It's time for summer camp! As I'm getting prepared for the fun craziness that is camp – the second annual Clear Mind camp – I wanted to share a few thoughts on how to make the most of YOUR agility camp experience – whether it's with me, or wherever you may find yourself!
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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.
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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