Posted by: jility | December 18, 2011

When I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

It was a simpler time. There were only so many things to know and I knew them all. I was hot stuff. I had all the answers and didn’t want to be confused by the facts. Then I turned thirty.

With every passing year, I learned new things I didn’t know I didn’t know. At first it was exciting! New doors opened, while others closed, but it was a journey that added new paths as I went along. Each new path had more new paths that had new paths.

Then, at the age of 50, I found dog agility. The year was 2000 and I had lived more than a half century! In the beginning, agility was so simple. Just coax the dog over jumps while on leash, put squeeze cheese on the contacts and you are good to go. I learned how to do a front cross and a rear cross. I even learned the blind cross. Who needed a sit stay or stopped contacts? I sure didn’t! Drive? What was that? Rewards? Sure, toss a treat once in a while! Agility was a snap!

Then I went to watch my first trial. Some of those dogs were FAST! Some of them stopped on the end of the contacts and most had a stay at the start line. WTF? Bunch of babies! I didn’t need no stinkin stay or stop on the contacts! You drag your dog over the equipment on a leash, lure or drag them through the weaves and call it good. That was all there was to agility training!

We went to class once a week, but forget training at home! We were good to go. So, we entered our first trial. We WON jumpers! I was reinforced for knowing nothing. Standard, well, that was another matter. WE STUNK! No table, no contacts, no start line NO Q!  HMMMMMMM Perhaps it was just a fluke that we didn’t qualify. Sadly, it was not a fluke. We continued to suck and fail.

So, I sought other instruction and learned about training a 2on 2off. We just lured the dog into position a few times with string cheese and figured they had it down. It was the Hail Mary method of training contacts. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it didn’t. Hence began my search for the perfect instructor. I bounced from trainer to trainer to trainer. With each one I felt like I was missing a few huge puzzle pieces. I needed to know more about what I didn’t know!

So, I sought other instruction. My next instructor taught me how to use a clicker to shape the end contact behavior and that you HAVE TO PRACTICE! HOLY CRAP! PRACTICE? WTF? It was so easy before when I didn’t know what I didn’t know! That method worked for a while but then the whole thing went to hell in a hand basket and I realized there was MORE I didn’t know I didn’t know! GEESH! This was supposed to be a fun sport I did with my dog and now it was becoming a job!

So, I sought other instruction. Not much there.

So, I sought other instruction. Handling choices? WTF? Don’t you just run around and do whatever you have to do to get it done? Start line is important? Train it? WTF? I needed more answers that weren’t there. They told me to do these things but never took me through a progression that made sense to me and my dog.

So, I sought other instruction. THat was when a friend introduced me to Stacy Winkler. At our first lesson, Stacy talked and I listened. I was mesmerized! There was so much more I didn’t know I didn’t know, than I could ever have imagined! HOLY CRAP! Contacts and tables and start line stay OH MY! Contacts and tables and start line stays OH MY….

That was nearly ten years ago and I am STILL learning what I don’t know! Through Stacy I found Susan Garrett and Greg Derrett and continued learning what I didn’t know I didn’t know! I learned that training reliable contacts takes months and months and months, not a few lures with string cheese. I learned that it takes thousands and thousands of fun sits to create a fabulous sit stay and that making the table a fun place to be creates drive and love for the “boring” table. I learned that having a consistent handling system makes for more Qs and clear choices on course. I LOVE knowing exactly what to do when I walk a course! OK, so I don’t always exicute it correctly, but at least I know what I WANT to do.

After all these years, Stacy is still our instructor and we are so blessed to have her.

Now, however, training a dog from puppy to ring ready seems never ending. Gone are the times when I put a little squeeze cheese on the contacts or across a teeter and called it good. Gone are the days of the Hail Mary standard runs. Gone are the days of dragging or luring a dog through poles to teach reliable weaves. Gone are the days of only training in class. The more I know, the longer the training takes. At times, it seems overwhelming. I wonder if I will ever train everything I want to train. I wonder if my young dog will be 10 before she is really trained and ready to trial. At my current rate of learning what I don’t know, my next dog will be 15 before it is ring ready!

How much more don’t I know I don’t know? That question scares the crap out of me! I am now 62 and not sure how many more agility dogs I have left in me, especially if I continue to learn all the things I really don’t know!

Helen Grinnell King


  1. […] I wrote a couple of blogs about how agility was before I knew what I know now. One is titled When I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know and the other, more recent post, is Ignorance is Bliss.  […]

  2. […] About the ONLY time I am glad I didn’t know then what I know now, is when it comes to dog agility. If I had known everything I know now when I started agility, I might have given up before I was hooked! When I started in agility, I was as ignorant as ignorant can get! I actually wrote a blog about it a while back, I called, “When I didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know.” […]

  3. After about two months of beginning agility classes I had to leave on vacation to Thailand. In my naïveté I convinced my friend/dog sitter to take my dog to the classes that were scheduled during my absence. I thought my dog might get behind in his lessons. Lol! It never occurred to me that *I* was the one being trained more than my dog. Little did I know that 8 years later I would still be taking lessons and learning this sport!

  4. My favorite John Wooden quote: It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

  5. And thanks for sharing so much, helping the rest of us move down that path a little quicker!

  6. Trial OVER in Elma! Long 3 days, your names came up at dinner
    with the Robins, Judges, Lori Sage and Dan ?, Ringsteward, Deb
    and Husband…always in shorts…Bohnda, Carol W. and myself.
    Wish you were there to visit.
    Have a wonderful Holiday season
    Sandy + 3

  7. Fantastic blog Helen and so true!!!

  8. Hi Helen,

    Ain’t it the truth ! Seems like we’re always working on what we don’t know . . . about what we don’t know. . .

    Ron King

  9. I know the feeling! It seems that there’s more to teach with every puppy I get! My new boy Bullet who is now 8 months may be making his trial debut at 10 with you! Lol!

  10. When I didn’t know what I didn’t know with my first dog didn’t matter because she did everything I wanted her to do, a bit of a mind reader she was. Funny how the more we learn, the less we know over the years, especially when it comes to training our dogs.

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