Miles and I have been training in agility for just about two years now. He’ll be 3yrs old in December. We started trialing pretty much as soon as he could in the Spring of ’07. I’m not sure why we did that except that I was never warned otherwise, but we were clearly not ready. As I’ve said before, the facility at which we began training was less than ideal and our last instructor there was awful at best. We learned how to do the obstacles (except for creating a teeter phobia) and how to sequence them in a general way, but no handling techniques were really discussed. Everything about our beginning agility career was rushed.
We began training at our current facility in Feb. of ’07 and started to actually learn some things and gain confidence. We did run-thru’s pretty much every Friday evening and Miles seemed to do fine, so we decided to enter a CPE trial hosted at our facility. CPE allows dogs to enter once they’re 15mo old as does AKC. This first trial was actually fairly successful! We entered in a lower jump height class of 16″ rather than 20″ since Miles was still young and not jumping full height. We did three runs: Standard, Colors, and Wildcard all of which we Q’d and just had a blast playing. This was a very small trial and well organized.
So you can imagine after that experience how surprised I was when we entered our first USDAA trial that Fall just after he turned 18 months old. It was AWFUL. Miles was sooo stressed. We entered Jumpers only and I think we made it over about 3 jumps before he stopped dead in his tracks and wouldn’t do anything else. He was VERY concerned by something going on in the adjacent ring, I think, and he completely shut down…whale eyed and panting. My poor boy. That was the first in a series of about 3 trials where something like that occurred. I took some time off for the Winter and started back up in February. In the downtime we learned more skills and I decided to give it another whirl.
Here are two videos from a USDAA trial held 2/08 at our training facility. The first is a Jumpers run and you can see him freeze up and shut down as we get towards the back of the ring. This was actually an improvement! The second is a Snooker run where Miles was obviously not happy about the a-frame or the judge or both. He refused to go over the jump and then got whistled off.
Not so great. Frustrated and upset I started reading more about fearful dogs and commited myself to rereading Control Unleashed and really working on the exercises. I also started to integrate more play into my training sessions and warm up routines. It became apparent that if I were to be able to change Miles’ views of trials, I needed to change my attitude and my focus. Instead of worrying about completing the course, my goal became to keep him moving. So if we missed an obstacle, so be it, we kept going. I wasn’t going to correct anything as the idea was to keep it fun. The following two videos are from a NADAC trial held at PBH in 3/08. Notice I don’t do either course totally. In Round 1 I tested him to see if he’d go on the dogwalk, which he refused so I turned him around and continued over a few jumps before ending our run. In Round 2, I planned to avoid everything but the jumps and weaves and just make it a fast circle. Unfortunately Miles went around a jump and lined himself up for the dogwalk which was not my intention, but he recovered well and I think really had fun. It’s the first time that I had seen him actually RUN in competition and wag his tail at the end. It was a stark contrast to the stiff trotting whale eyed dog I had seen in the past. This was the beginning of our rehabilitation.
The following video is from a USDAA trial in 5/08 at our facility. We nearly Q with this one, but miss the time by .3 seconds-ack! You can tell he’s still a little stressed by missing that jump, but he comes back to me fairly easily and finishes the course 🙂 That was the end of the trial season for the Spring….
During the Summer is when I met my current instructor, Melanie, and started taking classes from her. I signed up for her “Speed em Up” class and abolutely loved it. Miles responded so nicely to the new skills we learned which integrated right in with a lot of things I was doing with him (ie. the push back start, focusing on speed rather than precision, etc.). Here are some videos from an Advanced Jumpers course that we used for run-thru’s in June. These were actually prior to starting the Speed class. He’s moving along though…
Finally, after a summer of working on speed and confidence and CU exercises, we get our first USDAA Jumpers Q in 8/08 at PBH. It’s not pretty, but he’s obviously confident and having fun. I didn’t excute the first front cross well and I forgot where I was going after the first tunnel entry, but Miles forgave me for my mistakes and did great!
There were several other trials mixed in with all of these, but they are the highlights that really exemplify our progress 🙂