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The Dog Trainer’s back…one hour at a time

August 3, 2009
A Hungarian Vizsla negotiating an A-frame.
Image via Wikipedia

Two weeks ago, I substitute-taught an advanced beginner dog agility class at Syracuse Obedience Training Club. No big deal for someone who’s been a club member for 28 years, taught obedience classes for 20 of them and is training and competing with her third agility dog–right?

Right…except that in July, 2000 in week 4 of my new 8-week curriculum, Obedience for Agility Puppies, I had an intracerebral hemorrhage.

Nursing the worst headache of my life, I called my assistant and all of my students to cancel that Monday’s class. Roxanne, my assistant, continued the class after I was hospitalized. And although I’ve taught many other things since that Monday night in July, 2000, including teaching dog trainers how to be better instructors, I haven’t taught a class full of inexperienced handlers and their dogs since that summer nine years ago.

I was a little nervous. Sure, I knew the curriculum and the principles of the class–teaching the dogs to sequence (working multiple obstacles.) I had worked with two of the students, but knew none of the dogs and had never worked with the class assistant. I would have to teach from notes to be sure to stay on track. What if I lost my train of thought, what if I couldn’t adapt each sequence to the skill level of the student and dog? It felt like my first day at school.

When I arrived, sequence areas were set up–A-frame to weaves, tire to tunnel to jump to chute, teeter to table. As the students came in, I introduced myself to the miniature schnauzer, visla, australian shepherd and toy dachshund while everyone grabbed a stanchion to set up a jump circle. One student helped me move the table so that it could be part of the circle and the teeter sequence. We warmed up with the jump circle, small dogs first, everyone analyzing each other’s efforts and the handler paths. I felt them out, they felt me out, and with everyone prompted to chime in with comments, soon all of the students relaxed (I was still nervous as a cat.)

After the jump circle, I asked, “Who has equipment at home?” and “Who practices outside of class?” That segued into my favorite subject: home practice. I explained simple sources for practice equipment: the Dollar Store, the farm supply. I explained how every sequence we were going to practice could be modified for at-home practice, and how in five minutes a day, they could work control commands like here and out and go. I moved into the jump circle with my imaginary (perfect) dog to demonstrate a simple one-jump practice to work on straight lines and curves. I could see the AgilityNerd blog drill practice in front of me, explaining to them how to work the straight lines in the circle and switch sides for the curve.

I was teaching again. And taking my life back, one hour and one class at a time.
It IS just like riding a bike!

All content at “The Dog Trainer’s Log” (c) Patricia A. Steer. May not be reprinted without permission. Originally published at “Gaelen’s Cafe: Life Out Loud” August, 2009, (c) Patricia A. Steer

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