Teacher makes mistakes for benefit of students ... yeah, that’s it

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2007

My husband, Mark, and I teach a lot of dog classes — not because we’re crazy, but because we truly enjoy being around dogs and dog people.

OK, we are a little crazy, too. Between the two of us, we teach about eight classes, mostly agility, where a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course.

Over the years, I’d say we’ve definitely learned more than our students. We’ve learned easier ways to teach obstacles, how to work on different issues a dog is facing, and how to deal with troubled handlers. No matter how we shake things up, though, it never ceases to amaze us how smart dogs are. Handlers tend to be a little slower in accepting the fact that their dogs can do these things on their own.

Throughout the years, we’ve also learned something else: Just as an accountant cannot keep their own books and a mechanic’s car always needs repairs, our dogs have a tendency to challenge us more than others.

Mark and I have have experienced the thrill of victory, but more often than not, we know the agony of defeat.

Mark’s agility career is a good example. Mark got Tucker first. Tucker was trained to perfection. He was flawless in class — weaving through poles with elegance, nailing his stops at the end of the teeter and flying over jumps with the greatest of ease.

In his first few trials, he sucked Mark right into it with him. The two were an incredible pair.

Then something changed. Somehow, and for whatever reason, Tucker got spooked. He ran up to jumps, stopped and walked around them. He stopped weaving. In fact, he wouldn’t do anything except run into the crowd or run back to his kennel.

And so Tucker was retired, and Mark got Cayenne. Unlike Tucker, Cayenne had drive to spare. So much so that whenever Mark tried to change her direction on a course, she would attack him — in a happy way.

Unfortunately, that would disqualify him, so he and Cayenne had to learn how to work out their issues.

That was two years ago, and although they have tasted the thrill of victory, Cayenne’s pension for tunnels and speed have paved the way for more instances of agony. They’ve improved a great deal, but if Mark even looks at a tunnel, she’s gone.

I have my pains, as well.

Bailey was my first agility dog. Our first obstacle was overcoming shyness. Once we got through that phase, we clicked like the dream team. I had a lot of success with Bailes. Problem was, I wanted a faster dog.

You know what they say: Be careful what you wish for.

With Sophi I got a faster dog, however, she also was — and still is — pretty dang independent. She knows everything there is to know about agility, and she’s awesome — when she feels like doing it. Problem is, she’s not very motivated. Most times I have to beg her to come to the start line with meatballs. It’s just not pretty.

Our students, love it, though. For some reason there’s joy to be had in seeing their instructors make mistakes and fools of themselves.

I’m glad we can accommodate their sadistic side.

As time goes on, Mark and Cay continue to work on the “team” aspect of agility. There have been a couple of times when he has asked me to run her. The hardest part for me to adjust to was I didn’t need a meatball to get her to the line.

“Really, I just have to walk up there?” I asked.

“That’s it,” Mark said.

Of course, after that the hardest part was keeping up with her. She left me in the dust, barking at me the whole time for my lack of communication, but that’s only because I was too busy gasping for air.

No, it’s not easy to be an instructor, and it’s even harder to be the instructor’s dog. I’m sure Tucker, Cayenne, Bailey and Sophi would tell you it’s downright embarrassing at times.

Still, there is an up side. We can’t think of a better way to spend our free time than to help others learn to have fun with their dogs. It’s definitely worth having people learn from you so they have the opportunity to laugh at you.

Dori Lynn Anderson is the managing editor at the Clarion.

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