Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Learning Opportunities

Been a busy few weeks here lately, with lots of travel and training opportunities. It has been taking me a while to process some of our recent experiences, and have been thinking and planning a lot lately around my training goals.

Two weeks ago, Cadence and I headed to his homeland (Canada) for a three-day weekend at Susan Garrett’s Puppy Camp. The focus of puppy camp is to learn skills and exercises to set the groundwork for agility specifically, but good “life skills” in general. As Susan stated early on, the same characteristics that make a great family pet make a great agility dog. So, relatively little of the weekend was actually spent on agility-focused activities. Instead we worked on relationship-building, impulse control, building drive and enthusiasm, and developing our skills as trainers. I have been drawn to Susan’s books and DVDs for years, as I appreciate her focus on operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, and her basis in actual learning theory. With Cadence, I am really trying to break my old “luring” habits, and to develop my skills in shaping. It really is fun to watch their little gears turning as they offer different behaviors and figure out what you are looking for.

We returned home from that weekend with heads spinning and carrying a long list of things to work on in the coming months. But, as if our list wasn’t long enough, we set off last weekend to Midland, Michigan to attend a two-day “Get Connected” workshop with Brenda Aloff. This was not necessarily an agility or performance dog-based seminar, but was very much about building a strong relationship and ability to communicate with your dog.

I have seen Brenda speak almost every year for the past 7 years, but have never worked with her. I could listen to her lecture for days, she is so engaging and insightful and humorous, but working with her this weekend proved to be even more of a thrill. She is truly delightful, and Cadence and I had a blast.

While there were occasional slight differences, it was interesting how many of the themes were consistent between the two weekends. Impulse control, structure and consistency, and focusing on your relationship with your dog first and foremost were the common threads that were emphasized again and again.

I learned a lot about my little noodle over both weekends, and am really grateful for these opportunities as I see where our strengths are and what I need to continue to focus on with him. So, I feel good that Cadence is getting off to a good start, and am excited to try some new things with the adult pack as well.

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