Dog Training Record Keeping with the Staples Arc Notebook September 25, 2013

I’m always excited to write product reviews for items that work for me and my dogs. Two months ago while shopping for office supplies at Staples, I stumbled across the Arc notebook system. As soon as I saw it in stores, I knew this would be the solution to my dog training record keeping conundrum. I have used it daily ever since, and I dare say it is perfect for me! In the hopes that it might be useful for other dog trainers, I’m outlining my notebook here.

First, a review of what I’ve tried in the past…

  • Not keeping records at all. This is one of my biggest regrets of my dog training journey! I wish I had notes from the great workshops and lessons I took in my “early years.”
  • Spiral-bound notebook. It was hard to find a size that was portable but still comfortable to write in. Little ones caused a wrist cramp when taking lots of notes at a seminar. The other downside was having to choose between either lined pages or grids, and for agility seminars I prefer access to both – grids for drawing courses, and lines for taking notes.
  • iPad apps. I blogged before about Daily Notes. My problem was that the tagging functionality got worse and worse with every update. It was easy to check what I did the day or week before, but difficult to track progress on an individual skill (like the dogwalk). I have also used Noteshelf to take seminar notes, but it is difficult to draw courses on the iPad, so it’s no better than a paper notebook. (As an aside, I use Noteshelf for taking notes at consultations and lessons with clients and find it to be excellent for that purpose.)
My Junior Arc Notebook

My notebook! It does not come with the fun book band. (I bought that as part of a two-pack at the craft store chain Michael’s.)

Without further ado, here’s the Arc notebook I use for tracking my dogs’ training progress. It’s 6 3/4″ by 8 3/4″ and I got it for less than $20 at Staples.

Arc is a “discbound” notebook system. The binding consists of removable plastic discs. It comes standard with 0.5″ discs but I quickly upgraded to 1″ which is the perfect size for my needs. They also make a 1.5″ set of discs.

These discs allow you to add and remove pages in seconds. This means I only carry the paper I need and not hundreds of blank pages which I may or may not need in the future. I can also remove pages for “finished” behaviors. (Is any behavior truly “finished?”)

Removing Arc Pages

Adding and removing pages to the Arc notebook is a breeze.

My notebook is divided into five sections. One for each dog (Spark, Strata, and Finch), one for notes on DVDs/books/seminars, and one for agility courses. I have further divided each dog’s section into Agility behaviors and Obedience behaviors. (For puppies I would also have a “Life Skills” section for things like sit, down, loose leash walking, recall, etc.) I made more dividers out of cardstock for those secondary sections (more on that below).

Arc Notebook Divider Tabs

I’ve divided the notebook into 5 sections: one for each dog, one for DVD & seminar notes, and one for course maps.

Because the paper is customizable, I have regular lined paper in the DVD/books section, graph paper in the courses section, and this AWESOME “project planner” paper in the dogs’ sections. Here’s a picture of the project planner paper in action for Spark’s 2×2 weave pole training.

Weave Pole Training Record Keeping

Spark’s first weave pole training sessions are recorded on these “project paper” sheets. I find the space on the left is ideal for drawing 2×2 diagrams.

I can draw quick diagrams or outline bullet-point criteria for a behavior on the left, record my sessions on the right, and reiterate key points on the bottom. Needless to say most behaviors need several sheets of paper, so I just clip ‘em all together with a paper clip.

Sticky Tabs in Arc Notebook

The top of the notebook shows each section divided into “Agility” and “Obedience.” Pages for each individual behavior are paper-clipped together. (Pro tip: cascade the paper clips so the notebook closes flat. Why didn’t anyone teach me that in school?!)

Here’s the mind-blowing part: You are by no means limited to using the paper and dividers that Staples sells. You can buy a punch and add whatever you want to your notebook. (That said – the Arc accessories are extremely affordable and well-designed. I’m impressed with everything I have purchased so far!)

That’s how I made more dividers – I bought cardstock at a craft store, cut it in half, and punched it:

Custom Cardstock Arc Dividers

Isn’t the punched-out dog paw print cute?! That tool was another Michael’s find.

The possibilities are endless! Agility competitors can punch course maps & copies of score sheets to keep for future reference. (No picture – I haven’t felt the need to actually do that yet.) If you opt for a letter-sized (8.5″ x 11″) notebook you could punch handouts from seminar presenters. I just started punching my trial premiums to keep with my calendar in my letter-sized planner.

Staples sells a desk-sized punch for about $45, but I bought a travel-sized punch from Levenger through Amazon for $20. (The Levenger and Arc systems are completely interchangeable. Levenger is much pricier, but they have some drool-worthy notebooks!) The travel-sized punch is very portable and would be easy to keep in your car or training bag if you wanted to punch things at a trial.

Well, there you have it. I hope this post has piqued your interest in the Arc notebook line. They often go on sale for 30-40% off, so keep an eye on your Staples weekly ad. I also heard through the grapevine that they have a new line of quilted leather covers coming out this month! If you have questions about the system, post a comment and I’m happy to answer it for you!

Disclaimer: Staples has provided me no compensation whatsoever for this blog post. I’m just a happy customer! Maybe they’ll see this and send me free refill pages, though? ;)

Ki's teammate September 25th, 2013

Thanks for the post! I have two composition books that I duct tape over with fancy duct tapes. One for each dog. I tape course maps in there, but it’s hard to find stuff, it just ends up a jumble. Maybe I could have a section by dog and by class? *thinking*

Katherine Ostiguy, KPA CTP September 25th, 2013

That could work! The best part about the discbound system is that if you try organizing it all one way and decide it’s not working, just rearrange it and try again. So you could try organizing it by dog and then by class, and if that doesn’t work out for you, you could rearrange it by topic or date or some other strategy.

If you’re into decorating your notebooks, then the sky is the limit with Arc. Check out the Planner Addicts group on Facebook or search “arc notebooks” on Pinterest. (Warning: total time-suck, but SO much fun!)

Amanda September 28th, 2013

I run an Arc blog and I found this post fascinating. I love seeing all the interesting ways people use their Arc notebooks, thanks for sharing yours with us!