Yesterday I ran into the local horse trainer. He's a great guy, very personable, and obviously very knowledgeable about horses, their behaviors, and the way their humans mess them up. As a dog trainer, I could relate to a lot of what he was saying.
I asked him if he ever did clinics. He sort of rolled his eyes and said, "I used to do them before I moved here. But no one here has ever asked me to do one. They'd rather pay big bucks to bring in some outsider." What further irritated him, he said, was that he'd always freely given his help and advice to anyone in the county who needed help. He always had people calling him to ask for assistance in loading a horse or solving some little training problem. "So I guess it chaps my hide a bit when I drive past the local arena and see some outsider putting on a clinic, charging big bucks, and teaching the same people that I've helped for free."
It's a strange phenomenon that carries over into all sorts of sports disciplines: THE LOCALS ARE NEVER AS GOOD AS THE OUTSIDERS, particularly if their fees are low or nonexistent.
That's such hogwash! While clinics and outside trainers are almost always a bit mind-expanding, you'll probably get more nuts-and-bolts valuable information and help from specialists right in your local community. Plus the locals are there for you later, after the outsiders have gone down the road with your Visa card.
If I were an intermediate-level agility student, I would first learn all I could (and pay for it) locally. In Yakima, for instance, agility experts of the highest caliber can be found in the SunDogs Agility Club. If I need some good solid advice on horse behavior, I'd probably call on my horseshoer, Dennis Nelson. If I need advice in aerobics and fitness training, I'd call my friend Carol Mosshart. If you need help with dog behavior, hopefully you'll call Manning Dog Training instead of WSU or some dog shrink in the Seattle phone book. Any of these people is more than qualified to conduct a clinic or address your needs just as well, IF NOT BETTER, than the high-dollar out-of-towners.
About 10 years ago I went to a seminar on "dog aggression" in Ellensburg. It was sponsored by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, which is a very large organization of mostly non-professional wanna-be dog trainers with big hearts, good intentions, and no clue about the subject of dog behavior. Their highly touted presenter was Patricia McConnell, an author and trainer with a PhD in animal behavior. McConnell is well known in the profession and even hosts a show on PBS. So I was excited to hear what she had to say about handling aggressive dogs.
Wow, what a disappointment!!!!! Her idea of "reforming" an aggressive dog was to feed him lots of treats. And if that didn't work, you'd better just have the dog euthanized. She actually had several "demo dogs" come up on stage with handlers, and they tried to work through the "aggression" problems--most of which weren't true aggression in the first place, although she didn't seem to pick up on that. One poor dog, the last one, was a rescue that she deemed unsalvageable. I wanted to scream from the audience, "Let me try to help this dog!!" Instead, I simply fumed at the back of the room, knowing they were all off-base in their methods and their prognoses, and knowing that I could save this dog from euthanasia because I KNEW how to help him. I even approached the dog's owner AFTER the seminar and offered to help her, but she was already convinced by McConnell that the dog was not worth saving. She turned me down.
The seminar was a two-day affair. After the first day, I went home and spent three hours writing a letter to Ms. McConnell, outlining my ideas and making some suggestions. I gave it to her at the end of the second day. She promised to read it on her flight back to Wisconsin and get back to me. Not surprisingly, I never heard from her. After all, who was I, but some nameless face from a small farm town, unpublished in the field, and lacking a PhD in animal behavior?
During my years at Manning Dog Training, we helped save countless dogs whose owners had all but given up on them. Many were for "aggression" problems. I am sure Jane is carrying on the tradition as current owner of Manning Dog Training. If you have a dog problem and live in Central Washington, go to Manning Dog Training FIRST. You will get the help you need at a fraction of the cost of going to an "outsider."
Whatever your discipline or interest, whether it's dogs, quilting, or kiteboarding, there are probably people in your local community who can offer you the help and guidance you need. Go to them. Compensate them for their time. Rely on them. Take great pride in what your local experts can offer you! Clinics offered by outsiders are usually very beneficial if you're looking for morsels of information to enhance the knowledge you already have. For your main course, however, stay home. The horse trainer from Trout Creek, Montana, really is just as good--and very possibly better for you--than the "expert" from Sheridan, Wyoming. The dog trainer from Yakima is, most definitely, better than the dog expert from Wisconsin.