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Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Agility "System"

The latest and hottest trend in Agility these days is to be a part of a "System".

For those that hadn't heard of a "System", it's a set of rules designed by a specific trainer that handlers (such as yourself) must follow while handling your dog on course. You see, there are several different trainers that have come up with different systems and most are making a pretty good buck selling DVD's, Books, Magazine Articles, Yahoo Group Memberships and more. There is quite a following of each trainers system and often times mini-arguments will ensue on course during a walk through when different fractions (and even amongst those of the same system) disagree on how a particular challenge should be handled.

Having come from a Training background with extensive experience in Adult Learning Theory, I firmly believe that People are individuals and our dog's don't all fit into a cookie cutter training plan as well. I also have to admit that on a personal level, I enjoy the challenge of tailoring my handling to each of my dog's strengths and weaknesses and love engaging my brain to solve the Agility Course puzzle presented to me vs. having a handling system dictate how I should run. I think most people feel that way since that's where the satisfaction begins and it allows me and you to take full responsibility (good or bad) for whatever the training outcome is.

As I mentioned before, Systems do have some great parts! I'd be lying if I didn't say there was an item or two, or three that I'd embraced from each of the Systems I've seen. I might like them for myself, or I might like them for one of my clients. However, a system is only as good as you train and you can train ANY system, so I really can't say one is better than the other or that's the way to go.

Do you need a system? Systems do have good information and they come up with some great terms for maneuvers most of us have already been doing for years. Heck, everyone likes a hard and fast rules in life - however, life isn't about hard and fast rules and I don't think Agility is either so I'll say "Maybe, but I'd venture to say the best System you could come up with is something that is intuitive for YOU and your dog and then incorporate consistency in your training."

The word INTUITIVE is important. If you can't remember a skill, don't understand why you're doing something, don't move like a finely-tuned athletic 25 year old or simply want Agility to be your hobby, then don't feel you're doing something wrong by not joining the "System Bandwagon".

Finally, I'm often asked what System I use. I have to say the System of Common Sense. Basically, I believe in strong team communication (generally done with body language, which is the dog's first choice in interaction), positive training which shapes correct behaviors (I like a thinking dog!) and I treat my clients the same as I treat their dogs - with respect, kindness and encouragement to try new and different styles to see what works best for them. Oh, and most importantly, I want my clients to succeed!

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