I just finished writing some thoughts down about each dog in my new training journal. I bought a school notebook that has five subjects, and have given each dog his or her own section. Not sure what the 5th seciton will be fore, but I’m sure I’ll find some use for it.
I’ve heard many trainers emphasize the need for a training journal, my instructor included, and I have decided it’s time for me to follow that advice if I seriously want to make progress with all the dogs I have. It’s just too easy not to train properly with this many. When I rented the arena last weekend, I went in without a plan and basically just screwed around for an hour. That was fine because the idea was to just get used to the place, but from here on in, I want to go in with a very organized plan of attack to make the most of my hour.
Writing my thoughts down on each dog just now made something really jump out at me: It is crucial that I set very specific and individual goals for each dog. The reason this is crucial is because my dogs are so different from one another, and they each need very different handling and training. Hannah, for example, is brilliant at agility. She loves the obstacles, is very comfortable running sequences, and follows my handling with tremendous ease. She’s a very easy dog for me to learn with, and has been a perfect first serious agility dog for me (i.e. I’ve trained several before her, all fosters, and all went on to other homes before we got to competition levels).
Mira, on the other hand, has tremendous challenges. First, she doesn’t hold much value in the obstacles, except the tunnel. She loves the tunnel. Little else in agility means anything to her. And why should it? I’ve never really spent time making obstacles fun for her. Most of Mira’s first 18 months of training revolved around getting her to be able to function in society. In introductory agility classes, peeling her off my leg was about as far as we got.
Kess has no training at all, and is still just learning that I can offer more fun than playing by herself. Ross can’t do agility because of his hips and had never been in a training arena before. He was completely overwhelmed.
Because my dogs are at such different levels, and have such different natural inclinations and foundations, I need to look at each individually and set training goals accordingly.
My goals for Hannah are to get her ready to compete in a month. She’s running really well, so we’ll be practicing sequences and our teamwork on a jumpers course. I need to build her confidence in reading my handling so that she can run hard and fast, and have fun.
Right now, Mira is completely incapable of running obstacle sequences. They just blow her little mind. So it’s not fair, nor is it productive, for me to try and run her through sequences. She needs something totally different. I have broken down my goals for her to very small steps. Specifically, I am going to focus on building value for her in each obstacle. I am also going to work at having her take obstacles at an increasingly long distance from me. Right now she doesn’t seem to be able to think when I get more than about 6 feet away.
Kess and Ross can’t think at all. So my goals with them right now are to get them to come out of their crates and focus on me, not on all the interesting smells in the arena. I will take each out for only 1-3 minutes at a time and play fun games, then back in the crate. Or maybe I’ll just play crate games with them. Really basic stuff. I can do the foundation training at home, so all I need to spend time on with them in the arena (at this point) is getting them to relax and focus.
Because I have set specific goals for each dog, I am not (hopefully) going to compare them with each other. It’s hard, for example, for me not to compare Mira to Hannah, thinking how she should be running much better than she is. That’s not going to help the situation and is likely to make it worse as I’ll put pressure on her and her problems will increase. By setting very achievable goals for each dog, I can walk away from a training session feeling successful on each account. If I find that we are still not meeting these goals, then I need to break them down further, into even simpler steps that my dogs can achieve. Once I’ve met the goal with each dog, I can set a new goal. I am not going to look into the future further than that at this point, and just have fun and enjoy.