Friday, February 4, 2011

Silvia Trkman seminar thoughts

I'm starting to recover from five days of work hosting a seminar at the school.  It was so worth it, most everyone enjoyed it and learned from it.

The Silvia Trkman seminar was fantastic!  She is so positive and has such a good eye for helping everyone.  I got some additional clarification and ideas to add to my training and teaching program.

I first saw Silvia in person a year and a half ago and I really learned a lot from her then.  Her handling style fits well with how I handle and teach handling.  That is an important consideration for me when bringing in someone to give a seminar.  The last thing I want to do is to confuse my students.  She also really wants to give the dogs as much information as possible so they can not only turn tightly but not injure themselves in the process.  Many dogs are injured because of lack of information or late information regarding turns.

Where Silvia competes in Europe they have very tight courses and the courses have lots of turns on them.  This is what she trains for with her dogs.  Here in the states we don't see courses like these on a regular basis.  Those people wanting to be on a World Team will want to train and prepare for these European style courses.  For most of us these courses are just good training exercises.  It can help improve your course times if your dog's turns are tighter and if the your dog has more information ahead of time.  Dogs without a lot of flat ground speed can make up a lot of time with tight turns on a course.  It also reduces the chance of injury when your dog has time to prepare for a turn on course.

In her "Turns" seminar I got a much better idea of the level of detail she has in the training of tight turns with her dogs and what specifically she is looking for when training turns.  These exercises are ones that I am going to incorporate into the training of my own dogs and that of my students.  She noted that Sinco has good tight turns that are cued by body language.  She suggested I add verbal cues to those tight turns to allow me to handle her when I can't physically get to a spot where I need a tight turn.  I have already started it and it is making a huge difference.  These cues are much more than just "left" and "right"  - there is much more to it than that and I'm glad to finally understand her detailed system of training turns much better. As part of Tay's rehab and conditioning I am going to teach her turns in this manner.  It will be very important that she be able to make turns safely and that she knows she is turning well in advance in order to keep her front end sound.  I will definitely be adding detailed verbal cues to her training. 

The Tricks seminar was excellent because she showed how she does a number of tricks and we got to see some experienced trick trainers and some new to trick training working with their dogs.  As a result there will be a lot more trick training added to our Sports Foundations classes that will help to build confidence and body awareness, and to help condition the dogs.  However for me the most informative was to be able to observe Silvia at her lunch and dinner breaks interacting with her 9 month old puppy and to see how many new tricks she taught her puppy during her stay here.  It was very inspiring and great to see how to utilize short blocks of time to do training and conditioning at the same time with a dog.  Her techniques were interesting to watch.  I've already started to do even more shaping exercises with my puppy and her comprehension of some of exercises has improved greatly.  I had been frustrated that the luring was not working as well with her - she was going through the motions but she is so toy driven that I felt she was not thinking enough.  So now I am shaping them with a clicker and treats and the light bulb has gone on and she has it so much faster.   I shape a lot of behaviors but there have been a couple that I used to think were easier for me and for students to do with luring but now I am rethinking that approach.

The handling sessions were very interesting and challenging.  Personally I like to be challenged when I go to a seminar and I like to leave with some sense of success but also with some things to work on for "homework."  If I can do everything easily then I am not being pushed to be a better trainer and handler.  Seminars are for learning and not for showing off what we know, in my opinion.  She was fabulous in finding something positive to say about every handler and run and finding something to work on for everyone.  We can all get in a rut in our training and tend to do that which is easy and fun and not push ourselves outside of our comfort zone.  I think everyone was pushed outside of their comfort zone but in a positive way.  Silvia had some great expressions to help bring humor to situations that could otherwise be awkward.

The running contacts session was very well attended.  Silvia is well known for training running contacts.  I found it interesting when she said that more Americans are training running contacts than Europeans and when you watch FCI videos it looks like most Europeans at that level are doing running contacts.  There are "true running contacts" and there are "modified running contacts."  Most people have some form of "modified running contacts" and few have true running contacts.  True running contacts take a lot of work and require a gradual progression in training and access to boards and eventually a dogwalk and aframe to use on a regular basis.   The larger the dog the harder it is for a running dogwalk - not only for hitting the contact zone but also for having turns after the contact.  She said she does very few aframes and she trains it on the dogwalk mainly and the aframe is "free."  However she is very athletic and she can keep up with her fast dogs.  Many of us are not able to keep up with our fast dogs and a running dogwalk can be hard to keep up with on a course.  Running aframes are usually easier to train but still can take a lot of work to get a natural relaxed stride across it.  She noted something that I've observed but have not put my finger on it.  That raising the aframe slowly puts it at a height where it is hard for dogs to be successful so she goes up about several inches at a time.  That was good to hear because I've observed that as well and wondered about it.  I've successfully trained true running dogwalks and aframes with my small dogs and some of my students dogs. Training small dogs can be hard work and is not for the faint of heart.  It takes a long time to get the rhythm needed.  However it was reassuring to hear Silvia say that dogs don't always stride across the dogwalk the same way and nothing can change that and to obsess over it will only stress everyone out.  That was a relief because I've noticed that myself and yet so many people obsess that the number of strides needs to be the same every time but that is not realistic.  The striding will change depending on where they are coming from and where they are going to next from the dogwalk.  She also doesn't obsess over where in the yellow they touch and focuses on hind feet rather than front feet which is also much easier. Training larger dogs to do running aframes has been more difficult and more frustrating for students.  I am still struggling with that when the dogwalk is a stop. Teaching two on two off is much easier for me and most of my students on the dogwalk.  Many of us have a hard time keeping up with a fast dog on the dogwalk.   Carmine will be my first personal experience of training true running dogwalk and aframe with a larger dog.  She is currently 20" at the shoulder.  It is my motivation to get in to better shape to keep up with her because her ground speed is very fast.  She will know two on two off on a board as an exercise like Silvia teaches all her dogs.  So in worst case I will be able to do that.  I will also be teaching Carmine verbal cues for all aspects of turning. 

It was also good to hear how slowly she goes with her training.  I feel there is so much to train a dog in agility and I don't understand why so many want to rush it and are willing to skip steps in their training.  Every dog and handler is different and will progress at their own rate.  I try to assign homework to my students.  Training turns and jumps is the most important training and yet it is the one that we often have the least patience for doing.  Watching her with her pup and doing exercises with poles on the grounds was inspiring and it makes so much sense to have tight turns and speed with poles on the ground on jumps before adding height.  I have done this with my young dogs and my students dogs for years.   I do a lot of these kinds of things using hoops (like NADAC style hoops) because they are easy to move around, there are not poles to go rolling across the floor and yet there is still the concept of two standards for the dog to go through.  Using these to teach wraps, front and rear crosses, 270s, serpentines, sends and boxes is so easy and it teaches dog and handler about handling and about how to turn with speed.  As a bonus, if someone decides to do NADAC when their dog is older they have no problem with hoops because their dog saw them as a puppy/youngster. 

So now that the dust is settling after the seminar I am processing all that I learned and I am planning what things I will incorporate into my agility foundations and advanced level training that will be complimentary to what we already do and I will see what I want to add to my own training program.  When I go to seminars I don't like to totally change everything I do in my training and teaching program because I feel that is counterproductive.  I like to add things that will enhance my program and/or will "fix" problems I have had.  My program is pretty stable and I like to improve it all the time and make sure it grows as agility knowledge and training grows.  I like to try out new training techniques on my own dogs first before teaching it to students so I have some idea of the pitfalls there may be and the effectiveness of it.  I'm lucky to have a few dogs who have very different personalities and learning styles to work with when I want to try something new.

Agility in the US is much more diverse and open to a wider range of breeds and sizes than in Europe.  There are so many agility organizations that it is easy to find one where any given dog and handler can be successful.  We are fortunate to have more agility options here.  Just as we have diverse agility organizations we have diverse requirements in agility training.  In the US we have many more classes and organizations with distance type challenges on the courses so we tend to focus more on distance training here than in Europe.  I feel it is important to also train distance at an early age with puppies because we have a lot of distance requirements in our courses.  So for us there needs to be a balance between lots of tight turns and handler focus and distance and sends to obstacles at large distances.  This is why I am careful about what I add to my training/teaching program so that it will still fit with our trialing requirements.  We also need to have reliable contacts at a distance - 20-50 feet for some of us - that requires very special training. 

So when you are processing information from a seminar or an instructor you really want to look at how it fits in with the other things you need/want to train for success in agility.  Be thoughtful about what will work and fit into your existing program.