Monday, February 27, 2017

Learning From the Master

It has been quite some time since I updated this blog.  Bandit and I have been training and learning together and making progress and facing challenges.  Overall, things have been going very well for us as a team.

We are still splitting our focus between Musical Freestyle, Agility, Rally Obedience, and Parkour.  That presents a challenge in itself since we are working on many different skills for four different sports.  However, there is a nice degree of overlap, so usually whatever we focus on for one discipline is applicable to at least one other!

In some ways our Freestyle is the most challenging, since I have no access to a Freestyle class, and we rarely have the opportunity to work in a large space.

Recently it seemed to me that Bandit and I had really stalled out in our Freestyle training.  I felt that the work that we were doing was "flat" in some way.

I really had no idea of what I ought to do about it.  I know that Bandit and I have a ton of potential as a Freestyle team.  I just did not really know which way to go.

So, I did something that I had been avoiding for a long time - I looked back.

To Speedy.

To Speedy and me as a Freestyle team.

He and I had something really special.  After losing Speedy I felt, for a very long time, that he had taken every skill and strength that I had in the sport of Musical Freestyle along with him.  I did make the decision to go on with it in spite of that, but in a big way things have never quite been the same.

My dogs and I have accomplished some things since then - Dean has made a few really nice performance videos, Tessa made one of her best, and she earned her Intermediate title in WCFO.  She also completed the pre-Bronze level in the Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions! 

Bandit earned a Q in the Cyber Rally-O Dance Divisions, and he earned his first leg in Beginner Musical Freestyle in WCFO.

But I had really come to the point where I felt that Bandit and I were missing something that we ought to have in our dancing.

I had avoided looking back to Speedy for a couple of reasons.  First, I do not want to be someone who cannot appreciate my current dog for who he is.  I did not want to create a temptation to try to make Bandit into Speedy, in a sense.  Bandit is a beautiful, talented boy who has a style that is all his own, and I want that to shine forth in our work together.

Also, watching Speedy's videos can be difficult on an emotional level.  Sometimes I can watch them and enjoy them, and sometimes it is upsetting to do so.  So, I generally avoid watching them.

But it came to the point where I didn't know what else to do.  It was on my heart that Bandit and I were missing something that Speedy and I had, and that whatever it was, it was something that Bandit and I ought to have!  I needed to figure out what that was.

First, I pulled up the video of Speedy and I performing to "Here Comes the Sun" at the Freestyle Festival demonstration.  Although that was very early in our Freestyle experiences, I always look back on it as one of our best performances.  There was a live audience and they were extra appreciative.

Here is the video of that performance:

I noticed several things right away.

Speedy knew and understood his Freestyle moves, and he "owned" them.  My cues weren't always the greatest, but whenever Speedy read them, he was immediately performing the behavior.

He really put his heart and soul into every single thing he did in his Freestyle performances.

Bandit is more tentative in a lot of his moves.  He does them when he reads my cues, but he almost carries them out with a manner of, "Ummm . . . . I think?"

There is one exception - his "Sit and Give Paw".  He NAILS that one.  He puts his entire being into that one.

That is what we need to build with all of the Freestyle moves.

Second, Speedy knew more moves.  I certainly know that Freestyle is not just about throwing around a lot of moves, but a routine without some measure of variety can be very flat.

It took me a few days and viewing several different videos to figure out the last component that Bandit and I are missing.  Speedy's focus.  His attention was riveted on me.

Back when I was working with him, I recall people pointing that out to me and I really had no idea what they were talking about.  To me, Speedy was just Speedy.  But now I see it.  It's not just that he was giving me eye contact - he was giving me his full attention - with all his heart.

Now, I am under no illusions that Speedy was a perfect dog.  We struggled - a lot.  He was afraid of dogs and people.  He got over being afraid of most people, but he never was comfortable around certain dogs.  He couldn't deal with crate rooms.  He was easily overstimulated by his own movement, and we worked HARD to even be able to continue in Freestyle when that became an almost impossible issue.

But here is the thing - and it is, I believe that last piece in this puzzle (for now).  Speedy and I WORKED.  We worked hard.  We faced problem after problem after problem, and we never stopped doing what we needed to do to deal with them.  I read books.  I attended workshops.  I took him to different places and we trained and trained and trained and trained and trained!

I worked harder to help Speedy just be comfortable in public situations than I have ever worked with any other dog on anything.

And . . . I forgot about that.  I really, honestly forgot.  I mean, I know what we did, but I seriously forgot the time, the effort, and the work that we put into everything that he and I did together.

Nothing came easy for Speedy.  Nothing.

And I presented the honest question to myself - have I worked so hard with Bandit?

And the answer: Not by a long shot!!

So, now Bandit and I are studying under the Master!!

I have taken away four specific areas that we will work on.

1. Train more moves!  In fact, I am going to start off by training Bandit to do everything that Speedy did.

2. Build confidence into Bandit's moves, so he does them comfortably and happily.

3. Work on focus.  I actually have been working on focus with him, but I have some new ideas that I think will work out better than what we have been doing.  The idea will be to help him understand that offering his focus is a very, very good thing!

4. Train more.  Even if it is a stolen 5 minutes in the morning while the other dogs are out to do their business, we are going to find time to train more!

We have actually already started on this, and I feel that it is bearing good fruit.  Bandit has just eaten up the few new moves I have introduced him to.  He likes the confidence games.  And I tried out the new focus strategy this morning and I ended up with an attentive dog who was wagging his tail at me!  YES!!!

And my worries about expecting Bandit to be Speedy were unfounded.  I am not trying to turn him into Speedy.  Instead, it is like Speedy is our instructor.  We are learning from him, and from all that he and I did together.

When Bandit and I have mastered some of these basics, we will branch out in new directions, I am certain!  But, in the meantime . . . . this is good.  This is very, very good.


Post a Comment

<< Home