If you boil it all down, the course was divided into 3 parts. Lectures, Student Teaching, and Training your Shelter dog.
Throughout the week you were assigned a Shelter dog with a partner. My dog was a fantastic little Feist, only 5 months old, named Biscuit.
The night before I went up to NY, I was terrified. Stressed out of my mind kind of terrified. It was hours before my departure voyage when it all hit me. Suddenly, I felt inadequate. What was I thinking?! Signing up for this. Me, a 19 year old wanna-be trainer, with absolutely no classroom teaching experience. I felt like I knew absolutely nothing about dog training, like dumb luck was the only thing bringing me any success in my dog world. These feelings of inadequacy washed over me in waves, plaguing my thoughts. Insomnia embraced me, kept my mind racing so that maybe tomorrow would never come.
Thanks to some gentle urging from my friend, Star, I finally made my way to bed around 1:30 am (after a few batches of failed cookies!). That left me with an hour and a half before I had to wake up and leave for NY. Sandwiched between a wall and a warm Borzoi, I finally drifted off to sleep. In a few short hours, the next great adventure of my life would begin!
The week went by way too quickly. Pia's teaching and instructing skills were superb while Sue's ability to read dogs was mesmerizing. The lectures were all interesting and engaging. The shelter dog classes were all enlightening, and the student teaching opportunities were SO valuable.
I was so worried that I'd be the newest person in the group, that my age and inexperience would set me apart from everyone else. I was pleasantly surprised to find that that was not the case at all! I was one of many new Assistant Instructors; and everyone was extremely fair about hearing me out and letting my skills speak for themselves instead of automatically lumping me into the "new and ignorant" bucket. I learned just as much from the seasoned trainers and I did from my fellow newbies. Everyone had so much knowledge and personal experience to share!
I gained new insight on the value of training competitive obedience in my own dogs. I was reintroduced to the awesomness that is back chaining for some skills I usually shape. I wiped away a few misconceptions about how much dog owning experience a person has to have to be a great trainer. In fact, I met an amazing trainer who has yet to own a dog of her own! Not only did that give me a deep level of respect for her talent, but it also gave me a whole new level of appreciation for how lenient my own parents have been with my dog habit :)
The student teaching was so much more uplifting than I ever imagined. We were each assigned two times to teach. My first time around I had to teach the trick "shake hands." To say I was nervous would be the understatement of the century. I was literally shaking in my seat. But you know what? I got up there, in front of a room full of trainers, and taught! It was not the epic failure I had feared. As the lesson went on, my confidence grew and grew. The feedback from Pia and the other trainers was fantastic. I left at the end of the day with this little seed of confidence that would only continue to grow and grow through the rest of the week.
I could go on and on about all the people and dogs I met there. Each and every one of them taught me something new, pushed me to try new things (I see obedience and nosework in our future!), and left me feeling so much more confident in my ability to be the trainer I want to be. I had the best roommates, a sweet partner, and an awesome group to work with for presentations. So awesome in fact, that we won this nifty little trophy!
Saying Good-bye was way harder than I expected. I've gone to summer camp for years, so I'm used to heart felt good-byes after seven long weeks. But ITC was only 5 days! I was not expecting to be that exhausted, and certainly did not expect to get so attached to my shelter dog. I'm not going to lie, there were tears involved when I left his kennel for the last time. I'm checking in with the shelter like a crazy person, waiting for that update that says he's found his forever home. I have a whole new level of respect for all of my puppy raiser buddies out there. I only had my dog for a week and saying good-bye was heartbreaking. I cannot even imagine a whole year.
If you ever get the opportunity to sign up and go, I highly recommend it! I feel so inspired to start going to my local shelter to work with the dogs on a regular basis. I want to expand my talents as a trainer, work with as many dogs as I can on the simple skills that I'd be teaching in pet classes. I also want to hone my skills. Go beyond my comfort zone of agility. I want to learn how to train to the level of perfection that is required in competitive obedience, while keeping the joy in work that I get in agility. I still have SO much to learn, such a thrilling feeling!
So much happened during that week, I'm not sure I can properly express everything I experienced. I learned so much about how to really help out shelter dogs in my area. I met a wonderful array of trainers, many whom I will continue to keep in contact with. I fell in love with my shelter dog, then had to go through the pain of saying good bye. Perhaps most importantly though, I grew so much as a trainer. I left ITC with confidence in abilities I didn't even know I had!
I still have a long journey ahead of me, but I'm moving up. I'm pushing my knowledge, growing in confidence, gaining more and more experience. One step at a time.