I will only book trainers at A-SIT, whose methods and handling systems I agree with and which reflect in my own handling. This isn’t to say that I follow their rules by the book; Anthony Clarke for example (who visits us twice a year) does not promote ‘blind turns’, I think that there is a time and a place for them.
The reason I only book similar trainers is mainly not to confuse the people I train, but also because I believe that in any form of dog training, consistency is key. As a trainer I go on a number of training days a year, looking at different methods and how they have evolved, trying new moves and systems, discarding those I don’t like and storing them in my brain for reference should I be asked to take a lesson with a client who uses them. I do this so my client’s don’t have to. What are they paying me for if not for my guidance based on the knowledge and experiences I have picked up?
Agility is a fascinating and complex sport with fresh ideas cropping up everywhere and with the sport becoming so much bigger and more diverse, new methods are being developed not only for specific ‘problems’ but for everything from disabled handlers and even dogs with disabilities like deafness. I would encourage you to nose around at what else is going on in our sport and certainly to ask lots of questions! Having been involved with the sport for 20 years I have seen a variety of things come in and out of fashion and probably tried my hand at a fair few and through this developed the way I handle my dogs and teach today (adapting everything slightly to suit each individual handler/dog partnership where needed, I don’t believe there is a ‘blue print’ on how to train every dog).
When you train a partnership regularly you can accidently over-look things which have slowly developed over time. I know there have been times Mum has covered a lesson for me and come back and said ‘have you noticed’ or ‘have you tried’ and I’ve had to say ‘no, I haven’t’ because I haven’t seen them for looking at the dog each week. And that’s when a fresh set of eyes is really useful and a good reason to go to training days with other trainers. Training days are also a good opportunity to train on different grounds and surfaces with new dogs and also to try courses and sequences which will be a different 'style' to what you are used to.
When you go to another trainer or training day I think it is important to remember when you see a guest trainer that they are usually seeing you and your dog for the first time, in some cases they won’t have learnt your dog’s name until at least half way through the session and they certainly won’t know how you have ended up where you are – Have you had to re-train your contacts? How long have you been jumping that height? Is your dog of a sensitive disposition? Do you have any physical impairment? They have a ‘snap-shot’ of what you are about and if you’re anything like me that snap-shot won’t be up to scratch because you’re nervous! Realistically in an hour long session shared with 5 other people you will only have a trainer’s undivided attention for 10 minutes. What they usually will try to do in that group is push and explain some of their key handling and teaching techniques and usually set exercises which focus on these and which are designed to prove their point. For example I am attending a Barrie James training day this weekend and having trained with Barrie before I expect I will leave having done WAY more blind turns and ‘Ketschkers’ than I would usually feel necessary, but they will work and I will feel good about them and have a better understanding of them – will I want to proof them properly in my own time and use them on a regular basis? -probably not; it will require a vast amount of work to train them properly and re-programme myself into that way of thinking, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t teach them to those who are interested and who would benefit from them more than myself.
If a trainer’s techniques didn’t work they wouldn’t be worth selling or have the success rate that they do, but that doesn’t mean that they will work for you or run smoothly on from how you already train. My Mum explains this well with her comparison using a Victoria Sponge Cake – the recipe of which is fairly simple (certainly compared to agility!) but every family still has its own ‘secret ingredient’ or special way of doing things which makes their cake the lightest, fluffiest and tastiest (hungry now!), some of these methods will work well together and some are impossible to combine. You can copy a recipe to the last gram from a book and yet it still won’t turn out how it does in the picture! This doesn’t mean that any of the methods are wrong, we all end up with cake, just that you have to pick the one which works best for you.
What I witness a lot of new handler/dog partnerships doing is sampling different training days and trainers and either ending up in a confused state, questioning it all but not doing anything and holding off on any sort of development at all, or the opposite and trying each method and changing it 3 months down the line for the next one and so on and so forth (I have been guilty of both in the past). Trainers are business people and they will be looking to win you over, each sale will be more appealing than the last, Remember this and remember why you have trained the way you have thus far and remember your dog who is at the receiving end of all this and who won’t be able to understand why you keep changing things.
Having taught groups in a Club environment at Clifton , Severnside, Little Orchard and A-SIT, it amazes me how very little people watch the group above them and see what they’re aiming for and the results that come out of the training that they are entrusting and putting into their own dogs. And yet at the drop of a hat can be sold on another idea.
Usually I come away with one thing from a training day; sometimes it’s a manoeuvre I’ve struggled with previously, a sequence I haven’t tried before, a better understanding of a new handling system. You should always try and come away with something, otherwise what have you paid your money for? But I think that re-writing the entire way you train your dog based on a couple of hours with a stranger to you and your dog isn’t necessarily the best idea. If you have a number of sessions with a new trainer which validate the changes suggested then that’s different and maybe you ought to reconsider where you are currently training if you’re having better success under new instruction elsewhere, especially if the methods don’t mix. It is unfair on your trainers to play them against each other and a waste of your time and money, but as I have said before, it is mostly confusing for your dog.