I have taught many seminars over the years, and one thing that each one has in common is the search for the “quick fix”.
Missed contacts, trouble weaving, getting from obstacle #1 to #3. Everyone wants the magical answer to the problem over the course of a three day seminar. Heck I want the magic answer too!
But it is not something that is possible in that short of a time frame, as much as I would love for it to be. Training dogs, or any animal for that matter (people too!) takes time, and lots of it.
It is not something that can be tackled in a weekend or even in a month. Training a dog is a lifetime, every day is training, every moment. And in each one of those days and those moments your dog is learning, whether you know it or not. They can be learning great things that will strengthen the teamwork between dog and handler or they could be learning not so great things that can lead to that creep at the start line or those missed contacts.
Sometimes seminars can be difficult because many problems that need to be addressed are things that the handler will need to work on, not just for a few days, but depending on the issue, a few months.
A lot of the times a band aid can be put on the problem, a quick fix, that isn’t lasting, but can help get the dog and handler through a few trials if need be. And sometimes those quick fixes can lead to even more problems, the dog not fully understanding the behavior, or learning a new addition to the already problem behavior. And depending on the way the fix was applied, the dog can start showing stress behaviors, not understanding why something they have been doing for months is now getting them in trouble.
I am an avid clicker trainer, I love shaping behaviors and taking the long road to the end product. I am never in a real big rush with my dogs when it comes to agility, I like to take my time and let the dog tell me when they are ready to take that next step.
And sometimes the long road can be hard, I see people with dogs the same age as my young dog, getting not only their first NATCH but their second. And that competitive part of my brain will take over and say “Dang it! We are behind!” and that is something that I think all agility handlers go through, that little competitive part of our brain that will sometimes just sneak up on us.
But what are we “behind” anyway? Where is that magic timetable that tells us when our dogs should be earning this award, or that award? Every person is different, every dog is different, and the way each of us progresses through the sport is going to be different.
I am a big believer in the long road, look at that end behavior you want, a stopped contact, a solid start line, fast weave poles, whatever it may be. Now break that behavior down, into nice small little pieces, and teach each little piece until the dog has it down, as the little pieces become big pieces, those big pieces turn into your end behavior. And now not only do you have the end behavior you have been wanting, your dog knows it, inside and out.
Taking the long road may take a more time to reach your goal, but the journey will be great, and no quick fixes or band aids to be applied.