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January 18, 2014: Dog Training: Human Lessons Learned

This is going to be a tough dispatch to write. No one, and I’m no exception, wants to go on record and admit to their own imperfections. Rather, we all want everyone to think that we’re perfect, or at least striving for perfection. Arete, this is the Greek word for self-excellence. I am working at this. . . .

This day got off to a rocky start – and this was totally my own doing. I take full responsibility. I didn’t get up early enough to get the show on the road. I should have known that Pete, who was not yet feeling good, wouldn’t be up for giving me an assist with some of the morning chores. So we got out of here late, knowing that we’d be late for agility class.

Understand – I’ve been a teacher. My parents were teachers. My sister is a teacher. Pete’s a teacher, and so is his brother. Additionally, his dad, who passed away a few years back, was a teacher. And so I am (in the words of Donald Murray, speaking about a composition specialist know) “educated beyond (my) intelligence.” So sometimes some things, like high standards, are merely something that I trip over.

A knot formed in my stomach when upon arriving at Claudia’s, I saw the other handler’s cars in the parking lot, and lights on in the facility. Sure enough, I stepped inside the building and saw that Ryder, Pete, and I were really, really late. Claudia was in the thick of instructing the handlers and their dogs, who were working on some basic obedience commands. I was, I realized, what we in the teaching trade call being “noticeably late.”

Nevertheless, Claudia momentarily stopped what she was doing and greeted us tardy individuals warmly. I bit my lower lip and took my place in line. And Ryder, wagging her tail slowly, greeted her doggie friends. Ryder and I then followed behind the rest, first doing weave poles, me first placing myself on the left, and then on the right side. The first time I fumbled with my leash and with the treats, moving greasy cheese pieces from one hand to the next. Claudia, who had put a treat for Ryder on the lid of yogurt container, suggested that I loosen my tight hold on Ryder’s leash. This way I would be less inclined to jerk on her. I did as told, more so when we walked over the ladder.

We next did the tunnel, doing several go-arounds. In subsequent sessions, Claudia lengthened it, put a slight bend in it, and had us keep going and call our dogs to us. This was where Ryder started to come to life, moving at a faster speed than last week, and coming to me each and every time. And, by the time we were done, I felt as though Ryder, Claudia, and I were connecting.

Next was the table, which was connected to the (right now) non-moving teeter-totter. By this point in time, I’d let the leash go slack. Ryder of course did just fine, stopping in those places where she was expected to stop. Lastly, we did the tire and jump combo. Beforehand, Claudia gave us a quick demonstration with her dog Lucy – this turned out to be something to aspire to. She repeatedly raised the jump, and the dog repeatedly jumped through it. And Claudia, with clicker in hand, reinforced Lucy at that precise moment in which she was in the air. (This is called tagging. You reinforce what it is that you want the dog to do during a set exercise. Gymnastics instructors are now doing this with their students.)

Pete and I had to leave hurriedly because we had search and rescue practice. And after, we did as we always do, which was talk about how Ryder did. I kept my thoughts on this matter to myself, but I was of the mind that it was I, and not Ryder, who this time around learned the most. This time around I learned the importance of being in the moment when working with your dog. And, at the same time, I learned the importance of keeping from getting stressed out by inconsequential things. Otherwise, one fails to remain connected with their dog. I also was reminded that I am not yet perfect. Yes, arete is something to strive for when doing agility work.

Next: 19. 1/19/14: Dog Training – Search and Rescue #6