Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

The Evolution of a Training Journal

Training journals are a necessity for anyone who wants to be successful at their chosen avocation.  Instructors of competitors in the top echelons of their sport always recommend keeping track of training sessions and progress.  Journals serve as motivators, record books, training guides, organizational tools, places to celebrate achievements, and reminders of why people are involved in the sport they love. 

Recently I totally reorganized the training journals for all three of my dogs.  I have not always been diligent in journaling about my agility career.  In fact, while I was reorganizing, I noticed that there have been long spans of time without significant activity.  What I found fascinating though, was the similarity of the overall progression of each journal, and the fact that they all followed the same basic patterns during the various stages of training.

I strongly encourage (read: require) the students in my beginning classes to keep a training journal.  In the beginning, the journal is mostly a guidebook to help them remember what was taught in class, give structure to independent practice sessions, and reinforce the concepts of learning that they have been exposed to.  I provide a few basic training articles and links, forms for weekly homework, and pre-printed sheets for recording training sessions.   I see students documenting broad, overall achievements in their journals in the early stages – things like “I learned how to teach my dog something new” and “I have much more control over my dog”.  They also record individual skills.  As an instructor, it is fun to see people excited enough to write “My dog learned how to run through a tunnel today,” or “We banged the teeter and my dog was not scared at all”.  The journal at this stage also functions as a communication tool that allows the student to alert me to any issues they are having so I can address them in class or individually.

As the students progress to the next level of training, their journals reflect the progression and mastery of basic skills.  People write about proofing stays, learning handling moves, and polishing foundation.  The focus of the excitement changes from awe that they can actually communicate with another species to pride that they are building that communication to a new level that allows them to perfect their new-found skills.  Statements frequently begin with “We finally were able to…” as people write about breakthroughs.  Focus of the journal turns to preparation for competition.

The journal entries change dramatically when the team starts competing.  The excitement of finally testing their skills means that every bit of information is recorded, every triumph celebrated, and conversely, every disappointment recorded in excruciating detail.  The journal becomes focused on issues to work on to ensure successful competition runs.  Many times students are disheartened when things don’t go as planned.  This is the time to remind them to go back to the beginning and read their journal entries from the early days.  It is very motivating to remember that when training started, the dog was afraid of the teeter, or could “never” hit their weave entries.  Rereading history helps put current challenges into perspective and provides motivation to continue working out the issues that competing uncovers.

In the later stages of a dog’s career, the journal becomes a place to track the minutiae involved with continuously trying to improve the team.  People record obstacle times and work on shaving off fractions of a second on contacts or weaves.  Sequences are performed several times and scrutinized for areas where yardage can be saved.  At this stage, thoughts turn to detailed planning for retraining problem areas and new methods for improving performance.  This is the phase I am currently in with my main competition dog.  I have to remind myself to enjoy the process along with the results.  I still laugh during training, and am still amazed at the depth of communication between us, but I have to remember to record those intangible things in my journal along with the bare facts of my training sessions. 

I have thankfully not yet come to the final stage in my journaling career, but I foresee a time when my last few journal entries will be remembrances of my teammate and our career together.  I can envision writing about the various ways my life was changed by being partnered with the wonderful creature that loved me without question, worked for me tirelessly, and brought me immeasurable joy.  I look forward to immersing myself in the record of our journey together, smiling beneath the tears as I relive our triumphs and heartbreaks.  The final chapter of my training journal will be a testament to the relationship between us that will endure long after our ribbons have faded and my tears have dried. 

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April 13, 2009 - Posted by | Agility, Recordkeeping, Training | , , , , , , ,

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