September 8, 2021

Episode 287: Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

In this episode (14:35)

What would you do if you were without an agility partner for two years? In this podcast, Sarah and Jennifer talk with Collene Gaolach, an agility competitor without a partner who has continued to learn and improve as a handler WITHOUT a dog.

You Will Learn

  • Why Collene does agility with “her invisible dog”.
  • How walking and running a course without a dog can improve your handling skills.
  • How you can quickly set up full courses with placeholders.
  • Why the “why’s” of agility are so important.


Check out this full course set up with placeholders for walking and running without a dog; this course uses foam floor tiles for the A-frame and teeter and cones for weaves and long jump. Collene also uses old milk crates for tunnels if there is more than one on the course.

Addendum from Collene: “If you don’t have a dog, that opens up a TON more places to set up the course that normally wouldn’t allow off-leash dogs – like parks and playfields (as shown in photo). So if your backyard is too small, now you don’t have to worry.”

- You're listening to Bad Dog Agility, bringing you training tips, interviews, and news about the great sport of dog agility. (gentle music) - I'm Jennifer - And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 287. Today's podcast is brought to you by and the new Teeter Teach It, an easy-to-use tool that controls the amount of tip on your teeter, so you can introduce motion to your dog in a

gradual way. Go to for the new Teeter Teach It and other training tools and toys. Use discount code BDA10 to get 10% off your order. That's Today, I'm very excited to be doing an interview with Colleen Gaolach. She's one of our VIP members, and she has such a unique approach to training that I wanted to bring her on the podcast to talk to everybody because she

absolutely exemplifies the phrase, where there's a will, there's a way. And Colleen, just a little bit of background, Colleen first caught my eye at least specifically on this one particular topic, because she was asking some questions about a course and she said something like, "Well, with my imaginary dog, I would do this." Right? And so, I got back in touch with her. I was like, so why do

we have an imaginary dog?" So Colleen, tell us a little bit about your situation in agility, kind of your history in the sport, and then what's going on with you now? - Sure. Yeah. So I got into agility because I adopted a dog and he had been returned, I'm gonna say three or four times, by people because he was just really out of control. And so, no one

had really given him rules or tried to train him in any way, and so he just kinda acted out however he wanted. And we were looking for ways to tire him out as well. As anyone who's had a younger dog knows, you can do everything possible and you're exhausted and the dog is still ready to go. So that's how we kinda got into agility, and it was really

useful 'cause it completely tired him out, but he passed away before COVID, and I like caught the agility bug through him. I actually am probably one of those people that, during a class, instead of chatting with the other people and be a nice social person, I'm like, "Ooh, how's that person doing on the course?" I just am like just a total agility geek. And so, I thought, there's

certain things that you can only practice with your dog, like the timing of giving the cues and things, but a lot of times I would find that I would, basically, I would mess up on the course and my dog would go off course, and it was totally because of me. And I thought, there's probably things I can learn about footwork or just thinking about... Another thing that I

think that happens a lot is people forget where they are in a course. So I can work on remembering the course and stuff like that. So it just sort of felt like there's a lot I can kinda work on just by myself. - Right. And so, I remember a full course, like a full 20-obstacle course that you set up in your field, not having a dog to run

on it. Right? This is where I really was like, "this lady is dedicated," because you were so- - Quirky. - Right, crazy, dedicated, you know, a little bit of both. But there is so much of like a full course, especially like a full international course, is deciding on what handling is going to work there in walking the course, and being able to remember it, and being able to

run at full speed, and remember where everything goes. And so, you took an entire international course, set it up without a dog to run, just so that you could walk it in like real space, right? - Yeah, yeah, totally. And also I think, like you were saying, you can get to know what does my dog seeing from this angle? And that's so important. I think we only think

about it at times when the dog runs up the teeter and they thought it was the dog walk, and it goes bang on them, or the weaves into the corner if you're inside. That's another time where you're suddenly, like it's in your face, that the dog sees something different than you do. But if you set up the courses and kinda walk around them and think what's the dog

gonna see here and how does my cue for what I want them to do differ from another way that they might do that course? So it just gives you a lot of time to sort of think about it. - Right? So in the VIP program, we do these small space exercises as well. So what is your kind of routine with the material that you have? How often are

you setting things up in the real world to see how it feels physically versus watching demo videos, like demos of Jennifer running these sequences, and then listening to her discussion of why certain things are a good or a bad idea and different spots? What is your mix of in the real world versus sitting in front of your computer type of learning? - Hmm. Yeah, so I think I

try to every week have a setup course that I set up in real life. And that's what's great about the academy, is that you can watch the videos and kinda get a lot of input of here's some thoughts on how you might do the handling. You can even... Sometimes I'll take the course map and kinda look at it first, like don't get the answers before, which I look

at the course map first and say, okay, well, what do I think I would do here? Then watch the video and see the input, and then go out and try it myself. And then 9 times out of 10, even when I... After I've set it up and tried it myself, then I will be like, oh, huh, now suddenly something that was said in the video makes more sense

to me. Oh, I see why you would need to do a bypass cue there. It didn't look that way on the map at all. And it kind of gives you like even more power to look at a map and know, if you're going to a trial, oh, okay, that doesn't look like I need a bypass, but I bet I do in that spot. I think it just gives

you tons of insights. - Right. And Jennifer, so you teach a lot in the real world, right? I teach all online. You teach in the real world. Tell me, how often do you have students that kind of walk through a sequence like one time they're like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it. Let me get my dog." Right? - It is so funny. This just happened last week. I

had somebody come in and they were... I didn't have the cones down. A lot of times I'll have the cone down, but we were doing shorter drills and they would kind of stand there next to me and be like, "Okay, red jump, blue jump. And then they'd go out there, and three obstacles, and they'd forget it or they turn to go the wrong jump. And after three short

little drills, I just stopped and said, "Okay, this is not fair to your dog. Go walk it. I'm not even gonna let you run until you go walk it. Go walk it, know where you're going. Get yourself familiar." I said, "You're worried about wasting, quote unquote, wasting your lesson time walking, but we're wasting your lesson time with you continuing to forget the course at the cost of the

dog." I was like, "So instead of rerunning it a bunch, go out there, walk, know where you're going, get comfortable with the course, and then go out there and nail it on the first try." So absolutely, the walkthrough, the spatial awareness. We've talked about a lot about that in past podcasts, about spatial awareness and how that will help in the visualization of it, and it's like take advantage

of that. It's not just what you can gain from doing it with your dog, and I also think it saves a ton of wear and tear on your dogs. In your case, Coleen, when you do have a dog, you're doing so much to improve your handling and your understanding without the wear and tear on the dogs, which is gonna help with the longevity on their part in minimizing

injuries as well. - Definitely. I mean, I think you guys always have stressed the four-step front cross, And that was something that, when I first started doing It, I was like, okay, I'm gonna get this four-step thing down and I'm gonna video myself because I think you guys have really inspired me to do that as well, because I notice as soon as I start videoing myself, it's like,

oh, I thought I was doing this, but I'm totally not. (Coleen laughs) - Right. Yeah. I'm just absolutely blown away by you, Coleen. I think there's so much to be learned here because I think so many people, they probably know that they could do a little bit more, but the agility part with the dog is so fun, and everybody wants to get to that. And I know you

wanna get to that eventually, but it doesn't mean that there isn't amazing progress that can happen outside of running the dog. And so, what I want people to get from this is this kind of outside of the box thinking that they can use when their dog is hurt or when the weather's not cooperating, right? So, I guess if the weather's bad, you can't set things up in real

life, but you can get all of that learning from reviewing video and things like that. When the weather's good, but your dog is hurt, you can still set things up and go through the walking, and the running, and doing it at full speed. And even in live classes or seminars, I have made the point. if you don't get it right without the dog, there's no chance that when

you add the dog, you're gonna suddenly get better, right? And so being able to walk through a sequence without any mistakes is hugely, hugely beneficial. - And I think there's been a lot of people that have talked about how you can maximize learning when you don't have a lot of space and a lot of even online classes about how to get the most out of it when you

don't have a lot of space, but I think this presents a very unique perspective where it's not space that's the issue. It's dog availability. And a lot of times you'll see people will have gaps between dogs. So their older dog retired, but their young dog is still in the foundation training. And they'll worry that they're gonna kind of get rusty on some of the handling. Well, they can

still be setting up some of the master's courses and working on that, even though what they're doing with their dog is more of the foundation training. So I think this is a very helpful and very unique perspective on how to maximize the learning. And as you said, if there's a will, there's a way, right? Give you guys all some motivation of ways to get better. - I think

it also helps that just watching new and novel situations, I think some of my cues have evolved over the couple of years that I've been doing this. It sounds terrible at this point. Two years without a dog, but I've sort of changed some of my thoughts on how am I going to cue that, and I think that that's a really good thing that you keep growing and changing

and refining, so that when you do get to that point, you are teaching it the way that you're gonna be really, really consistent with going forward, instead of like switching up on the poor dog. - I think that's such a great point too, because I think a lot of people that go out and they're practicing agility, and they're practicing agility, and they're doing it with their dog, but

they are sometimes missing the theory piece, the why, the why a front cross here, instead of a rear cross, or why this is going to work or why this might not work. And so then what happens is, when they're in a class where somebody says, "Here's the sequence we're working on and here's how you're gonna run it," they get great work in. They do great with their dog.

When they show up at a trial and they have to make all those decisions on their own, they're a little bit less sure of themselves about what the right thing is. And so, having that focus on the why's, the theory, is something that we're really big on. We're always talking about the why's. Like in our instructional videos, we're always telling you why you're doing it, not just what

to do. But I think that other people kind of opening themselves up to that as an area that they might need some improvement on can be really beneficial to them when they are out on their own at trials. - So another thing that I think that is really helpful about doing your setups without the dog is... Like you were mentioning, I set up a huge, huge course, and

I don't have enough equipment to set up something like that, but you can use... I just used little foam tiles and stuff to sort of be the jumps and stuff, and that way you can set up these really, really large courses and practice running something that's that huge, which you don't get a lot of practice at without having to have all the equipment and stuff like that, and

have those constraints. So it's just really handy that way too. - Oh that's brilliant. - That's an amazing point. I wasn't even thinking about that. Yeah. That's great. - Do you have a picture of that that we can put into the show notes? I think I remember you showing us something one time. - Yeah, I think I do. - 'Cause I have like one tunnel and I don't

have a dog blocker, a ramp, like that. So I just need different little things to be the symbol for that. - Right, that is so good. That is so amazing. All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Colleen. I just love your attitude and your dedication, and I really hope that you are able to get the puppy that you want soon, and I can't

wait to see what you do with them once you do. - Thank you. - And that's it for this week's podcast. We'd like to thank our sponsor, Happy training. (gentle music)

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