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I love to watch you play

I received this lovely, lovely email from a newsletter subscriber a little while ago, and am posting it here with her permission. I love hearing stories like this – and I'm so grateful that Cheryl allowed me to repost here.

 

“Hi Daisy!

How coincidental that you are asking for some inspiring content for your class.  I read this article just days prior to finishing our very first MACH with my boy Hogan:

While it is an article directed toward parents, I found it a completely fitting and parallel scenario with us and our dogs.  Many of us are “parents” with dog “children”.  A lot of what is written really hit home for me, especially those 6 words, “I love to watch you play”.

 

You see, my boy Hogan is an almost 11 year old Golden Retriever.  He's my first dog ever, let alone agility dog. We've been struggling for the past 8-9 years in agility to become that consistent team required to achieve a championship.  Through those years I've struggled terribly with the mental game.  I've seen and had training partners climb the ranks onward and upward, achieving success with dog after dog. I was feeling left behind and left out. At that time, I viewed success simply as getting a Q.  It seemed that everyone else was Q-ing and running in Excellent classes, enjoying themselves and all gathering together with the camaraderie that I desperately wanted to be a part of.

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Football and the art of the Forward Motion Front Cross

I'm not interested in discussing the “why, what, where, when” of the forward motion front cross; your timing is something you'll need to perfect with your dog. What I'm interested in discussing is the how of the forward motion front cross.  After all, if you can't get your body to do the correct things at the correct time, it's not going to matter one tiny bit how perfect your timing is; you might know exactly when to do something, but if you can't do move your body in the required fashion, your knowledge is useless.

A forward motion front cross is one where your motion (think, from the hips down) is telling your dog to go forward, but your upper body (hips up) is telling the dog to turn.  In this fashion, you can balance cues so that you let the dog know there is a turn after a jump or chute or straight tunnel, even as you are moving forward to the completion side of the obstacle.

Consider this sequence:

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8

Building your own PVC Jumps

Or…back to basics.

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When I first started agility, many years ago, one of the most alluring things about agility, other than the actual activity itself, was the PVC “stuff” I could build. It was like Tinkertoys, for big kids. All those fittings, angles, and even…chemicals! It appealed to the chemist in me, the engineer in me, and the kid in me.

My first full set of jumps was PVC. I built them all, spray painted them, and even found aluminum number stamped jump cups for them. Then, I got a little more notoriety in the agility world and figured I should upgrade and get more “professional”. I sold them all and got metal jumps.

At the time, I thought these were more "professional" than my DIY PVC jumps.

At the time, I thought these were more “professional” than my DIY PVC jumps.

 

Then, we moved to WA, and I sold all THOSE, and didn't get any more, as I wouldn't need them in WA. Well, then after a couple years I struck out on my own again, and had to buy more jumps, and I had these made for me based on a design I brought home from Australia:

I brought one home, and had a whole set made. Now many jumps in the NW look like this!

I brought one home, and had a whole set made. Now many jumps in the NW look like this!

I wanted something lightweight, NOT metal (safety trumps however “professional” the jumps may look), and different than the standard rectangular PVC wing design.

Well, although my time is limited, I do love a project. This year, with the Agility Hall expanding to include an outdoor grass arena (currently being watered by a lovely NW downpour), I need another set of jumps. And, instead of just red white and blue jumps, I want one jump from each country I've been to (or maybe plan to go to) to compete in agility. I had thought of purchasing a whole set of Launch The Dog jumps, but despite how cool they look, they're a little pricey for me *and* I just want a little more instant gratification – I want my jumps NOW! Plus, the contrarian in me wants them less and less the more and more other people have them 🙂

So, I've embarked on a project to build a whole new set of PVC wing jumps. Jumps that look a little flashier than the typical rectangular wing design.

I'm keeping a record of building this set of jumps, so that those who are interested can take the plans and use them for their own designs. So, I'll be including pictures, how-to, flub ups, and finished results, for all to see, in addition to the cost of each DIY jump. So, without further ado, here's my latest project!

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Snooker Rules Explained!

Today was Chipper's very first USDAA trial! As I listened to the very thoughtful and thorough briefing that the judge gave to the Starter's Snooker competitors, I was surprised at the number of competitors that had no idea how the game was actually played! The judge was very patient explaining the rules – but oh, how I wanted to jump up and down and tell everybody, “hey, did you guys know that there is a CLASS you can take on this in my Online Classroom?!”.

Then, I realized that at the very least, I could make this 22 minute video, on the rules of snooker available to everybody! Lori Michaels put this video together as part of her Snooker 101 course. Judges, you can just play this video on your iPad during the briefing, and you'll never have to explain snooker again! OK, you probably will, but COMPETITORS and INSTRUCTORS, share this video with your students to help demystify the game! And, you can learn even MORE about the game, and the skills you need to play it, in Lori's SNOOKER 101 course!

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Let’s Pardon Some Turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Here in the USA, this time of year is often referred to as the season of remembrance.  Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season helps to remind us to be thankful for the things we have, be mindful of the many who go without and to send positive thoughts to those who cannot be with their families and friends because they’re busy protecting us so that we can enjoy our freedom.

With that and agility in mind, lately I’ve been thinking about how lucky we North Americans are for the agility opportunities we have in the United States (and Canada) and how I need to be mindful of that sort of thanksgiving as well.  As you look across this continent and think about the very basics (and beginnings) of training and shaping behaviors through the highest levels of complex competing (not to mention all the conditioning and advanced medical resources we have available), I genuinely believe that we have the best handlers and trainers in the WORLD right here in North America.

 

Current trends in seminars might seem shiny and brighter because they come from outside North America, but if you closely examine them, don’t they seem oddly familiar?

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Getting great feedback as a participant

Objective

Getting great video feedback starts with submission of a great video! The following tips will help your long distance instructor give you the best feedback possible, whether that instructor is me, another instructor in my online classroom, or an instructor in another online classroom. Let’s get started!

Dress Appropriately

It may seem strange that you’d need to dress appropriately for something you’re just heading out to do in your back yard, but the clothes that you wear can affect the quality of the feedback your instructor can give you. If you want your instructor to be able to comment on your movements around the course with your dog, make sure that your movements can be seen. Wear bright colors that contrast with the background; for example, if you’re working on a dirt surface, you don’t want to be wearing brown pants, or your instructor won’t be able to see your legs! If you’re working on grass, avoid wearing green. And ALWAYS avoid wearing black, since it makes your body very difficult to observe on the screen.

In my videos, I make the effort to wear bright colors such as red, or blue. It’s not just because I’m patriotic! I also try to wear clothing that has stripes or other features on it. For example, in many of my videos, I’m wearing a pair of athletic pants that have white stripes down the leg. These white stripes make it easier to see the angle of my legs as I move. And, I tend to wear tops that are either brightly colored and/or have stripes on them as well, so you can see my shoulders and arms better.

I try to wear clothing that is not lumpy or loose. Not only is it difficult for me to run in loose lumpy clothing, but it makes it difficult for an observer to even tell if they’re looking at my front or my back end! Even if I might not feel entirely comfortable in snug fitting clothing, I know that to an observer watching my videos, snug clothing is going to make it easier to see my body, and how it’s moving.

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What Makes A Good Coach?

Although I originally posted this on my personal website some time ago, the information is perennially relevant, so I thought I'd share here on the Classroom Blog, where posts of a more educational nature reside 🙂

There are a lot of online classrooms springing up here and there, and I think it will be interesting to see how they evolve over time.  Some seem to provide little to no personal feedback at all, and instead simply drip scripted content to the user over time. Others, like mine, really are the online equivalent of a class, where students receive homework, do their homework, receive feedback on their homework, and also participate in discussions, sometimes with, and sometimes without the instructor chiming in. But, the instructor is providing that oh-so-valuable feedback! And, as an update, I'm happy to say that my Classroom now provides the best of BOTH worlds – those on a tight budget can still get the valuable information at a lower price, and those with a little more disposable income can participate in the discussions, still, at a reasonable price – something I'm proud that all the instructors here have stuck to.

As an instructor and coach, and as a person who actually has a formal education and degree in Science Education (and as somebody who taught in the public school system for a number of years!), the question of what makes a good coach is an important one that I think every person should consider. But it's not the only question! As lifelong learners, we all need to consider several factors when deciding what makes a good instructor or coach for US, personally.

Why do you need a coach?

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Why Struggling is Key

 

Recently, I listened to an interview on the radio with a Psychology Professor named Jim Stigler at UCLA. He was talking about how he'd watched anxiously as a fourth grader in a Japanese math classroom struggled at the front of the class to solve a problem.

Maybe you didn't know this, but I used to be a high school chemistry teacher.  So although I don't teach high school any longer, I'm still keenly interested in pedagogy (the study of teaching), and my ears always perk up when I hear things that relate to teaching, mental training, and that sort of thing, as I think those topics are applicable to agility.

Anyway, this guy was talking about how the teacher had called on a student who obviously DIDN'T know the answer to the problem at hand.  Now, as a teacher, I always tried to choose a student who I was pretty sure knew the answer 🙂 But in this case, the student didn't know the answer, and was up at the front of the room for a LONG time, getting the problem WRONG, over and over again. Finally, they solved the problem, and the class applauded.

I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you're just not very smart. It's a sign of low ability — people who are smart don't struggle, they just naturally get it, that's our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.

To make a long story short, the point of the article was really that in the mind of this Professor, and according to his research, it seems that Eastern cultures have really promoted the idea that intellectual struggle is a GOOD thing, that the process of struggling intellectually is what MAKES you intellectually strong.  He contrasts that to the prevailing notion in Western cultures, that intellectual ability is something innate, something you either have or don't have.

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Thoughts on handling the Novice Dog

Juno had her big Novice Debut this weekend! She's almost certainly had the least preparation and training of any of my dogs to date, given my busy travel schedule and focus on Solar and Jester, but nevertheless, she did great. I've been waiting for her debut for some time, not only because running a Novice dog is a ton of fun, but to prove to people that you don't have to step in to the ring perfect, or perfectly prepared.  To the contrary, there are things I believe that the dogs will only learn in the ring, and so I see no reason to wait til they're running Master's level courses to enter them in a trial, provided that I can provide a positive experience that will further growth between my dog and myself as a team.

Juno's debut in the Novice ring has gotten me thinking how all of the things I've been working lately to make sure I'm implementing as a coach for my students really applies to our dogs as well. For those of us involved in a team sport with our dogs, we serve not only as trainers, but as canine coaches too, and although it's taken me several years to fully grasp the concept, I do believe that in order to achieve maximum success with our dogs as athletes, we must be flexible coaches, able to be the coach our dog needs us to be as his/her needs change, rather than expecting our dogs to conform constantly to our needs.

Like us, I believe our dogs move through different levels of competency as they learn the ins and outs of the sport of dog agility.  To review, here are the four basic levels of competency:

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Obviously, I'm going to continue to put an emphasis on enjoyment together as a team throughout these different learning stages, but like us, I really do feel that what makes something “fun” changes as you move through these stages.  For example, in the first stage, most would not find nitty gritty details and highly analytical training to be very fun.  That's not terribly motivating for a beginner in any endeavor! But, as the thirst for more develops, there may well come a time when a lot of pleasure can be taken in learning the finer details involved in perfecting a particular mechanical skill. Our dogs, like us, are changing all the time.  When I look at Fly, who is now 12.5 years old, he is definitely not the same dog he was when he was a year old.  Likewise, Jester, Solar, and Juno are all different dogs than they were when they arrived in our family, both physically and mentally.  Their development as individuals as we progress together as companions and teammates is what makes the sport so much fun, and so rewarding.  Our dogs aren't the only ones changing, though.  We of course, are changing all the time too.  As handlers, we may ourselves be moving through the four learning stages listed above, and then our task is doubled, as we'll have to be our own coaches as well as our dogs' coaches. Our circumstances in life change as well. We move, our interests change, jobs, partners, you name it.  The only thing that stays the same is that things always change.  But, being alert to the needs of your canine partner with respect to what they require from you as a companion, a leader, a handler, and a coach, is something that benefits both dog and human alike – it's the name of the game!

Juno's First Trial, 4/30-5/2, 2011

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