Last night we drove to Eau Claire, WI (about 90 minutes from home) for a lesson with Debbie Erb at Ann Braue's Canine Training Center. The reasons for this trip were multiple, but largely to get Secret out & about and learning to work in new places. In addition to this, my sorry self hasn't received any sort of instruction for over two years. Living in what more or less relates to an agility wasteland, once I got past the Novice level I've more or less been self-taught (yay for Clean Run magazine!). I feel I have done well considering this, at least when it comes to anything related to NADAC -- But I've always known that I can tend to be a sloppy handler and have many inconsistencies to my ways.
Bethany & Rascal joined us on this adventure and I'm happy to say we actually left on time! The first hitch in our trip was when the Garmin failed to recognize the address I plugged in for the training center. It assured me that it knew where 123rd Street was, though, so I went with that and figured we could find the center once we were on the correct street.
Ninety minutes later, my car was stuck in the snow.
The Garmin told us to turn into what appeared to be a snow-covered driveway, so we completely missed that first turn. When we cycled back, we took this obscure looking road and saw that there was, in fact, a road sign at the end of the drive -- Better yet, it was 123rd Street! It was getting dark by this time, but I could see that the road appeared to have not been plowed for a while. There were tire tracks in it, though, so I ventured forward because onward lay our destination! Bad idea. There was quite a large drift at the start of the road and my weenie Saturn Vue promptly got bogged down. Sigh.
Bethany proved that she had super-human (or at least super-womanly) strength and managed to push us out while my engine screamed and my tires spun. But whew, we got out! Not wanting to try that again, on top of seeing that 123rd St. was a dead end road, I called Debbie's cell phone to ask what we were to do. To make a long story short, apparently Chippewa Falls has TWO 123rd Streets separated by a major highway. Really? That's so stupid. She was able to direct us and we still got to the center twenty minutes prior to our scheduled lesson time (I purposefully wanted to get there quite early to get the dogs settled in and relaxed).
Secret was her usual, unconfident self when we arrived. A potty break was so not going to happen, so I gave up and took her inside. They have this awesome crate room available for anyone to use, so I stuck Secret & Kaiser in a big crate while I went out to the car to bring in the rest of my stuff.
Kaiser was up first, which I figure never hurts where Secret is concerned. I think she does better if given a chance to watch & settle for a bit. Kaiser was almost an embarrassment.... He was introduced as my "elite dog," and acted like he'd never seen equipment before. He went off sniffing here & there, ignored me, went around stuff.... Oh my. Yes, it was his first time on carpet in a new facility, but I surely didn't expect that behavior. The good news is that he snapped out of it and actually had some really, really good work the rest of the night.
Secret did well her first time up (we were working through the first 10 obstacles of the set course). It was VERY AKC in style, which I have admittedly not done much of with Secret -- BUT, it's so good for us. We made it through the exercise (including a slatted dog walk that made noise when she went on it), but in the slow fashion that is so common when she is experiencing something new. She happily tugged on her Ringzee at the end, which was good to see.
At this point we began to discuss handling systems. The trainers at ABCTC subscribe to the Linda Mecklenberg handling system. There are countless articles in Clean Run practically every month describing handling systems of trainers like Mecklenberg, Derrett & Damm. To be honest, I more or less glaze over when I see these, as I simply do not learn terribly well via diagrams and the written word. I also subscribed to the theory of, "I don't need no stinking handling system" because, more or less, they are not terribly in line with the style of handling that makes a person successful in NADAC.
The downside of this is that I know I have many inconsistencies as a handler. The nice thing about handling systems is that they are very clear on, "This is what we do in this situation." I can't tell you how many times I walk a course and honestly have no idea what I'm going to do in a given portion until I'm there & running it with my dog. I'm very much a "seat of my pants" handler. Luke is a forgiving dog and dealt with this quite well, but it's obvious that Secret & Kaiser have personalities that would be much happier with a more consistent handler.
For that reason, we shall give this a try. We spent a lot of time last night on foundation "come to heel" exercises that are the basis of the Mecklenberg handling system. We did the main foundation exercise of recalling a dog into position on the landing side of the jump (take off straight on, land parallel in a space equal to the height of the jump). We did serpentine position, we did "backy-upies" (threadle cues), sending and lateral sends. The really good news is that this is all work I can do in the basement this winter. The purpose is to teach collection & proper jump form -- Something that will hopefully really help Kaiser.
It was such a foreign concept to my dogs. They are most definitely not used to jumping into me and were quite uncomfortable with this at first (Kaiser especially). But they caught on and Secret went into shaping mode and actually was quite happy to do the work. Still slow when we put everything together, but happy. She also totally nailed her contacts, even when the new a-frame came as a total surprise to her (steeper angle, slats, quite slippery!). She did get scared by their teeter, though, so we definitely have to work on that.....
My goal is to be a better and more versatile handler with dogs who can both extend & collect their stride. I feel that these are very good skills for us to work with and I look forward to meeting with Deb again. It is fairly cost prohibitive and we won't be able to do it as often as I would prefer -- Weekly lessons would be awesome, but I'm sure it will be more like once a month (twice if I stretch it).
I'm very glad I went. It was a great experience for all of the dogs. It was just a little depressing to find out just how much I don't know, though, and how poor the foundation agility classes are in this area. None of this is taught at the dog center in La Crosse. Not one bit. Oh well, the good news is that I can be fixed. :o)