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The Less Obvious Lesson

Posted on 10/08/10 99 Comments

My first run at the World Championships was going to teach or shall I say re-teach me a very important lesson and that was; read the course maps carefully and read the numbers as you do your walk through.  I was running on team. Canada was the second team in the ring so I in fact was the fourth and sixth dogs in the event.

Canada's Large Dog Team; Fizz, Feature, Encore & Tanafon

My plan was to watch the “white” dog then not watch the team immediately before us — but get in the “zone” for my own runs. The white dog is a local dog that runs the course so the crowd can see where the course goes, the judge can review her handling path and theoretically,  that those competitors that have an early draw can watch at least one dog run so they can “see” the course before they must run it.

Two problems with that is 1) there is no break between the white dog and the first dog. So if you are the first dog you either give up your final mental prep to watch the white dog or you step into the ring cold turkey.  The next problem in Germany was that the holding area was a long way from the course and you couldn’t see well over all of the people. I considered running up the stairs to watch the white dog but the stairs were blocked with people just getting to their seats in the stands. So I decided to run my dogs without watching any other dogs run.

As it turned out both the white dog and the first Finnish dogs went off course so it may not have helped me to watch.

I stepped to the line running Encore first.  My plan was clear in my mind and I had one question of a serp or a front cross which I would answer as the opening of the course rolled. I ran a great course, exactly as I had envisioned.  The only problem was it was the wrong course. My questions of my 5-6-7 serp should have been no question as I had walked 6 as the wrong jump over and over both on the course and in my mental prep.  To make matters worse I also walked and mentally prepped for the wrong side of obstacle 9. Therefore I ran Encore with two off courses but no one mentioned the second off course to me as they thought I did it on purpose.

But wait, it gets worse. Even though I knew there was an error 5-6-7 (imagine my surprise when the judge blows his whistle and I can’t figure out why while I am running) I still had no idea that I was planning at obstacle 9 was also incorrectly.

I have no time to watch my team mate Big A (who uncharacteristically also went off course — I think he subconsciously did it  to make me feel better:)) so when I stepped into the ring with Feature I still had no idea that I had run obstacle number 9 incorrectly.

Imagine running at the world championships, with a really fast dog and having to read numbers. That is exactly what I had to do with Feature for obstacles 5-6-7. I hadn’t walked it, I hadn’t visualized it and for someone with a learning disability like mine that can create difficulties. I thought I did pretty while sending Feature to 6 and then holding her on a threadle arm and 7 until I could look to see what side of the obstacle the number  7 sat was on.

Now I hit obstacle 10, hear a groan from the crowd and once again a judges whistle and I am thinking, “is this a joke– why is she blowing that damn whistle again?” I had no clue why I had earned another disqualification.

Having discussions with my manager later she said “wow, that is certainly was not like you is it?” I had to be honest and say that yes actually it wasn’t unlike me. If I had to guess I would say I read course maps incorrectly and walk wrong courses about 10-20% of the time. Rarely does anyone know and rarely does it cost me anything. Although, this isn’t even the first time I have done it at a really big event. It cost me a national championship once. You would think I would have learned my lesson before!  Apparently not.

I actually even see the number on the wrong side of the jump when I review a course map. It rarely is a problem because one of my greatest strengths as a competitor is my ability to visualize. I catch my error once I see my fellow competitors run the course.  I then figure out what is the correct course then I go off and visualize it and when I run know one would know the difference because my visualizations are so real to me. The problem becomes glaring anytime I have to run early in a running order because I don’t get to see another competitor do things correctly.

So after that run it was decided that when the course maps came out I had to point to each obstacle and verbally tell someone what my plans were for handling. I thought it a bit overkill and perhaps a little demeaning but I didn’t complain. I figured I had no right to after what I had cost the Canadian team. The funny part came during the very next course. It was team standard. I get my map and Lynda was going to be my course checker. I am going over the course and I am finger pointing to each obstacle and telling Lynda my plan. When I announce obstacles 13-14 as a 180 Lynda freaks on me like Shrek hollering and Donkey “No Susan No!” It made me smile. She was so upset. It was a good that Lynda caught my error as 13-14 required a pull through the gap not a 180 handling that I saw when I looked at the paper.

Next funny thing was as I went over the course before it was open for walk through, whoever numbered it also put the number 14 on the wrong side of the jump. Luckily the judge caught it as he was wheeling the course.  It made me smile.

Many people walk wrong courses, it is often a rookie mistake or sometimes something nerves cause. I am pretty sure neither applied to me. With the other people I have talked to that have a similar problem it looks to me like it might be a touch of A.D.D. (ooh look something shiny:)).  Just making assumptions and rather than having your brain actually register what is really there. I really do see the number on the wrong side of the jump when I read the map.

Here is the is the video and walk you though what I am thinking throughout the runs.

So you may think that the lesson I learned was I need to pay better attention and yes you would be correct however, for me, there was a less obvious-but equally important lesson to be learned.

Imagine being Susan Garrett, someone that many people recognize at least by name from your books and DVDs. Thousands of people in the arena are watching and likely tens of thousands more are watch via live stream with great expectations for your run. Now imagine making a seriously novice mistake in front of all of those eyes not just with one dog but with two.

How do you respond. Do you cry? Do you hide from embarrassment? Do you need to walk somewhere for a few hours to be alone? Do you want to quit and not run any more of your runs at the world championships? Do you question why me> Why did this happen to me and why here at this big event? What do you do? Are you devastated? Knowing you must run team standard in less 7 hours or so, how do you recover?  Does this event create extra pressure for you for the rest of your runs at the World Championships?

I will leave you with all of those questions. Let me know what you think you would do in the same situation and next week I will write and tell you what I did.

Today I am grateful for understanding teammates, who I am sure where disappointed at my errors but where 100% supportive of me all weekend.


  1. Nat says:
    Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 6:36pm

    I also have a really hard time getting past my mistakes; I’m a terrible over-reactor! Thanks for sharing Susan!



  2. June Swan says:
    Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 1:01pm


    Have a young dog who has just started competing June this year who I have trained using your training methods and Susan Salo grid work. Needless to say I have been “gob smacked” (Scottish saying)

    Do you plan any visits to the UK?
    Do you do online training?

    Appreciate you are a very busy woman but would be great if I got a response to this e mail (First time I have ever been involved in any shape or form in a blog)

    Re your blimp on the courses – You did win – Your dogs ran their heart out for you – nothing can beat that. Take care


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 2:56pm

      @June, glad to hear about your successes and being that I live with a Brit, I get the “gob smacked”. I will be in the UK in May for the World Agility Open in North Somerset — there is a possibility of me doing a 2 day workshop at that time but nothing is finalized at this time. I do have on line classes, I am hoping the next one will be launched in December of this year. If you are a member of my newsletter you will receive information on all of the above (if you are not a member there is a sign up form both on my website and on this blog).


  3. Aloha Girlie says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 9:57pm

    Aloha Susan,
    When I first started doing obedience someone once said to me “dog training is a humbling sport”. Yes I have known this for more times than I would like to remember. It happens to the best of us. Chin up, I’m so thankful to know you. You are such an inspiration to all of us I’m sure there is a good reason for this to happen to you and we are fortunate to learn what good has come of it. Personally, in my mind you can do no wrong. As I see it, the judge had the course set up all wrong and you just made it better! Ha Ha! I look to you for strength and guidance. Miss you soooo much in Mililani!


  4. Jozie says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 3:17pm

    I was at an obedience trial this last weekend and was so nervous my poor dog got worried so instead of sitting at the halts she stood in heal position and looked at me, it cost me two points each time. I was so dissapointed I wanted to cry and then I looked down at my poor worried little pup and remembered that this is what we do for fun! so for the next two days we went in and had fun and took high in class both days and had fun doing it! when you work with dogs and do dog sports you always need to remember it is a team effort, you and your dog are a team! and this is what we do for fun. So go out and have a good time with your dog!


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 12:02am

      @Jozie that is awesome news! Fun=first in class. Way-to-go!


  5. Angela says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 2:00pm

    Thanks for sharing Susan, i would feel guilty for letting my dog down and my teammates, i would have a hard time moving forward…so i look forward to hearing how you get past that kind of guilt.


  6. Joyce Anderson says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 12:04pm

    Susan, I have learned so much from you–I only wish I had your energy, your patience and your attention to detail plus your ability to break things down to the smallest detail in order to insure success. The fact that you can make that kind of mistake at such an important event is somewhat reassuring to those of us who have fallen apart with confusion when that whistle sounds and you don’t have a clue as to why!
    Being you, I’m sure you sucked it up and went on to do the best you could with what you had. I know you felt really guilty and mentally beat yourself up for letting your teammates down. That’s what I would have felt the worst about. But you would feel (and I hope I would too) that you would be letting them down even more if you let it ruin you for the event. You would also be letting your dogs down–and that would be the most important consideration for me–as I’m sure it was for you. I look forward to hearing how you succeeded.


  7. Tara Worron says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 11:42am

    “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional” … One of my favourite quotes. How we react to a situation is important. You learn and move on …
    Thanks for sharing!


  8. Snap Dragon says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 11:27am


    I have learned as an Oncology Nurse taking care of very sick patients… it was those times when I thought nothing could go wrong, went wrong; I grew more humble. It kept me from getting haughty and prideful. Dogs, like patients, take one day at a time, one focus at a time, and enjoy each and every moment, learning and loving. You are a great teacher. What makes you great is you learn from your mistakes with humility and, in turn, it makes you appreciate life more, and consequently, your friends stand by you faithfully…


  9. Valerie says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 11:17am

    Thank you so much for sharing such an experience. I struggle and have for years, on a course because I also see the numbers and therefore the course differently. Whenever I mess my dog up I try to focus on things that went well,usually there is something, and the smile on his doggy face after the run. It is after all the partnership with our dogs that is important.


  10. Diane Spalding says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 11:17am

    I watched the run and as you were running, I thought “wasn’t that a wrong course” but no-one said anything and I thought I was wrong……..I was SO impressed with the team work.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am one who had the most wonderful partner, but he was a bar dropper. Even though it dissapointed me……he didn’t know it (structure was his problem) I wouldn’t have swapped him for the world.
    I took lessons,camps, seminars. worked on my handling and eventually, we had many clean runs.
    I think you probably went back with your dogs and “talked” with them about the next courses, promised more diligence in your walks and went out there and showed us the CHAMPION that you are…….


  11. Alyce Landry says:
    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 11:02am

    When you attempt big things you make big mistakes. Succesful people are those who can learn from and work through the mistake. That would be you.


  12. Christine says:
    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 2:14pm

    I have had this many times doing all sorts of exams. The last one two weeks ago and I had the only chance to do this with my dog after over 4 years of training as it is very rare that it can be done where I train for. I started out making a stupid mistake and I also had to look after my team. So outside I did my best to feel for my collegues and help them be there for them and comfort them. At night when we had time to rest I was thinking and feeling and asking most of the questions you posted. But I also thought of the chapter in a book I am reading “The last lekture” where he writes that they got through the difficult birth of their first child because they didnot ask why us and why now,but just tried to exhale and continue as best as possible. After letting my thoughts run around,I just did this and from then on it went as usually.

    The great ones you see when they are down and not when they are on top.
    Thanks for sharing


  13. Barb Stanek says:
    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 12:24pm

    Oh can I relate to what happened. And when you have a learning disability, and I do too, misreading and then misrunning a course are always out there. When I first started agility, I was a novice runner with a novice dog — and I had a heck of a time learning and running courses.

    Fortunately, my brain adapted. Like you, Susan, I still can run the wrong course because I see the wrong course and don’t know it’s wrong until too late. But with practice, my wrong runs are fewer and farther between.

    In the end, I put an MXJ and AX on that first dog before arthritis caught up with him. And he and I loved every minute of playing the games together.


  14. Nelci says:
    Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 1:42pm

    Hi Susan,

    Too bad this happened but I always say, there is always another competition and certainly another World Championship to try for next year, or the year after… “What does not kill us makes us stronger”, right?



  15. weaver says:
    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 12:01pm

    Robert – thanks for your pointers.

    I also have trouble, including obstacle discrimination areas (i.e., tunnel under A-Frame and tunnel has the cone, but I’ll walk the course like the cone applies to the A-Frame). It’s helped me to locate a seasoned competitor, who is walking the course, and follow his/her walk about and look at the cone numbers while following. Then I continue my walk abouts on my own, incorporating the handling moves that will work for my team.

    I recall one day, somehow, I even pulled forth a course map for about a month prior and studied it vigorously — very surprised when it was time to walk it –then felt pressure for erasing what I planted in my brain when studying the wrong map! Don’t know how that course map was mixed in with that day’s map .

    Maybe we need a Course Map Anonymous group.


  16. Robert Hammer says:
    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 10:48am

    Wow, I thought I was the only one that was “broken”. I have had this exact same problem lately. I will always hold my head up after a mistake like this as my dog performed perfectly, I’m the one that didn’t. How to fix it? In the future I plan to calm down and walk the course at least once pointing to each and every number as I go. Hopefully this will help bring my map reading mistakes to light.
    Thanks for sharing this with us Susan, I feel like I belong again.


  17. Julie Davies says:
    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 8:51am

    Hi Susan,
    Your honesty very much appreciated. As I remember my instructor, Ann Braue,telling us to ask ourselves: “how is this competition going to change your everyday life and what is important to you?” Of course you wish it had gone better. But life’s lessons are not always what we expect or even want them to be. I hope my words (Ann’s philosophy) help you in some way. Thank you for sharing.


  18. Terri Schmidt (CA) says:
    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 3:21am

    Oh, Susan. My heart skipped a beat as I read your blog! As a performer myself, (in music, not in agility) I understand the feeling when that little Angel of Humility visists and you scratch your head wondering, “Huh???” In my own experience, my greatest disappointment lies in feeling that I have let someone else down, someone who was counting on me to be better than I was at a particular moment… for who I am or what I represent. I’m sure I am my own worst critic, and I sense that you share that quality.

    The very fact that you were there at World with the rest of your team speaks for itself. The way your team supported you speaks of their high regard for you, as well. You and your dogs were so prepared and so psyched for the moment. How can the errors not affect one’s thoughts or emotions?

    Like so many who have written before this post, I thank you for candidly sharing your experience with us. I have no doubt that you continued on in the competition to serve your team and honor your amazing dogs. If it were me, it would be, “the show must go on” and I would have to do my best to focus on the moment at hand, as hard as that may be. There is always time to evaluate and even grieve later on. But, as you know, every experience gives us the opportunity to grow. Thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your life experience.

    It is hard to express how much your teaching, professionalism and your personal integrity have inspired me. I thank you! (And my dogs thank you,too!)


  19. Lynne says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 10:53pm

    Yes Susan, it was a confluence of errors, but a mere blot on your landscape of successes. You handled it with aplomb and came back in the next classes on top, your mental management not failing you. My only question in all this is, WHERE was your team coach while you were walking the first course? It should have been caught that you were walking it wrong WHILE you were walking it, not running it.
    I’m just saying…..


  20. Cathi says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 10:41pm

    “We are spiritual beings having human experiences.”

    …it happens to all of us. You just happen to be on a bigger ‘stage’ than most. It doesn’t mean that those on smaller stages don’t have the same experiences. It’s just that most are unware of what happened on a smaller stage. What counts is how you handle the situation (first class 🙂 ) and that you move on. In the end, people have more respect for someone who’s done somethin we’ve all done, and learns from it.
    You are an amazing, gifted dog trainer, and we have the highest regard for all you do.



  21. AlisonM says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 6:44pm

    You could join WCA (Wrong Coursers Anonymous)! LOL

    Seriously though, you can’t undo what’s done, just learn from it and focus on what’s ahead. I’m sure you’re going to be more determined than ever for the rest of the week and will kick some serious butt! Good luck!


  22. Sydney says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 5:25pm

    Love the positional cue so close to the broad! Watching the girl’s ears I can see them lock onto the line of jumps when your hand goes up.

    I don’t know what I would have done in your position. I do know with your example you have inspired us to handle our mistakes much better and to be forgiving of others. The love and support you received, not only from your team mates but your on line students and friends, tells it all. Good luck this week!


  23. hornblower says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 4:53pm

    Course maps are here:
    single click the arrow to the right of FCI2010 & then the Course Maps & you’ll see all of them avail for download.

    They’re simple graphic files – I think any computer will display them with no problems.

    Susan – thanks for sharing your experience. I look forward to hearing what you did. I’m not mature so I probably would have had a terrible temper tantrum. Or burst into tears. Or both 🙂


  24. Dief says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 4:10pm

    You learned us during the e-course to first learn our dog the game. Next you told us to rise the standard and hope our dog will make a mistake. So the dog will get the chance to learn by making the mistake and the handler can learn in the mean time from the communication with the dog during the mistake.
    Maybe that is exactly what the judge planned on this world championship? See if he could get some teams making mistakes. And a lot really did. But do you think they all learned the same lesson you learned? I’m afraid the most didn’t.
    This is the first FCI that I followed on the internet. (yes because I wanted to see your performances).I was surprised that the percentage Disk was about the same as on the “regular” agility contests we run. I was also surprised to see that the same dog/handler combination may have won the team competition, but ended “only” half way in the individuals, or the other way round! Nobody seems to be really stable in their performances. And no country won and in large and in medium and in small. That surely indicates the level of the performance and the influence of the stress of an important contest.
    It’s comparable to participating the Olympic games: you work very hard during several years and suddenly all games are played, lost or won, and it is over. You will have to focus on another event, another challenge in your life.
    I suppose that you have challenges enough in you life, Susan, and many of them last longer than this FCI! I can only hope I will ever be able to deal with the adrenaline of a contest similar as you do. Good luck with the nationals and the other fun with your dogs!

    PS I see 4 large dogs in your team and only 3 appeared in the results Fizz, Feature and Encore. Did only 3 really run? And who decided that Tanafon was not allowed to run the team jumping?


    • Trudie says:
      Monday, October 11, 2010 at 6:16am

      Your comment is the first to touch on the same feeling of surprise and shock I felt when looking at the percentages —
      and I think your thoughts on that and the overall results are right on, very well put.


  25. weaver says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 12:45pm

    I’ve replayed your video clip many times, and I still have a tough time following the course. Are you able to post the course map for us? This course feels so v-e-r-y awkward and choppy. Were the other courses at the Worlds competition like this one?


    I think you competed well — especially since — you offered and presented an AWESOME Recallers course, taught marveoulsy in a technical, global arena, dealt with DimDim difficulties, also had your Recaller students best interests near your heart — all this while burning the candle at both ends and working right up to the competition wire; then jumped on a plane, switched to competition mode and ran for your team, your dogs and you.

    If it had been me(if I had done what I described you did, above), on that very first run, I would have stepped onto that course and my head would have exploded! Actually, what you’ve done, I never could have done.


    What would Susan Garrett do? She would take it in stride, treat it as a learning moment, focus on her dogs and her best and finish the competition, go back home, and give the dog world a gift — by making a video clip, posting the experience on her blog and sharing it with everyone. And later, probably make a training game out of it, too.

    I vote for no on-line courses during the Worlds or Nationals.


  26. veronica says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 9:18am

    Oh! forgot to mention answering Susans question …..Yes! Initialy I would be devestated if it were me.


  27. Teruca says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 8:23am

    Thanks Susan for sharing your experience, you have the ability to teach from the success and also from the error.
    Don’t feel bad.
    I love your LOP, your way to do all fun for the dogs, and how you live the agility and the dog world.
    Thank you for being who you are.


  28. Joanne Rainger says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 7:18am

    Thank you Susan for your story. I have had a terrible time trying to remember courses. I deal with it by making jokes about it but deep inside it has been such a problem that it has made me so nervous prior to running that it affects my dog. You are one of the best in the world so if it can happen to you maybe it is not the trauma that I have made it into for myself. I cant wait to hear how you handled it so that I may learn from your experience. It is so brave to share all your experiences.


  29. veronica says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 4:16am

    Working through our successes we learn.
    Working through our failures, are the biggest lessens I have found in life”s journey.
    You share your success’s and your failures with us.
    Thank you for reminding us you are ” only human”and a great mentor.
    Looking forward to all the lessons that will eventuate from this experience.
    Oh! and what a great run it was.Just superb handling.
    Appreciate for sharing it with us.


  30. terrilovellrn says:
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 11:09pm

    As a beginning agility enthusiast, I really appreciate your candor. My girlie and I are a long way from our first competition, and I gained a lot of insight from your commentary about the runs shown in the videos. Thank you for being who you are!


  31. denise says:
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 7:57pm

    Love the lead out pivots… didn’t see anyone else do them not even Greg Derrett.


  32. Gale says:
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 7:00pm

    Thanks for sharing. Don’t feel bad. I would still be on the course trying to figure out where obstacle 9 is! LOL


  33. Leota Kleewein says:
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 6:57pm

    I appreciate your honesty. The fact that you have these feelings give us newbies courage. Why did it happen? I think to let us know that as a team we must remember our dogs and how they feel as they certainly pick up on our emotions. Probably when one gets to a national event the competition mode simply kicks in big time………I really play into competition even though I hate it…watching and your sharing is a reminder that this is for fun first and anything after that is simply a bonus from God and a gift.


  34. Barb says:
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 12:54pm

    Thanks for sharing – it would be a terrible world if we were all perfect! Its the not being perfect part that makes us human and makes such an amazing trainer as yourself able to do wonderful things for those of us who are still trying to learn 🙂


  35. Susan Horak says:
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 9:12am

    Thank you for sharing all of this ,Susan.I think it is a credit to you to do so. Sorry things did not go better for you but everything is a learning experience and I think the most important thing in this game of Agility is that your dogs had fun:) they didn’t know the human screwed up! Aren’t we in it for them? Of course we are. I know it’s probably some what different when you make your living from this wonderful game but we are all just human and errors happen. I don’t think there is ANYONE who would think less of you and your ability as a coach and trainer because of what happened on course.


  36. Diane says:
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 8:57am

    Your honesty in the service of learning is one of the many qualities that distinguishes you as an exceptional trainer, competitor, and instructor.
    I appreciate your courage in sharing this with us so we can all learn!!

    I would probably feel like crying, screaming and then hiding. My biggest hope would be that I not communicate my disappointment and frustration to my dog. And, I would eventually be grateful for chances to do things differently – after I crawled out from under my rock 🙂


  37. denise says:
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 5:47am

    “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”

    Love this quote! It is so true 🙂


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