Saturday, May 25, 2013

Growing: The Instructor Training Course- 2013!

May 15-19th, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Dogs of Course's Instructor Training Course in Accord, NY.

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.

I am so grateful that I was paired with this little dog. "Easy" is the only word I have to describe him. Everything came so easily with him! When it was time to work, he was right there with me. He LOVES to play, so we worked on a verbal "out" cue to release his tug. He mastered that by the end of the week too! His crate manners were perfect, granted he was pretty tired by the end of the day, not a single peep from him all night. He pottied promptly for me outside, and had no complaints about calmly hanging out with me during my downtime. That allowed me to focus on teaching, something I've never actually done in front of a class before.... let alone a class full of trainers!

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.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Taking the First Step

"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." -Lao Tsu

That first step is always the hardest.Why is that? In theory it's easy. Just a single step.

 But when the time comes to take that single step it suddenly feels like a leap over a bottomless pit. Days and weeks, months and years have been poured into this moment, this first single step. This single step could kick off the dreams you've been reaching for! So why the sudden stutter step? Why the sudden lack of drive? Where has your motivation gone? Have you let Doubt creep in and drain it all away?

Doubt is an ugly beast. It sneaks up into your dreams and whispers only the worst possible outcomes. It lulls you sweetly into believe that your dreams have been shot down before you even took aim.

I'm ready to admit it. I've been struggling with the first step. I've been given an awesome opportunity by my mentor, a trainer whose methods I highly admire, to start up an agility foundation class through her facility.  Seriously, how perfect is that?! My dream job, teaching people how to capture that amazing bond you get with your canine companion through agility. All I have to do is put together a syllabus! Simple right?! The first small step!

I have no trouble at all coming up with lists and lists of tricks and skills and games to put in a class. Then comes the breaking it down into weeks part...the stutter step. My aim, so sharp and focused, suddenly starts to waiver.

The "what ifs" come in waves. Washing over me, egging on Doubt's whispers. What if it's all wrong? What if they find it boring? What if the pacing is too slow? Too Fast? Is the class moving in the right direction? Are your goals realistic for the "average joe"?

I just have this picture in my mind for how I want people to be able to train. This mindset that I want to imprint on my students so they have that priceless ability to see beautiful, wonderful, and fantastic things even in the "ugliest" of NQs. I have this ideal of confident speedy dogs that when you see them run, you know, without the slightest sliver of a doubt, that they are having the times of their lives. I want to lead them down that path, but I don't know where to start.

I've never taught before in my life, it sounds so simple, but there are so many parts to the puzzle! So many details that the class Instructor stitches together effortlessly. I lack that elegance right now. After a day's work of staring at the paper, I've pieced together my first draft of a class syllabus, who knows many things I'll need to tweak before it's all said and done.

I'll be taking Dogs of Course's Instructor Training Course next week. Hoping that will help give me that extra boost of self confidence I need. I've e-mailed my syllabus to my mentor. I'm taking a step back from all my doubt. I'm taking aim, keeping my arms steady, and if I follow through I know my arrow will reach its mark.

"We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once." -Calvin Coolidge

So here goes nothing. I'm done bumbling around, trying to do everything at one. I'm setting goals and taking the first step. Get ready for a wild ride.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

May The 4th Be With You

Knight, Winner's Dog for 2 points

Pretty Boy

Going up!
Crazy girly
This past weekend we hit the show ring on Friday and Saturday, then switched gears over to agility on Sunday.

Friday was the Toy Specialty at Mercer County Park. This show is a special one, exactly 3 years ago Knight and I stepped into the show ring for the very first time. Since that day my relationship with conformation has consisted of a long string of ups and downs, but it sure felt like a whole lot of downs.

We've been at the lowest rungs of the conformation ladder. My whole demeanor was clouded with self doubt, I had lost the class before I even stepped into the ring. I was letting it beat me, letting myself feel disappointed.  Things are different now. I've changed my attitude about the show ring, I've armed myself with knowledge, and I'm letting myself be PROUD of the beautiful teammates I get to show off. We're on a roller coaster that only goes up!

On Friday Knight showed beautifully for me! He was all attitude, he owned the ring. He's really starting to let his personality shine through when we're out there. He ended up taking 3rd out of 3 in the Open Dogs class, but I'm proud none the less!

Mia won her Open bitch class (out of 2), but did nothing in the Winners ring. It's still very exciting to feel things coming together with her. We still need to work on getting some more expression from her in ring, but she's comfortable on the table for me now and we're moving together nicely!

With Saturday came more "pretty dog" stuff. It also happen to be Star Wars Day, May the Forth be with you. The Force was strong with us! Knight went into the ring first for Open dogs and won his class (out of 3). I'm so so soooo proud of how well he moved! He kept his front together beautifully, his coat was dragging elegantly over the top of the grass. I'm a little biased, but I think he looked smashing!

Knight went back in for Winner's Dog against the winner from the puppy class. The judge pointed at me and said, "Right over here Miss Blazeless." I'm sure I grinned stupidly as I walked over to pick up our Winner's ribbon. Knight picked up two more points for his AKC Champion title!

When I walked over to get our picture taken the judge commented about how Knight was the first Blazeless papillon she has ever seen. That was another boost of pride for me. She's never seen one without a blaze before and she still put him up?! So awesome! Welcome to the dark side judge :)

Mia took second in her class for Open bitches (out of 2), we still have some work to do on our movement in grass. She was great on the table, but we had some Leaning Tower of Misa action going on during our down and back. Baby steps, progress is indeed being made!

I was already flying high on our conformation victory when we rolled up to our AKC Agility trial on Sunday. I started the day with Lilly's Master Standard run. Beautiful run, Lilly is giving me some fantastic stuff out there. I Nq'd us on the 3rd to last jump though. If I had been more proactive I could of saved her from back jumping the jump we were supposed to wrap. I'll keep that in mind next time around! Besides the handler not doing her job (bad Hillary!), the rest of the run was brilliant!

Lilly snatched up 19 more points with her Q in Master JWW. It was a really straight forward, fast course and she just ate it up! Beautiful rear cross on the flat on our way out, when I pushed for speed she happily pushed right back! It's been 4 years in the making, but we're finally finding our rhythm.

Poor Knight-man face planted on his way out of the chute in standard, but we laughed it off and brought home another QQ! His jump wraps are a work of art. He's such a special boy :) For those counting, this QQ was #7 out of 20 for his PACH. We now only need 3 more Qs and 123 more points until he is officially qualified for the 2014 PNAC!!!!! I am beyond thrilled. This is the event I've dreamed about attending ever since I first watched it on TV back in 2001. It's been a wild ride, but Knight and I are now in a groove. He is so happy at 4" and always covers my ass when I fumble with my handling. I love this little dude!

Mia also brought home both Qs! Finally finished off her OA title, so peace out Open Standard! So happy we won't be having any more conflicts there! I really need to work on rear crosses with her. Right now if I say "switch" she IMMEDIATELY shoots off in front of me for the rear cross. Which was perfect for jumpers, but not so much in our standard run. So some more things to smooth out in Standard before we start slaying course times in Masters.

I am so extremely proud of Mia in jumpers! She finished off her AXJ with another beautiful run that would of placed 3rd in the master's class. I even really pulled hard on her in the weaves, left her hanging while I did lateral distance, and she stuck with them like a pro! What a rock star! Now she'll be joining Knight and Lilly in the quest for points and Master Qs for Nationals!

Fantastic weekend spent with Fantastic dogs. Life is good.