More Photos From Iowa

I got these wonderful photos from Tammy Etscheidt, who was also taking photos at the Tracy Sklenar seminar. How lucky we were to have two talented photographers that weekend.

I love the expression in Schema's face as she is going over this jump.

Photo by Tammy Etscheidt
Then there are these cool photos that Tammy took when I was working Score on the yearlings in one of the large pastures on Saturday. It was so much fun being out there in the sunshine with green grass all around us.

This one was quite obviously when I sent him for an outrun - oh, the joy in his face!! 

Score - sending on an outrun
Photo by Tammy Etscheidt

Then this awesome photo of him fetching the sheep after picking them up at the top.

Score - fetching the yearlings
Photo by Tammy Etscheidt

And this one of Score getting them to me. These sheep had not been worked by dogs and this was about as close as they were going to get to me. Score did a great job working them. So proud of him.

Photo by Tammy Etscheidt
Thanks Tammy for the awesome photos!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tracy Sklenar seminar

Photo by Ami Shefield
I can't remember enjoying an agility seminar as much as I did this past Easter weekend with Tracy Sklenar, hosted by Christy Thomas at her 50 acre farm about 10 miles north of Council Bluffs, IA. Christy was an amazing hostess as she was also lambing at the same time (along with a few challenges that go along with this) she kept smiling all weekend.

Tracy is so patient, yet so inspiring with all the working teams. I could hear her repeating the same things over and over in order to convey concepts that were important for each team. Yet, she kept demonstrating and communicating with the same passion and perkiness and humor. She is by far my favorite agility seminar presenter because of this - if something bothers her, it goes completely unnoticed. She makes people feel important and worth the extra attention to detail and she puts people at ease by remembering their names as well as their dog's names.

Friday morning we were indoors for the Masters seminar because of the wind and the cool weather. But the afternoon session had us outdoors in the bright sunshine on plush green grass with lovely temps in the 60's - perfect weather for working the dogs.
Schema jumping indoors in the barn
Photo by Ami Shefield
Saturday, I had the day off as it was the ABC's of handling, which was specifically for learning the handling system and more for Novice dogs. Anyone that had a working spot throughout the four days, could audit free on any of the other days, which was a wonderful additional benefit of attending this seminar. Auditing and reviewing some of the basic handling was wonderful for me as I was able to pick up some of the finer points of the handling as was demonstrated by Tracy.

On Saturday, Christy was nice enough to sort out 6 of her yearling Cheviots into one of her large pastures. These sheep had not been worked much by dogs, so I was able to work Score twice on Saturday gathering them. It was a wonderful experience because it was a new field, with different draws and sheep that were very light, so he had to figure it all out. He made some mistakes at first, but he was doing some great outruns and gathers after he figured it out.

Monday was European Day with courses that had lots of back sides of jumps and very tight wraps and turns through tight boxes of jumps. Schema did a great job and showed that she has lots of great skills as a young dog. Most of the homework I took home to work on were handling weaknesses or new/better skills that I need to work on (love this stuff!):

1) Be more aggressive with my threadles and serpentines
2) Do the change of arm in the serpentines and threadles WHEN they are needed instead of trying to get to perfect serp and threadle position.
3) Continue to move when I'm doing a serpentine and keep my feet pointed in that direction
4) Take big steps when doing muliple serps or threadles, rather than the smaller steps I was taking
4) Change my footwork for the threadle, so I can move up the course faster
5) Use more acceleration (even if it's briefly) so I can show deceleration.
6) "Punch" those tight wraps with the same arm when in position at the jump
7) Use lots of motion forward with the same arm and leg near the dog to get a good threadle push through
8) Use spacial awareness information Tracy provided when walking a course to ensure I know where to drive out of my front crosses.

Photo by Ami Shefield

Some of the skills I need to work with Schema are:
1) More rewards at my front crosses to put more value into driving to me (she is driving her line and sometimes forgetting about that)
2) More independent 270's or back side of the jump

I'm looking forward to going back to Christy's in September for another weekend of Masters/European Day with Tracy.

Thanks to Ami Shefield for taking photos all weekend of the dogs working. She got some great ones of Schema...and what's up with this one? I guess I'm thinking about all the handling skills I need to work on when I get home.

Photo by Ami Shefield

Photo by Ami Shefield

Photo by Ami Shefield

Rewarding Schema with a good tugging session
Photo by Ami Shefield

Driving off the start line
Photo by Ami Shefield

Schema sliding teeter
Photo by Ami Shefield

Awesome slide teeter
Photo by Ami Shefield

Photo by Ami Shefield

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Appreciation and Allowing

Score - I appreciate and love his effort
"Image by GreatDanePhotos Copyright 2010
( used with permission"
I've been thinking about this topic for a while, but Stacy Peardot-Goudy's recent blog entry on just saying "Thank you" really prompted me to finish my thoughts in writing. If you get a chance, read her blog as a background by clicking here.

It's true that plenty of people have difficulty accepting compliments. It's human nature to put ourselves down for various reasons - especially when someone we respect tells us that we just did something wonderful (could it be true?). Many times coming out of the ring, we tend to reflect only on the disappointment of not getting the almighty qualifying score, when there are just so many other small successes (even HUGE successes) that need to be recognized out on the course or in the run. Because it tends to be human nature to reflect on the negativity and failures, many times it can be difficult to really see those small successes. This is precisely why I highly recommend getting all of your runs (obedience, herding, agility) on video tape. Yes, it is an inconvenience at times, but if you are diligent about looking at all aspects of your run - not just the fact that something happened that you did not like - you will continue to grow as a handler as well as a person. It can take some effort and some training to try and find something good in a run that feels like a failure to you, but it's all about progress. And part of the progress is trying to find the successes as well as the "homework" in each and every run.

Everyone - even the best trainers/handlers like Terry Smorch and Stacy Goudy go home with more homework. Even in the qualifying performances, they will find personal successes as well as homework and ways to improve performance. They are inspired by homework - not deflated or feeling like failures because of it. You see rare times when they have a major failure, but when it happens they push past it and realize the lesson or another opportunity to improve. Failure or mistakes should inspire you, not make you crazy or upset.

But this isn't the reason why I am writing this - Stacy covered this topic, quite well. I just want to take the subject of accepting a compliment a little further and coming from the opposite side. Giving compliments and/or appreciation of others.

Reason - I appreciating being able to run him at 11 years of age
"Image by GreatDanePhotos Copyright 2010
( used with permission"
There are plenty of people that I highly respect as trainers and handlers - like Stacy and Terry. They set an example as high caliber trainers and exhibitors in more ways than others - not just because they are on top of their game, but also because of the way they treat other people. When either of them sees a performance or even something within a run that is spectacular, they will both make an effort to tell that individual (stranger or friend/peer) that they loved what they saw. To me, appreciation and giving compliments is just as important (if not more important) than accepting compliments. That is because it comes from within...and when you appreciate or love something, it makes you feel better and you become a better person for it. There are a few high caliber trainers that only give compliments to their students (or people attending their seminars) or to their peers. I'm not sure why that is, but whatever the reason, it is a self limiting behavior and only holds them back. I think one of the most liberating behaviors is getting into the mode of appreciating and "allowing" others to do things differently.

Whether or not the person accepts the compliment is actually their own personal issue that they have to work through (been there myself at one time). Finding fault or taking something personal because an individual chooses differently than what you would is inhibiting. Sometimes people need to make a few mistakes in order to get to a place in their life where they can actually see the benefit of what someone else might be telling them. Or who's to say that maybe that person is just comfortable doing things their way and it just feels right to them. It's more important for people to feel good about what they are doing, than to be convinced to change. And it's up to us as individuals to find a way to feel good - rather than relying on compliments or support from others.

It is far better to have different training and handling styles and methods so as to enjoy diversity and motivate change. Observing handlers and trainers doing things differently can be inspiring and can allow new ideas to be recognized and realized. At one time no one trained or wanted to train running contacts and there were many good reasons stated by some of the best trainers in this country. That didn't stop a few people who were inspired and motivated within and decided to do things differently by taking a different journey. They were willing to make mistakes along the way and adapted and set forth changes because of those failures. Now, seeing a gorgeous running dog walk is a thing of beauty, when it is trained and handled properly. All because someone appreciated and loved something and was focused on doing what felt right to them - even amongst any and all criticisms from the standpoint of consistency in handling and training it.

Schema - I love and appreciating her amazing contacts
(photo by Kim Schaefer)
Whenever I start to feel upset about something, I will try find some kind of way to appreciate - anything. Even by looking or focusing on something completely different than what was causing me to become upset. Focusing on appreciating my dogs, my friends, my peers, the sunshine - whatever makes me happy or changes the way I am currently feeling. There is always a different way of looking at things and when I try to focus on some small change to make me feel happy, the negative feelings go away and my world changes with it.