Agility is a journey. I wanted to continue to share more of my agility journey to inspire you to keep learning. Be sure to read Agility: It’s Your Journey! (part 1), Agility: It’s Your Journey! (part 2), Agility: It’s Your Journey! (part 3), and Agility: It’s Your Journey (part 4)
TAKING THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
Bizzy came into my life at a time when, Turbo, achieving great things in the competition ring, experienced, what is becoming all too common in the sport of dog agility, an Iliopsoas strain.
Luckily, with the proper care and advice from some of the best professionals I have ever had the pleasure of working with, this was not to prove career ending. It did, however, leave me for some time with no dog working towards competition. My dear little Quiz had retired and Turbo had been left carrying the torch for team Lynne and DogLogic.
As an agility instructor working on building a fledgling business, I really did feel the need to have another dog coming along and so the search began. I was soon the proud owner of an adorable Border Collie puppy, Hob Nob Bizzy Miss – aka Bizzy.
In competition, we did not reach the dizzy heights to which others had taken me. But, Bizzy, as I’ve said, came along to teach me some even more very valuable lessons.
While each and every one of my dogs and experiences in life seems to have been leading to this conclusion, Bizzy really did teach me to dig deep, “Lean in” and discover the true meaning of “Grit!” *
I’m convinced she came into my life to prove that you never stop learning and that your character is never completely built. No matter how many times you’ve tried, failed, fallen, got back up and found a road to success, there are still more paths to explore.
Biz, my beautiful and talented B/C is now 9 years old.
You’d be forgiven for thinking she is much younger at times.
She is a highly-strung and very sensitive girl, with whom I have formed a wonderful bond.
As a trainer, I have progressed over the past 40 years, through all phases – from “traditional” to “cross over” and finally, “purely positive”. I have learned and continue to learn so much about the art and science of training that we should have been the perfect match.
Maybe we are.
However, our journey is ongoing and has not always, if ever been a downhill romp.
It would be far more accurately described as an uphill climb, with occasional glimpses of the very top of the mountain.
Biz and I really have experienced moments of brilliance.
My thoughts in writing this piece were to share with anyone interested, and particularly those new to our sport who have become frustrated at setbacks along the way, that there is always another day, another way to solve the puzzle and that it really is the journey with your precious partner, not the destination that counts.
Learning, learning, learning!
Never stop learning.
During the 40+ years that I have been involved in dog sports much has changed. Understanding of behavioral science continues to improve and influence our training.
In addition, in common with all other sports, the challenges now seen in dog agility continue to increase in complexity. Just keeping up is a skill in itself! Anyone who has been in the sport for more than 10 years has had to be open to learning new things and to change old habits.
And so, we grow – yes all of us. Yes, even those of us now on the wrong side of 60!
And yes, we can change habits.
If the motivation is strong enough, we can and will change in order to continue to enjoy the sport that we all love.
In the beginning :
So, back to Miss Biz who is, as I have already mentioned a very talented and sensitive soul. From our very first moments together, she loved to learn. We used positive reinforcement training with a clicker. She learned lots of tricks and was a fun loving puppy if just a little cat obsessed!
Tugging does not come naturally to all dogs – even Border Collies.
Tugging did not come naturally to Biz. One of our early challenges was to encourage her to love tugging. My aim was to be able to have lots of fun playing tugging games and to develop a very versatile tool for future training, I had trained other dogs without toys of course, so knew it wasn’t going to be the end of the world if she really didn’t like it.
But it was clear that Biz was going to be fast and I really did want to develop this skill for the benefit of both of us.
It took time, but with patience, short sessions, deliberately working in many different locations and increasingly more distracting environments, we made progress.
I did my homework!
Today, Biz loves to tug and will happily tug as reinforcement for other behaviors, even when agility is going on nearby!
(Or what I now prefer to refer to as “Framework” – the subject of future ramblings.)
By now I truly do know how important it is to provide a very broad foundation of skills and behaviors for any dog. So much so that Karen and I co-authored an online course, available on the Karen Pryor Website, named, “Dog Sports Essentials”.
This course aims to demonstrate that you can provide a broad foundation that will set your puppy up for success in life and in any dog sport.
I have also written and presented a very popular seminar, now available as a DVD from the Tawzer Dog and Karen Pryor websites,
“But I Can’t take the Treats and Toys in the Ring!”
Bizzy was one of the lucky recipients of all that I have learned over the years both online and face to face from some of the best trainers, in and out of the sport of agility.
Thanks to the Karen Pryor Academy, Biz really does understand the concept of a cue and I am able to put all previous and subsequent learning into a much more meaningful context for my students and myself.
Attendance at multiple Clicker Expos has allowed me the privilege of learning from such world-renowned experts as Dr. Susan Friedman, Dr. Jesus Ruiz – Rosalez, Kathy Sdao, Kay Lawrence and Ken Ramirez in person.
(All great people to look up if you are not familiar with them.)
Thanks to agility greats such as Greg Derrett, Sylvia Trkman, Dave Munnings and Susan Garrett to name but a few, I have had access to an ever-increasing repertoire of sport-related puppy activities.
Recent advances in course design and challenge leading to parallel advances in handling techniques such as those brought to us through the One Mind Dog Methodology have made life even more fun and interesting, while yet again, emphasizing the importance of sound early foundation work.
Susan Salo’s jumping expertise added to Bizzy’s early preparation for agility competition.
Never has a dog of mine had such a thorough all-round foundation.
So, why, you may be thinking, did Biz prove to be such a challenge?
You can be sure that I have definitely asked myself this question a million times over the past few years.
When discussing some of our challenges with a friend recently, she came up with the phrase,
“A Perfect Storm”
And that is the closest I can come to understanding how our story played out.
If I were to try to summarize some elements that may have contributed to the “perfect storm” they might look like this:
Timing pretty good / but still human!
Mature and still human!
Should have seen this earlier / human!
Crept up on me / human!
Hopefully, you can see from my attempt at capturing some of my early challenges in a humorous way, that a combination of a very sensitive and literal learner and “just a human” did nothing to diminish the challenges I was experiencing. Mistakes I may have made, no matter how small, combined with Bizzy’s unique personality confirmed in no uncertain terms, that even 40 years of experience is not a guarantee of success.
However, as you will see later, I really do think now that there was more to this story than immediately met the eye.
One of our greatest early challenges centered around Bizzy’s easily escalating arousal level in and around other dogs working. Getting this under control became an area of intense focus and, you guessed it, another learning opportunity for me! The result?
Lots of work on relaxation protocols later, Bizzy can now relax (relatively speaking ☺) – even at an agility trial for a short period of time.
She can also concentrate well when she is aroused and become calm and settled pretty quickly afterward.
Why had I not experienced these challenges before? I really don’t have a definitive answer to that, though I sometimes wonder if, coming from England, where socializing and attending geographically closer trials is much easier, may have played a part.
One very positive outcome of this particular challenge has been the further improvement of my own Framework (foundation) classes at DogLogic where students get to benefit from my experiences.
Following some early success in the ring at almost 2 years old, I began to notice one or two rather disturbing trends.
Contact behavior began to deteriorate!
“So what’s new?” you might ask.
Never before had I been more methodical, taken so much time, been more aware of the common inconsistencies than I was when training Bizzy’s contacts. One thing was for sure, she was not going to go in the ring before her contacts were good – really good!
And, I really did stick to this resolution.
When I first began to trial, we entered just Jumping rounds and quickly moved up the ranks to Excellent and Masters jumping before ever attempting a Standard round.
We entered Standard when she was “ready”.
So, what went wrong?
Again, honestly, if I could answer that question, I would probably be one very rich lady! ☺
My theory is that it may have been a combination of these two elements:
- Bizzy’s arousal level in the ring that I had not been able to replicate in training.
- Slight differences in marking precise criteria in training, causing confusion.
(Remember Biz is very sensitive and literal. My timing really isn’t bad. Believe me, I’ve worked on it – but I am human!)
To avoid further confusion and to avoid the problem getting worse, Biz and I took a year out of the Standard ring to work on contacts.
Meanwhile, our plan was to continue having fun in the Jumpers ring.
This, however, is where things became rather weird and, I have to admit, a little disheartening. I began to become aware of another pretty troubling trend.
Why was my highly sensitive but very much loved superstar Border Collie, suddenly running around more jumps than she took?
Of course, I can look back and see that sometimes my handling wasn’t the best. Sometimes my timing was a little off.
But with all my previous experience, I felt that this couldn’t be the only problem.
Even husband Pete, usually my toughest critic, agreed with me about this! So what should I do now?
What to do?
My first instinct was to rule out any physical problems. Bizzy already had a regular appointment with a Canine Rehabilitation specialist and a chiropractor once per month, so I doubted this was the reason. However, we had her completely checked with the jumping avoidance in mind. As I suspected, physical problems ruled out.
What about her eyes?
Once again, it was difficult to imagine that there was anything wrong with Bizzy’s vision. However, I was not going to proceed with training until I was certain. We made an appointment with a canine ophthalmologist and eyesight problems were ruled out.
However, I still have some lingering thoughts related to Linda Mecklenberg’s observations regarding “Early Take Off Syndrome.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have not historically been a big believer in “Syndromes!”
Nor am I looking for excuses for our challenges.
But, with all the experience I have gained over the years with many dogs in numerous sports and disciplines, the challenges posed by Biz have been somehow different and quite perplexing.
Thinking back on some of the signs and symptoms that Biz has exhibited over the years, a number of observations may or may not be significant:
- Difficulty picking up an angled jump out of a tunnel.
- Hitting or avoiding any jumps out of a tunnel.
- Squeezing through a 6” gap to avoid a jump straight ahead.
- Avoiding or hitting doubles, triples and broad jumps on a regular basis.
- Failing to pick up jumps on a very slight arc.
- Hesitating/stutter stepping when getting on to contact equipment.
I felt that yet another prolonged period of working outside the ring was indicated. One thing that was very certain – Bizzy would not gain more confidence in jumping while highly aroused and running at full speed around the agility ring where she would continually encounter these big, scary spread jumps.
At it’s worst, Biz would run around a 12-inch jump in front of her from a standstill.
If you are interested, you can find a short video of some of this journey on YouTube,
After much soul searching, re-training and advice seeking she began to look confident enough to try the ring again. Soon, however, the old behaviors began to resurface. Performance in the ring, therefore, deteriorated rapidly once more. When not sure, Biz would avoid jumps. When Biz avoided jumps, I tried to baby them. This does not work at high speed – remember, I’m just human and I’m not getting any younger!
This could not go on of course. In fact, my feeling is that it was becoming quite dangerous. Misjudged takeoffs, hitting and avoiding jumps was not helping us to forge a great partnership in the ring.
Reluctantly, we took what turned out to be our final break from the ring to work on this.
Were we ever going to compete together again?
I had truly hoped so, but unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be the case.
And so our journey had a different ending than expected, but one with which I have finally made my peace.
Biz and I have fun problem-solving.
She enjoys walks, playing and running agility courses with the bars on the ground at home.
She’s a brilliant demo dog when I want to show what it truly means to have behaviors on cue and under stimulus control – and she still keeps that cat in order at home.
No glory in the ring for us – but what a great teacher she has and continues to be.
How lucky are my students that this experience has given me even more insight when helping them along their own special paths.
Early Take Off syndrome – update:
Some time ago now, Linda Mecklenburg very kindly viewed and commented on a video of Bizzy’s jumping that I posted on Facebook. While I still really don’t know for sure if this is the cause of our frustrations, I am pretty certain in my own mind that this is as close to an explanation as I am going to get.
Someone once told me that the only way to fail at anything was to give up.
If you don’t give up, you are still on your own special journey.
A couple of years ago, I read Angela Duckworth’s book, GRIT.
One of the interesting people that she interviewed for the book was a man named
Tom Deierlein, (A West Pointer, Airborne Ranger and two-time CEO)
He had been shot by a sniper in Baghdad in 2016 and had been told that he would never walk again. When describing his own journey back to walking, he used these memorable words.
“ I simply wasn’t going to fail because I didn’t care or didn’t try. That’s not who I am”
I am in no way trying to infer that my challenges were anything in comparison to his, but I do echo the sentiment,
“That’s not who I am!”
Biz and I will continue to enjoy our journey together and hope that it helps many others with theirs in the future.
Lessons from Bizzy:
Do not pass judgment!
Remember that everyone is on his or her own journey.
You have no idea where it began.
You have no idea where it will end.
Always be supportive of others on their own special journeys.
From ourselves can see any
Our victories and our defeats?”
(playwright – Christopher Fry)
Thank you to my wonderful husband, without whom, I would not be enjoying such an amazing journey.