The idea that talented handlers get their skill by following their “natural instincts” is baloney. This is good news for all of us – there is no “natural instinct” for dog agility. ALL improvement is about absorbing and applying new information, and the best source of information is top performers. So steal it. Again, this is from The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle.
Coyle points out that stealing has a long tradition in a variety of pursuits; art, sports, and design, and that we often soften the idea that things have been stolen by saying that our own work has been “influenced” by the work of others. Pablo Picasso has been quoted as saying “Good artists borrow – Great artists steal.”
When looking at talent hotbeds, Coyle found this again and again. The director of a music talent hotbed even told him “…you gotta steal like crazy. Look at every single performer better than you and see what they’ve got that you can use. Then make it your own.” He also found some interesting trends with regard to talent, and suspects that these trends allow for more opportunity for theft, and therefore greater opportunity to develop talent.
On his website, Coyle asks us to consider what he calls the Michael Jackson Law. This is the rule that the most talented performer in a family musical group will be among the youngest children. Consider:
- The most talented Bee-Gee? Andy, the youngest.
- The most talented Jonas brother? Nick, the youngest.
- The most talented Hanson brother? Zac, the youngest.
- The most talented Andrews Sister? Patty, the youngest.
Mozart and Bach were also the babies of their families.
Coyle suggests that in addition to having more material to watch and to imprint on their minds in the form of their older siblings, the younger siblings have more material to steal, test out, and make their own. In fact, Coyle suggests that one of the talents that great performers all seem to share is their ability to steal. He says “Most top performers tend to be incorrigible thieves, relentlessly on the prowl for new ideas, methods, and techniques. You might even say that stealing is their greatest talent.”
When you steal, focus on specifics, rather than general impressions.
Capture concrete facts: the location of a handler relative to her dog on course during a specific handling move. Or, the particular angle of a handler’s arm as she’s rotating toward her dog to cue collection. Or perhaps the angle of a handler’s legs and the positioning of her feet as she executes a front cross. In each case, ask yourself:
- What, exactly, are the critical moves here?
- How does this top performer perform those moves differently than I do?
I’ve already put forth that you should watch the performances of top performers intently, and regularly, to imprint those performances on your mind, as well as to inspire you to dig deeper with your training and practice. And, the first tip of the year was to put together a notebook, so that you could keep track of your performances, and plan for the future. Here are some more ideas for effective thievery:
- Try to steal one good idea every day and write it in your notebook. Keep track of which ideas work for you, and which ones don’t.
- Don’t limit your thievery to agility. Look for top performers in other dog sports and be prepared to steal their good ideas as well. Look to a top rally obedience performer for ideas to improve your agility footwork. Look to a top obedience performer for ideas to improve your training for sit stays, go-outs, and recalls. Look to a top herding performer for ideas on how to train your dog to respond to verbal directionals at a distance.
- ASK. Most top performers are happy to talk about their training and handling methods and techniques. If you’re in a position to ask some questions, ask them!
Now, I’m not advocating stealing another instructor’s lesson plans and reteaching them for yourself, wholesale. There are definitely some considerations, and there’s a line that we should all be careful about crossing. It’s one thing to steal ideas to improve our own performances, but it’s another thing entirely to steal ideas, market them as our own without attributing credit to who we stole those ideas from, and profit off of them.
The point is, it’s okay to copy top performers, and it’s okay to do what they’re doing to improve your own training and handling. There’s no shame in being honest about not having come up with something for yourself. If somebody asks me where I learned a particular move, or where I got some particular information, I’m going to tell them.
It doesn’t matter to me whether or not I was the originator of an idea – if it helps my performances or my dog’s understanding of the tasks I’m asking them to do, I’m going to take that idea, and incorporate it. And, if I really understand all the parts of that idea and why it works the way it does, I can then tweak it to fit my own physical and mental abilities, and those of my dog, and really make it my own!