I Don’t Get It . . .

Saturday, June 6, 2009

So I am looking over my registrations for the upcoming Novice camp this week and I don’t quite get it. Why do people trip over themselves to get into a masters camp (we have been full for some time for our July Masters camp) but do not want to make the investment in their novice dog? (as I write this we still have 3 spots open for camp this week).  I won’t give you another one of my foundation, foundation, foundation rants (ok I just did:)) but to me it is a head scratcher.

My “novice” dog Feature just debuted at her first “big event.” Her only fault was one knocked bar in her last class (4th to last obstacle). In the three classes where I didn’t have to hold her contacts; Jumpers1, Jumpers2 and Steeplechase Finals, no dog in any height class beat her time except Encore (but only by a few hundreds of a second). She didn’t just beat your run-of-the-mill-dogs’ times here either, as there were more than a half a dozen current and former Canadian and US World Team dogs in that group.

I am not writing this just to boast about how great my young dog is. My point is that this “novice” dog of mine has a career that is exactly four months old.  She just turned two this month and is already performing like a pro. She still has lots to learn, but the start has been an impressive one, even by my standards. 

Now here is the kicker. This is not the first time this has happened to me. Feature is actually my seventh agility dog I have owned throughout my lifetime and every single one of them have been great. Every single won of them has won National or World championships events or both. When I won my first US Nationals with “Stoni” back in 1996 people said it was  “fluke.” After more than a decade of winning with my dogs, doing it in every jump height (7 jump heights in all) I am going to go out on a limb and state I am pretty confident it is more than luck that is behind the success.

I know I can help those of you struggling with dogs making novice mistakes. Why is it then that  you wait until your dog is in Masters before you seek out help? By then a lot of bad habits have been set for you and your dog and change becomes more difficult. Life is so much easier if you start with a solid foundation of understanding in your novice dog.

This past January, Greg and Laura Derrett and I ran 2 camps in Florida. The first one was a novice-advanced level 3 day event. The 2nd was a 3 day masters. Guess what, the masters camp was full in a matter of days, the novice one never even approached half full. In the end, I had Greg and Laura teach the camp on their own and I changed my role to that of student where got to work Feature for the 3 days. It worked out awesome for me, that is for certain! It was amazing to get in 3 solid days of work with my “green” dog just before she was about to start her agility career.

This week marks the first summer in 5 years we have offered a novice camp here at Say Yes. I did it because I really believe it is where the focus should be, but now I realize why I stopped offering them in the past. So what gives? Do you want to come to a masters workshop because you think you may be missing out on some ninja secrets if you only do the Novice camp?  Honesty it would be more the opposite. We teach more concepts in a Novice camp and only work the finesse of those concepts at the Masters level.

So what’s up, how do I (we) motivate those of your with novice dogs or even masters dogs that are still struggling with fundamentals to sign up for a novice handling camp? It is so important but how do I convince all of you out there of it’s importance?

Today I am grateful for a weekend at home. The next three weeks are going to be a whirlwind for me but I promise all of you I will not forget you, the blog will be up and running.


  1. I’m glad you talked me into this camp. I’m just packing the van, and heading out from Wisconsin tomorrow!! Brio can’t wait!!

    • I couldn’t agree more about the importance of foundation!!!

      For me and my young aussie Storm, it’s all about time and money. We attended skills camp in December, double box in May and we’re heading up again in August for Foundation Handling. Just can’t afford Juy 😦

      If everything goes as planned there will be another mini schnauzer puppy next Spring and we’re going to do it right from the beginning…puppy camp, tweeners camp, skills camp, novice handling camp, etc.

  2. I would go to a novice camp over a masters camp any day. I believe that it is always better to prevent problems than to just wait for them to happen.

  3. I have had very frustrating expirences with novice seminars.They usually require dogs to be fimilar with all the equiptment but nothing else. So a lot of time is spent watching first time agility people try to work dogs with no stay,recall or focus.

    Several years ago I spent close to $500 for a jumping seminar. I had a master level dog and a novice but as I had not attended a prior seminar with the presenter I had to enter both dogs at the novice level. I kept an open mind,but I felt riped off afterwards.

    I have all your DVDs and Greg Derretts and use them in my training starting with Crate Games.

    Unfortunatly,when you and or Greg are in our area it is required that if we havent attended a previous seminar,we have to start in novice.

    I cant justify the expense.

    • Hey Jean, thanks for the input and I know how frustrating that can be. As an instructor we have gone to “time limits” when we think there is an imbalance with a group. That way if one student struggles with their start line, they only get 2 minutes out there and may not even finish the sequence in those 2 minutes while another one can repeat the sequence with a different twist to use up the same time.

      And please don’t hesitate to go to Foundation with Greg or I. Double box should not be equated to a “Novice Day”. I can’t tell you how many times I have worked my masters level dogs in Double box Day. When I taught in March in Vancouver I had a student up from Seattle that has worked with Greg and I for years and has been to the finals of many National Agility Championships yet one of the first thing she said to me is how much she just loves repeating double box day over and over.

  4. Does that come with a money back guarantee? VBG

    We do double boxes at least weekly. My biggest issue is getting over the fear of the bar biting me.
    I have fallen into a habit of giving my big labs more room then they need over the jumps.

    I film our practice sessions but it does help to have another pair of eyes to point out where we can do better.

    By the way, I have met you several times at USDAA Nationals and have appreciated your warm smile and friendliness.

  5. I would have loved to go to novice camp with Sydney (even though she didn’t quite have all the prerequisites), but my schedule just did not permit it! It is so hard to do handling stuff on your own, with no one to watch and comment. I hope you offer this camp again in the future.

    I think most novice people just starting out in the sport would not think of attending a training camp. My feeling is that most “campers” are at least moderately experienced agility people… who may not feel that they “need” a novice camp!

  6. OOPS! I forgot…

    I think you should start “selling” novice handling camp on the first day of puppy camp.

    In the same way that you educate about the progression from puppy to skills to grad skills, and how each camp builds on the other, you should start making a place for novice handling camps. This is a fairly recent addition to the camp roster, and people need to know about it BEFORE they need it.

    • Good point Claire, I really don’t talk about it much at the lower levels.

  7. Can you come to England again PLEASE! I missed it last time you were over here, didn’t know who this Susan Garrett person was ;o) I’ve read the books got the DVD and now it would be nice to see you in person! Or I’ll just have to watch you when england host the 2010 IFCS!!! Char

  8. I signed up for novice camp as soon as it was posted. Phoenix and I are so pumped to go – I was so grateful there was a camp I could take her to and catch some of my errors earlier rather than later.

    However, I do think camps can be intimidating for novices, especially when they’re with such a talented, successful trainer. A year ago I didn’t sign up for Skills camp because I didn’t think I had the focus and relationship I wanted with my dog and it would be too embarassing and frustrating. Last December I made the decision to suck it up and go even though I knew it would be a challenging camp. I think I just came to the realization that the best way to get myself to where I wanted to be was to put myself out there and get some help – it was the best thing I’ve done in my dog training journey.


  9. I agree with Claire completely. Sell the next step when the glory of the first step is fresh and shiny!

    We live down here in Florida and last year our girl wasn’t quite ready for your Novice class. I don’t know if we would have sprung for the cost at that time if she was ready for it.

    I DO know that now that we’ve taken your Puppy Camp with the new baby, there is NO QUESTION that we’d participate and love every minute of the priceless novice camp here in Florida next year for both dogs. Lilli may be in open by then, but we fully appreciate the value of foundation, foundation, foundation! The dogs are never too old to go back and learn, or relearn, something the “right way”.

    Please do the novice camp again down here next year. We’ll spread the word!!

    • Okay Andrea, be careful there, I may just take you up on that!

  10. Hi Susan,

    Enjoyed your blog this morning, however, it struck a sore spot with me!!! Very recently I began searching for a camp in FL to take my young dog to this winter. For the life of me can’t find anything for “young” dogs! Seems most want dogs at the Excellent Level, or one in particular advertised for “High drive” handlers looking to shave seconds off their runs. Well, neither me or Roller (1 1/2 yr old bc), fit those criteria. Roller is just beginning to sequence, and I (the handler) am not looking to shave seconds off my run, I’m looking for someone to help me NOT look like a boob trying to get around a course (I’ll worry about the seconds later)!!!!

    But seriously, good point on your blog. If I were a bit closer to Canada, I’d be at ALL your foundation stuff in a heart beat! Maybe I’ll see you in FL this winter.

    Donna Rock and Roller

    • Hey Donna, good to hear from you, would love to see you at camp in Florida and see how Mr. Roller turned out. For yours and Andrea’s information, I am planning on doing a smaller novice camp in Florida in early February.

      • Mr. Roller is turning out pretty nice. Our biggest challenge is figuring out the mechanics of ME using a toy for agility. Spitting a treat at him is sure alot easier than running with a toy, throwing a toy, or tuggung with a toy….however, he’s a bc so any of the above with a toy is far more motivating for him than a treat!

        It’s a work in progress, but I’m pleased so far.

        I’ll reserve February on my calendar and watch your website for details.


      • Hey Donna he looks awesome! You have done a great job, but I had no doubt. I have a suggestion for you for reward though. It is pretty important that we have our dogs driving to reinforcement zone (which I consider right beside your hip–whatever side your dog is on). I would like to see you do this; wrap yourself up in a nylon belt around your waist (I think I velcro closure would work for you but you likely know more about the mechanics of that than me!). You may even have a special belt made with a toy dangling from each hip. You would need to do some ground work first so that he only can drive to reward when you give him a verbal cue (ideally paired with a physical one). You train with this belt say 70% of the time so his performance isn’t dependent upon it. I would also like you to have toys on the ground that he has to ignore them all unless you tell him to get it! It basically is an extension of the ItsYerChoice we did at puppy camp. When you wanted to reward him–if he was driving away he could just drive to a toy you planted (one of many so he learns to ignore them all until you tell him he can have a specific one) and if you want to reward a tight turn or close work tell him to “get it” on your hip. You should also have a physical cue with a leg action or something to tell him it is ok to grab the tug on your waist. Then all you would need to do is brace yourself so he could tug on you (the toy attached to the belt attached to you). Sound doable??

      • Susan, thanks for the advice and taking the time to watch the video. Your suggestion is doable. In fact a variation has been in the back of my mind for several months now and I’ve actually taught him to tug on a leash made of fleecy material wrapped around my waist. I just hadn’t done the ground work yet nor implemented it into actual agility. I am fortunate in that he’ll play with anything, so whatever I have or whatever I’m wearing, he wants.

        Your advice gives me some direction which I was lacking….I’ll get started on the ground work….by Feb we’ll be ready for your camp!


      • Glad I could help. You are a true inspiration Donna (plus your front cross timing is PERFECT!!!).

  11. I think some people may be embarrassed by their young dog’s lack of training. Participating in puppy foundation carries with it fewer expectations. I would hope people who have been to one or more of your foundation or puppy seminars would sign up for Novice. Sell it there and they will come!

    In two weeks I will be participating and auditing all the puppy/foundation stuff with you in Washington. To have you critique what I am doing with my 2 yr old and to hear again your wealth of information is an opportunity I cannot miss.

    Come to the West Coast next year, offer a Novice class and double box (which I’m missing) and I know two people who will sign up with me!

    • Yes Sydney I think lack of confidence and not wanting to screw up in public may have something to do with it. When you get over that, you realize you don’t stop screwing up in public when you cease to be a novice it can happen to the best of us!

  12. Hi Susan,
    If you move to Denmark I’ll attend each and every one of your novice camps :o)
    Or if I win the lottery tonight (or meet a canadian billionaire who will fly me in) I’ll of course come to you next week.
    xoxo Emily

    • I’ll cross my fingers for you Emily and maybe see you next week!

  13. One more comment…

    Perhaps a name change is something to consider. “Novice” is not a word that applies to many of us in the sport for any length of time. it is also a word that has a slightly negative connotation.

    I know that the term novice is used to refer to the dogs’ skill level, but I think you would see more interest if you called a novice handling camp something like “Basic Handling- beginning with brilliance”, or “Handling Foundation Skills Camp”. Less emphasis on the novice aspect, more emphasis on the starting out right aspect.

  14. Claire brings up a good point about the name — that’s what I was thinking. “Baby Dog” or “Green Dog” camp, perhaps? Put the focus/emphasis of the name squarely on the -dog-, not the -handler- (even though the handlers will probably be doing just as much learning!)

    I personally would love a workshop in my area (by just about any good, solid trainer!) for getting young dogs either ready for competition or for ‘ironing out’ little problems. Basically, for becoming more of a team, like a ‘Mileage Camp’. Moderate-length sequences (8-10 obstacles), definitely involving the contacts and weaves so it would almost double as a ‘proofing party’ for those things as well as start-line stays. Just a thought…

    • Hey Cat, yes Claire is always the voice of reason. I think she may be bang on there with the name. But I think you may have coined the winner. Who wouldn’t come to a camp called “Becoming A Team”

  15. Funny that you posted this… I saw that the Novice camp wasn’t filled and was hoping it wouldn’t mean that you would stop offering it in the future!

    I agree with Claire, I think it’s a great idea to promote it as a follow up to the Puppy, Skills, and Graduate camp series. I do hope there will be more Novice handling camps in the future! (I was one of the FL Advanced campers and was so sad to find out that you weren’t teaching!)

  16. Weekends – simply put, work is busy and taking the time off during the week is difficult to impossible. I love Novice work. I have a soft dog – to me – but to you, probably she would be a lot more drivey – and love foundation, basics, skills. I think people tend to move too fast too quickly. I have an agility champion but do I have good weaves, do I have good contacts, nope. So Novice would do me and my dog a ton of good. I will keep watching for that possible weekend seminar. Who knows, I may get lucky.

  17. Hi all,
    I am a novice agility handler, my dog is a novice agility dog, and I find absolutely nothing negative about being that and see no reason why there should be a negative connotation ! 🙂
    This is a sport I just love, and and am thrilled to be having a total blast with my dog.
    In fact, because I am a novice, and don’t have allot of crappy behaviors learned and ingrained, from other trainers, I get to start out fresh, learning from the very best !!! 🙂 🙂 If there were a novice camp offered here in washington, I would be there in the front row every day !!
    Believe me, when My dog Stella says “Lets go to a Susan Garrett seminar and make a fool out of you ‘, I grin largely and just ” SAY YeS ” !!!!!

  18. I looked at your website about the upcoming Soon-to-be-named-something-other-than-Novice Camp, and it says it requires Double Box as a prerequisite. Will you be doing double box down in FL before the seminar for us newbees?

    • Yes Andrea, I will be doing a double box first.

  19. Hi Susan

    Work restraints are a major factor in camp and seminar participation;June-August considered primetime. Only guarranteed request of 2 weeks submitted prior to Feb 15th. Weekends no better…have to work at least one a month.

    Should you offer an evening format (say 4-9 pm over 2-3 days) I would be there.
    And a Novice camp is just what I need. I also have difficulty meeting all the prerequisites, but believe I’ve had enough exposure to fit in.

    Good news…only 1 year to retirement.
    Bad news….fixed income. LOL

    Deb h

  20. I agree part of the problem is confusion over the name. We went to puppy camp in Dec. I am confused about what comes next. After reading the info on the novice camp I knew that was not it. Another problem is the pre-req of having to do double box work with you. Is there anyway we could do double box work from one of the instructors at Say Yes and get a “pass” ? It would give us more classes to fit into our schedules.

  21. I hope you don’t stop offering Novice camps…we just aren’t ready now..or I would be there( Gee… February in Florida sounds like a nice break from ath Chicago winter). I think so many people in this area don’t value foundation and “novice” work.

  22. Donna, I just watched you and Roller on video and you’ve blown me over!
    ..Thanks a lot, I appreciated all of the material about the reinforcement zone…

  23. Well funny you should bring this up right now Susan. At my outreach session on the island this weekend I was told a “former” participant was glad she didn’t come to the last “Novice” session we did out there because she heard all we did was Crate Games!!!LOL!!!I just had to laugh, these people have NO idea just what you can do for your foundation training with your NOVICE dog with a crate! And this person who made the comment is an instructor who charges money for her vast “knowledge”.

    I think your foundation handling seminars will change some of how people look at your NOVICE camps now, I know all of my students want MORE of the foundation stuff from you when you come back in 2010! We are having a blast with the games you showed us in March and hope to be able to do Level 2 when you come back.

    I have gone back and started doing the crate games from that seminar with Bounce ( Masters dog with some gaps in foundation work)and it has really helped but the puppies are better at it than her!!!

    As for Florida in Feb, I have been trying to convince Rob that a holiday in Florida with dogs would be just as much fun as Mexico without….not sure he’s buying it tho. So just have to make sure there is time next year when you are here to do more foundation stuff.

    I have always been lucky in that when I get a new puppy it is always followed closely by a puppy or novice type seminar with you.I am always grateful it worked out that way. My 11.5 year old dog took her first “seminar” with you when she was 10 months old, she just went on to win her division for the 7th time at our Regionals this year. Must be a fluke tho:o)

    Another thought, do a Novice camp followed directly by a Masters camp, maybe a day between for you to recoup :o) and offer a discount if people are doing both camps,then maybe all those die hard Masters people will be more likely to bring their puppy out too and do both camps. I would LOVE that personally cause I love the Novice and the Skills and Graduate Skills camps the most, I do Masters cause I know I should:o)

    So please don’t give up on us out West, we are working hard on the stuff you gave us so we can do more novice stuff.

    and all the Outreach participants doing massive amounts of CRATE GAMES(and nothing else of course:o))No we don’t do grid work or contact work or 2×2’s or shadow handling or anything else, just crate games…..

  24. As soon as the Novice Camp was posted I signed Elle and me up! I know we need all the help as a novice team we can get. Even when we attended Double Box Day with much more advanced handlers and dogs, we still learned an amazing amount and were inspired by what we can aspire to. However, I am so looking forward to a camp where I can work with other teams at a similar level of experience.

  25. I am baffled by the lack of uptake on Novice camp. If you were delivering it in Nova Scotia, I’d be first in line to sign up, no matter what level my dog was trialling at. I absolutely subscribe to your philosophy that “it’s the little things stupid”. (I may be paraphrasing somewhat )

    I do agree with the folks that have mentioned the terminology/semantics gap. The term novice is somewhat ambiguous. Calling it skills, foundation, handling, or something more specific to the content *might* affect the uptake. Not to say Novice has any ‘negative’ connotation. It is what it is, but it’s not expressly flattering like “masters”.

    Just my 2 cents for free,

    You coming to NS or me scraping the bucks together to get to Ontario … I’m inspired to get organized.

  26. Don’t stop having novice camps now, Susan!!! Rival and I are eager for camp next year!!!! We are so jealous of Jan and Brio getting to start camp tomorrow! Have a blast!

  27. Novice camp feedback… For someone new to agility with their Novice A dog, going to a novice camp would be invaluable, but most don’t, because they either don’t hear about it, or don’t realize how valuable it will be for their future career. As someone who is addicted to the sport and on my second dog, I went to a novice level seminar and spent the day being frustrated because other participants had no stay, no contacts, no handling skills at all, and ended up getting much more instruction time. As someone who had trained these skills, I ran and sat down and watched other participants use the majority of the seminar time. The next time around, when a seminar presenter came to town, I entered my dog in the masters level day rather than the novice day. Even though my dog and I were not competing at the “master’s” level at that point.

    I’m glad to hear that you put a time limit on exercises so that someone cannot suck time with their lack of a stay. But honestly in the future, unless I know the seminar presenter will give equal time to every dog regardless of success or failure on the given exercise, then I’m probably going to sign up for “master’s” level stuff, so that I have a better shot at equal instruction time. Why should I pay the same amount as someone who sucks twice the time.

    I love the idea of marketing the novice camp as a ‘baby dog’ camp.

  28. When I found out you were hosting a seminar block in Washington this summer, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to come see you and learn more. Since it is 1700 miles to Seattle, it would be a pretty long drive (do-able, but long). With flying I could only take 1 dog, so it was tough choice to make between my puppy and my up and coming Excellent dog. Reading your blog entry, I’m glad I decided to do Puppy Day with my baby dog. I agree that a great foundation will lead to a great agility partner and I want this pup to get the best possible, so I’m coming to you to help me.

  29. Timing Timing Timing
    got the time now but pups not ready for handling
    need a skills but there just doesn’t seem to be one
    when I am also free. sigh seems to be the story of my life. But we take the good with the bad – trying to fly up for your one day seminar just need to work out the details

  30. My goal is to attend Novice Camp – one day. My dog is reactive towards other dogs so I am committing myself and setting small goals for us as a team. My “reward” will be to attend Novice Camp with a happy, and confident working dog, who I think has amazing potential. Waiting is the greatest gift I can give my dog, instead of rushing in and ending up in tears, with a very frustrated dog who can’t cope in a busy environment. It won’t make it fun for anyone else, either.

  31. Susan-

    I would also love to attend a novice camp, however I see the pre-requisites and I am unsure if my dog will meet these….

    Also for me to travel to CA a two day seminar would be more budget conscious for me…maybe a novice camp and foundation handling camp making a two day seminar or something similar…or a crate games and novice…something like this.

    For me it is the worry that I have not completed all pre-reqs before the camp my dogs and I would fit with.

    For instance: I would have loved attending the double-box seminar and/or the foundation jumping seminar but again they asked that the participant have experience working with the specific trainer (i.e. box work previously with Greg, you or Laura and foundation jumping with Susan Salo). I was really bummed about the foundation jumping; it really would have benefited me and my youngest boy…and you were the closest place for us to attend a Susan Salo seminar.

    Please consider this seminar again for first timers.


  32. I totally agree that your camps are worth the money. The foundation work offered at your puppy camp is an invaluable asset.

    My young dog Lickity Split (2 yrs. and a couple of months) was 11th by a whisker in the very competitive 22″ Regulars at Ontario Regionals. But for a few pilot errors, she would have easily been in the top 10. Her only fault was a rail down in the first main gamble…indecisive handling on my part. It was a very positive experience for a dog that has been to very few trials in her life.

    Anyway, I am fortunate that my trainer has spent many years going to your camps and continues to go every year without fail…she continues to expand her knowlege and always comes away with one or two fresh ideas to challenge her students.

    I am now entering my 4th year in Agility and I attribute any success I may have had to this point to an intelligent instructor, your camps and of course a great handling system.

    For those that find it difficult to part with that kind of money, give up a few trials!! The investment in the camps will be well worth it! The other option would be to audit…even for a day! That’s what I am going to do this year and am really looking forward to watching and learning from some of the best!!


  33. Hi,

    Oh. how I wish I lived in the USA instead of England. I have read all Susan’s books and got several of her DVD’s.

    I don’t do agility, I do working trials quite successfully. (3 champions) I took in a border collie rescue at 7 months old and inspired by Susan decided to clicker train him. Initially it was wonderful. He learned the basics of every exercise so quickly and easily, however developing the exercises and his drive, concentration and intensity is proving difficult. He is now 10 months old. Although he is a high active dog his drive appears to be a bit superficial and lacking in concentration and intensity. I’m sure its me failing to get it right but any help would be very greatly appreciated if anyone has the time.

    I also teach working trials training and endeavour to persuade all my clients to purchase at least two of Susans books. Ruff Love & Shaping success.

    Thanks for listening. Margaret

  34. I hovered over the computer waiting for the Novice Camp to posted. It is so hard finding these all important foundation sessions and I was thrilled when I saw you were going to have one. I learned the hard way, limiting my very talented dog because of my poor understanding of proper handling and training. I’m trying to get it right with my young dog. I think that’s the key. You have to have realized your errors in training a first or second dog, see the importance of foundation work and be willing to change.
    Can’t wait to get to camp!

  35. I’m kind of used to feeling like a loser so nervousness would not keep me away.

    In my area most of the seminars (including yours!) are on weekdays, which means either (1) independently wealthy (2) rich S.O. or (3) vacation day. There are only so many vacation days available. There is also only so much money available. Both are rationed.

    Mini-camps with 1/2 day focus groups held on the weekend. Just saying.

    I actually like that agility folks don’t do the foundation work. I come from obedience, and with our nice stays and recalls, I can lead out 4 obstacles in the Novice ring. I kick their you-know-whats every time. I like that.

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