Thursday, July 1, 2010

Handling systems and obedience

These days, you hear agility folks talking about “handling systems.” This basically means following the training methods and handling styles of the trainers who are achieving at the top of the sport. Each trainer approaches things a little differently and has specific approaches to training the necessary skills. We have the same thing in obedience although I don’t think I’ve ever heard it called a “handling system.”

Whatever you call it, it’s pretty smart. If you want to be the best you can be with your dog in your chosen sport, learn from someone who is doing an awesome job and whose style you like.

I think obedience “handling systems” have a lot more branches of the same tree than agility. There are the compulsion trainers, the clicker trainers, the cookie trainers (not necessarily the same as clicker trainers), the my-dog-works-because-he-loves-me trainers and any number of combinations and variations of the above. Call me a rebel but it’s really hard for me to commit to one single training approach at the exclusion of all others. I’m definitely a “combination” trainer and pick and choose which methods to use depending on the dog and the skill/exercise in question.

So I sat down the other day and tried to define my own obedience “handling system” (yeah, it was a slow day). This proved to be pretty much impossible because my approach to the same exercise may be three different ways for three different dogs. I guess you’d call me a “doing whatever gets happy results” trainer. Plus I always try to keep my mind open to new ideas as the sport evolves. Getting stuck in a training rut is an awful, boring thing.

I enjoy playing around to see what techniques a dog and handler team respond to best, whether it's me and Phoenix or a student and her dog. Why not let the dog have some say in the matter? He certainly didn't come into the world with the goal of an OTCh./200 but I'm willing to let him help decide how we're going to get there.

Last weekend, a student decided I was a "What if . . .?" trainer as I kept asking her "What if . . . you try this?" or "What if . . . you try that?" We were looking for a successful way to make something clear to her dog and I think we found it after some experimenting.

Over the years, a lot of different obedience trainers and even a few agility trainers have influenced how I train. They’ve been wonderful, generous, talented, patient people and I’m grateful to all of them!

I’ve learned from seminars, classes, lessons, from training friends (oh, thank doG for them!) and while sitting ring-side at trials. I’ve gotten truly sincere input on a Utility problem from a handler 20 minutes after my dog beat hers in a run-off for an Open B win. Obedience people are like that - we love to solve problems. For the most part, nearly all of us are willing to share experience and knowledge for the benefit of others. We hate to see anyone struggle with a problem when we are sure we have the answer!

It’s cool to think about following one single training method clear through a dog’s career. That ranks right up there on the fantasy scale of having a private instructor who lives 20 minutes from my house, has her own state-of-the-art training facility and can give me private lessons twice a month at my convenience for $10 an hour, plus always offers classes that match my dog’s level of training.

Okay, back to reality . . .

And reality is a three-day agility weekend, plus all the Fourth of July hoopla in the small town where I work as well as the Farmer’s hometown. Agility in the morning, hoopla in the afternoon and evening. I’ll probably meet myself coming or going before the weekend is over. I’m anxious to see if the additional work I’ve put into Phoenix’s dog walk contact and weave entries pays off.

Have a great holiday weekend!

1 comment:

  1. Good POST!! It's so hard for me NOT to offer to help. I've gotten better about waiting for someone to ask. It's very hard!! Building that working relationship with your dog is so much fun! Put time into your relationship and your training will become so much easier! A dog that will happily interact with you will learn much quicker!