Not very many people choose to train alone, usually when people train alone it is because they simply live too far from any instruction. But, since I like to make things difficult, I choose to train alone for Agility and Obedience, even though there is ample instruction in my area. Why the hell do I do that? For me, the pros outweigh the cons, here they are.
Pros of Being a Loner-Trainer
Training happens when you make the time for it. My schedule is out of control. Seriously, I often work for 12 hours and then train my dogs into the late hours of the night. No, I don’t have a social life, in case you were wondering. So training alone really works for me here–I commit to training my own dogs a few nights a week. If I need to skip it I can, if I need to do more, I do. If I want to train at midnight since I am a night person, that’s up to me.
All of the training falls within my personal ethics. I have chosen to commit myself to reward-based training (as you know if you read this blog at all or know me). I don’t like to give my money to people who have what I consider questionable dog training ethics. A lot of people are OK with just letting an instructor know that they are not allowed to use harsh corrections on their dogs. I, on the other hand, refuse to support your business if you would strap electricity to anyone’s dog; regardless of whether or not you would go there with my dog (you’d die trying, just so we’re clear). In my area there are a lot of trainers who fully believe in using any and all tools to “get the job done.” That doesn’t sit so well with me, so I know that if I train alone my dog is always safe and I am safe from witnessing what I consider abuse.
If you want to train something a certain way, you are free to do so; likewise you are also free to not do things that you don’t find helpful or sensical. If I want to me a total masochist and train running contacts (yeah, I did choose masochism this time around, we’ll see how it goes) I am free to do so training on my own. If I want to train weave poles 2×2 instead of with channles, I am free to do so. I have also chosen to adhere to a handling system in my agility work; specifically the Derrett System. No one else in my area is doing this. None of them–to my knowledge–are adhering to a system at all, but most of them tend to be “Mecklinburgy” (yes I just invented that word) in their style. I have no problem with other people choosing to run without a system, and I certainly have no problem with people choosing to run with APHS (Mecklinburg). I just want to run Derrett, so if an instructor suggests that I blind cross my dog, or use a flickaway cue, that is not only not helpful to me, it is counter-productive. So, I chose with Idgie to train her agility foundation on my own, based on what I have learned from the Derretts and their Number One Fan, the one and only Susan Garrett. I think she has a great foundation. But we will get to the cons in a minute…
The Cons of Being Loner-Trainer
The comfort zone gets really comfortable. Often, on your own with no one to critique your work, you stay inside your box. I am guilty of this. I do proof my dog and am not afraid of causing her to fail in order to teach her; that is not what I’m talking about. I mean the box inside which you are not being watched, so you run freely and without any kind of stress. I mean the box inside which the distractions present for your dog are mainly manufactured for proofing; and those are just not as good as working with the organic distractions of real life. This can cause a really ugly wake-up call to occur when you finally do get out there.
There may be critical training mistakes happening without your knowledge. Luckily, I have some really great dog trainer friends that I bounce ideas off of frequently, so this doesn’t happen too often. But there are some minor mistakes I made that I am recently kicking my own ass for that a quality instructor probably would have noticed (I would notice these in my own students, but clearly not in myself!).
Training happens when you make time for it. Wait, wasn’t that a pro? Sure was. And it’s a con, too. This means you have to hold yourself really accountable, because no one else will. Because I have no class to go to that I have paid for, there are more weeks than I’d like to admit where I just go home and throw the dogs some rawhides after that 12 hour day at work. And no one blames me for this; and that is precisely the problem! My friends say I work too much, my trainer friends tell me my dogs are brilliant and I need to take some time for me, and my mother tells me I look so very tired. So sometimes I just skip it. And I shouldn’t. So this is a con about as often as it is a pro.
So let’s talk about what spurred this blog, shall we? Today I took Idgie to a local group drop in where the instructor gives video analysis feedback. Over all there are plenty of good things that happened that I need to hold onto, because I am also kicking my own ass over how it went. My dog got pretty stressed, which caused her to get really amped. I got really stressed, which caused me to totally, epically, FAIL as a handler. Idgie got stressed because there was a very exciting BC there that she NEEDED to chase down, and there was a competition obedience class happening concurrently, so she also got stressed about some of the dogs in that class. I was very stressed about the poor dogs in that class (stupid ethics). I was also frustrated at some of the well-meaning instructor’s Mecklinburgy advice that I wasn’t sure how to decipher into Derrettese (there I go making up words again). I was also frustrated because I knew I was late on several cues; frustrating my already amped dog.
What did I learn from this experience? There are no Derrett trainers in my area. So I will just have to know the system well enough on my own that I can translate Mecklinburgish into Derrettese. I also know that I need to step outside of my comfort zone and get my ass to more classes off of my own turf. And, to end on a positive, since this is my Sunday morning Church of Agility ass-kicking, not Catholicism ass-kicking, here’s all the stuff The Squidge did really well: she didn’t pop out of the weaves when I moved out laterally; she weaved harder and faster as I moved away, she did try really hard to hold her startline stays, even though there were dogs tugging and lots of things going on, for a home-schooled dog she dealt well with the plethora of distractions (let me paint the scene; indoor soccer arena with concurrent corrective obedience class, LOUD volley ball game, and lots of spectators), and she did do what I asked her to do most of the time (though most of the time I asked her to do the wrong thing…).
So, to conclude, time to step outside of what’s comfortable. But, I will continue to train alone most of the time. I will use these away from home training lessons as information for what I need to work on at home.