Friday, November 12, 2010

They Learned, I Learned

MargeDog with student "S", doggy doppelganger (except the color) and fellow fearful dog!

I haven't spoken recently about the non-competitive agility class that I teach.  It actually just ended - after 6 months of teaching it, the head instructor and I both decided that we needed a break.  Two other club members were interested in teaching it, so they'll handle it for now and we'll hopefully eventually go back to it after they decide to stop.

It really was a great experience.  It got a little commonplace towards the end, mostly because there are only so many obstacles that you can introduce, and teaching them got a little bit repetitive.  But, the teams were a lot of fun to work with, and many of them show great promise that they'll be successful if they continue training.

Some of my personal favorite teams:

  • A rowdy, anxious, dog-reactive Shepherd mix with an equally anxious/nervous momma, who struggled with control issues at the beginning of his 8-week stint in the class.  Some clicker training and Control Unleashed exercises later, and he was able to function pretty well in the group class setting.  He didn't stick around for another session, but continued obedience training.  They've still got some work to do, but his momma's thinking about getting him in to Rally or maybe a special class for reactive pups.
  • A married couple very new to dog training with a yappy but extremely biddable Miniature Schnauzer.  They had some real handling issues in the beginning and had no idea how to get a handle on their dogs' barkiness and make themselves more interesting than the larger environment.  A few classes later, and they were able to get him to focus on them after he began barking.  He also shows some really nice obstacle focus for a dog with no agility training.  I told them that I really hope they continue with him - he'd make an awesome little agility dog!
  • A student with Down's Syndrome training his Dachshund.  This dog absolutely *adores* this boy and works his heart out for him.  His handling improved greatly over the 16 weeks that we've worked with him, and he's continuing another session of the class.  We hope that he might be able to show his dog in one of the smaller agility competition venues one day.  Definitely one of our "feel good" stories!
  • A shy mixed breed who needed some serious intervention from Pavlov to help her get over her fears of the various agility obstacles.  I helped desensitize/countercondition her to both the tunnel and the chute, and she's made some great progress with jumping (she doesn't seem to like to pick up her feet!).  She definitely enjoys the class, and her momma holds out hope that she might be able to dabble in Rally, too.  Her mom has become a much more confident handler who is learning how to read her dog's body language and help her correctly when she starts to get nervous or scared.  We're going to be doing some training together so that I can introduce her to the sport of Rally, which is exciting - they're a nice team and the dog has a lot in common with my own girl!
As you can see, the class sort of became a safe-haven for those who might not have been ready for mainstream classes.  Reactive dogs, shy dogs, handlers with special needs, new dog owners - we were extremely accommodating of a wide variety of dogs and people, which made the group a lot of fun and, quite honestly, gave me a lot of opportunities for learning. And, let's face it - not every one has the time to devote to serious formal training.  So, some people got a taste of training in agility in a safe environment that they otherwise could not have gotten, without the rigors of foundation or competition prep classes, and several of them have decided to go on to basic training classes (some are already in foundation agility!).

The class taught me to be:
  • innovative, like using large cones to keep a tunnel without tunnel bags in place (in a class full of small dogs, we didn't have to worry about the tunnel rolling around!)
  • creative, like making "new obstacles" out of PVC, hula hoops, broad jump planks, or the striped bars from the obedience bar jump
  • quick on my feet, because yes, we did have a scuffle and I was in the right place at the right time to break things up
  • motivating - it's easy for people to get frustrated when their dog won't perform for them, so it's really important to explain why their dog acts a certain way and how they can change their dogs' behavior using a reward system
It'll be nice to have my Monday nights to myself again for the winter, but in a couple months' time, I think I'll be itching to do it again!


Amy / Layla the Malamute November 12, 2010 at 12:40 AM  

I was wondering what had happened to that class. I love the descriptions of the students! This one collie mix in Layla's old class was an extremely fearful rescue who was petrified of tunnels, but now she's a tunnel suck because of a ton of positive reinforcement. The owner's so happy that she doesn't even make a big deal of it, which is nice to see.

I'm really impressed that you had a student with Downs. I don't mean to sound cold-hearted, only honest, but I don't have the patience or compassion to work with people with those disabilities. I really admire the people that do, though!

I like the idea of introducing the people/dogs to agility in a different environment. I even have some friends who were curious about agility, but knowing their dogs issues, a regular class situation wouldn't be feasible, and constant private lessons just aren't affordable.

Oh, the other night, Tom Hanks was on Conan. I'd never seen an interview with him before, but he was really funny and personable. Not a stuffy actor, he made funny jokes and was really entertaining. I still haven't seen Forrest Gump, which Pat won't shut up about having me see. Or Castaway. Or a ton of other ones. Pat's a big Tom Hanks fan, but I really enjoyed his interview too.

NAK and The Residents of The Khottage Now With KhattleDog! November 12, 2010 at 12:43 AM  

I bet that was VERY rewarding!

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Dawn November 12, 2010 at 7:12 AM  

Katie and I would have enjoyed that class, she's shy and somewhat afraid of obstacles. But with time and repeat classes she's better now!

Frankie Furter and Ernie November 12, 2010 at 8:06 AM  

I think I would like this class.

BRUTUS November 12, 2010 at 8:19 AM  

Teaching is one of the coolest ways to learn! I used to teach horseback-riding years ago, often found myself learning as much as my students did! Just had an offer to help with a beginning agility class close to home, might take them up on it! So you are done trialling for the year, and done teaching the class - what WILL you do with all the free time LOL?


Cyndi and Stumpy November 12, 2010 at 8:24 AM  


Yup! we're back in dirtville, looking to escape, again, already!

Kathy Mocharnuk November 12, 2010 at 11:08 AM  

I bet those people really enjoyed having a class like that, glad you are getting a break and glad someone is keeping it going!

Anonymous November 12, 2010 at 5:26 PM  

How most wonderful, Miss Sam! I luved reading all the different stories. And I think you did a real good job working with all the dogs but mainly, working with their peoples. My mom says that she figures that the peoples are prolly the most challenging part of training dogs.

Wiggles & Wags,

Natasha November 13, 2010 at 6:11 AM  

Great stories about all of the different dogs and people! I really enjoyed this post.

KB November 13, 2010 at 9:27 AM  

You sound like a natural teacher, taking such pleasure in the progress of your students. I love the descriptions of the teams - and your description of how learning some agility helps human-dog teams in general so doesn't need to be competitive. K and I started because she was terrified of all sorts of new objects or surfaces, and agility has taught us both a zillion things. For example, during her recent long time in a cast, she's been willing to use a ramp to get in the back of my car. There is absolutely NO way that she would have walked up that ramp without agility training.

I looked up "doppelganger" because I'd never heard the word before. Did you know that the definition includes "evil"? The definition that I found was "a tangible double of a living person that typically represents evil." I love the word but that yellow beauty didn't look evil to me :)

Kari in Alaska November 13, 2010 at 3:22 PM  

I think your class sounds awesome, I can't believe I didn't remember that you teach! Stop on by our blog again, we miss your comments.


Sam November 13, 2010 at 5:46 PM  

Ha! I NEVER knew that doppelganger includes evil! Maybe Marge is the evil one. :)

Gus, Louie and Callie November 13, 2010 at 6:24 PM  

It sounds like you did have a great time in your class. Meeting new friends is always a plus..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

George The Lad November 14, 2010 at 10:10 AM  

interesting reading, you must get a buzz seeing them come on so well

Scout and Freyja November 14, 2010 at 6:15 PM  

Marg, we think that you gained mucho wisdom in your classes. Not only have you become a star in our eyes, you are now a sage.

Kirby, CGC November 14, 2010 at 8:05 PM  

What a cool class. I wish we had special classes like that by us. Kirby doesn't always do well with other dogs, but shows so much promise especially with rally! What a blessing you were to those people, hope you continue in it in the future!

Kirby's mom

Unknown November 15, 2010 at 10:48 AM  

I love reading about the people in your class... hahaha i wonder what some instructors think of Fred and I sometimes :)

Its the Nikon D80 - the D90 replaced the D80 but yes its pretty much the same camera and I love it!

Thank you on the well wishes for Fred and I... he has the temperment...lacks the obedient part for the test :)

Sue November 15, 2010 at 11:33 PM  

When I took Samba to obedience class and Rob took Tsar, Rob was really surprised what hard work it is to train a dog. He learned a lot.

People who are new to dogs have as much to learn as the dogs do.

Never Say Never Greyhounds November 16, 2010 at 2:04 PM  

Enjoy your break!

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