Overview: Silvia Trkman seminar
I'm not sure where to start really. My intentions for attending the seminar were perhaps unique to most attendees – or perhaps not.
Why did I travel the distance I did to attend this seminar, even though I found out about it too late to be able to secure a working slot? Why, even though I've only been involved in agility just over four months and have never entered a trial, did I make the trip?
I consider myself a newbie in the world of agility, training, or even the dog world in general (having adopted Diesel only two years ago). I love our agility classes and I don't see an end in sight. I can't say my goal is to compete and, although I suppose that would be a natural result, it's not my focus. I just enjoy the unique interaction with my pups, I enjoy watching our relationship grow, I enjoy figuring out "what makes them tick", I enjoy seeing them feel proud of themselves, and I enjoy feeling proud of us as a team. Because of all of this, I very much connect with Silvia's overall philosophy. She inspires me.
I wanted to meet her (and La!) and be motivated to further my relationship with my pups. And of course I learned a thing or two about agility as well!
Agility dog Johann and his Mum attended the two-day Masters Level Handling and Problem Solving seminar the days prior to my Novice seminar. They have some very well-put-together notes from their experience here and here. Many of Johann's mum's notes mirror mine so I will cheat a bit and direct you, my dear, small group of readers, to their site. Their blog is very popular so I'm sure they would welcome more company.
There is also a very nice recap here, written by Cat on her experience at Silvia's Slow/Novice seminar in New Hampshire.
From my own novice perspective, I have a few more notes to add on the agility front that feel specific to us and our level of training:
- Offer as much information to your dog as possible – both verbal and through body language.
- Repeat commands as your dog is running the course to keep him engaged. This goes against the "run silent" training exercise we did in class a few weeks ago, but since Marvin seems to be letting his nose drive him lately, more feedback from me as we go might be very helpful and make me more interesting to him. Nothing wrong with saying "here, here, here" repeatedly if it helps your dog. I thought it was great how Silvia directed La by calling "La, La, La ...". "Marvin, Marvin, Marvin ..." doesn't have quite the same ring!
- Call "here" to change direction before naming the next obstacle, i.e. "here, tunnel". Don't depend on just the obstacle name to direct, offer the extra information in advance as well as an extended hand to direct.
- In training, if you find yourself confused (forgot where to go or off the correct line) don't stop/try to figure it out/spin all around (oh, I know how to do that!). When you know you are lost, carry on to complete the next obvious obstacle, reward your dog, and start again. Running and then just stopping tells the dog that agility is confusing and not all that fun. You also loose the connection to your pup and off he may go sniffing because he doesn't know what to do.
- Before starting a run get your pup hyped up by playing, doing tricks, anything that gets him excited and motivated to work with you.
- Use a happy, excited, animated voice when you are running the course. Running with you on the agility course should be the most FUN thing for your dog. If your pup does start sniffing or is distracted, be boring. Dogs interpret "Marvin, Marvin, Marvin, here, Marvin, Marvin" over and over again in an excited (in my case desperate) voice to get them back almost as praise. Best to just keep running and (hopefully) he'll see how fun you are and catch up to run along. If that doesn't work have someone else lead him back to you and start the happy, excited running again.
- Don't wait for your dog. Keep up the pace and keep moving forward.
- If you have the choice, choose a front cross over a rear cross. The rear cross is easier for the handler but more difficult for the dog. A front cross gives your dog more information and is "flashier" keeping your dog connected and interested in what you are doing.
- Consider teaching "turn" or "left" and "right" so you have an increased directional vocabulary to give your dog more information.
- Consider training the cik/cap method of wrapping a jump, which was really interesting to see in person. She demonstrated with La "cik, cik, cik, cik ..." while La took many tight jumps in a row to the left, as well as "cap, cap ..." to the right.
Also, Silvia's approach to teaching puppies or new dogs agility, is to teach many of the elements used in agility without using any of the obstacles. Teach directional commands, teach wrapping tightly and circling objects, teach tricks (lots of tricks!) that increase back-end awareness. Once you have these basics, going on an agility course is simply running with obstacles along the way. Learning that this was her approach made me wish I had made myself available to attend the puppy seminar the next day. I think I would have learned a lot of great basics I could have passed on to my pups.
I guess that's about it. As I had read her entire Web site already, and she's very generous with the information she provides on her site, I can't say anything Silvia discussed on Saturday really took me by surprise. But seeing her work with people and their pups was indeed inspirational. She was gentle and forgiving. She offered suggestions openly and criticism thoughtfully. She was down-to-earth, yet motivating.
My sincerest thanks to Silvia for making the long journey that took her away from the rest of her pups to offer her wisdom to us. And again, huge thanks to the members of QCDTC for making me feel completely at home and opening up their amazing facility to us.
As I often do with my camera, I turned it towards us, put my arm out, and "click!". Unfortunately La heard interesting kitchen noises just as I clicked and turned away (can't blame her). And I was a bit too shy to ask to take another photo ... oh well!
What a great day!