Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Notes from Agility class

Tuesday night is Agility class night, at least it has been lately. I love, love, love our agility instructor (Debbie Spence, PAWSative Agility Working School - if you're in the north Texas area near D/FW I can't recommend her highly enough) but it is a bit of a drive to get out there, so lately we've been able to consolidate things and take all 3 dogs to class on the same night.

At PAWS, once you and your dog are through with the carefully structured Beginner class which takes about 12 weeks, you enter classes that are ongoing but organized into five or six different "levels". As the dog and the handler progress in skill and knowledge you get promoted to the next level. At each level the courses and exercises become progressively more difficult - but even at Level 2 (the first one after Beginner) we get instruction and practice on courses that are short, but have elements that are technically difficult. For the handlers, that is.

In the Level 2 class, Ronnie runs Teddy and I run Topper. (She's the brindle girl in my avatar). With Topper, to say I "run" her is an exaggeration. Not only am I not exactly built for speed, but she - as I knew she would - demands a lot of reinforcement for everything. She's not unwilling, or scared (except of the dogwalk, more on that later). She's sweet, and cooperative, and very food motivated... but also must be convinced that anything we expect her to do is in her best interest.

In other words, "What's in it for me?" should be tattooed across her stripey forehead. That would save a lot of time. Either that, or I should let her wear her "I'm a Princess" tiara more often.

So I'm still reinforcing everything - even the easiest and most basic elements like jumping and the start line - stay very heavily. Which tends to slow things down a LOT because I keep stopping to reward her with a treat and lots of ego stroking. But it's working - she's offering more and more things every day. Tonight she actually "sucked" (meaning she chose to enter even though that wasn't part of the plan) to a curved tunnel and then also the chute which - although technically a mistake - is GREAT to see. Let's face it, those obstacles are not easy for a Dane who has to get waaaay down and crawl through them and I'm thrilled that she's deciding that they are fun after all. Her "Go!" (as in "on ahead of me") is improving and I got a couple of nice rear crosses (meaning the handler changes sides for a change of direction behind the dog).

I think she's doing great, and we're having a ton of fun. She is still scared of the dogwalk - she had a pretty bad fall off of it a while ago which was ENTIRELY my fault. But climbing on things is something she's loved to do since she could crawl - she's not called "Topper" for nothing. We are taking the dogwalk slowly - just taking a few steps up the ramp and then letting her hop off - and she's very wiling to keep trying so I'm confident we'll fix that in time.

Teddy is so different. His attitude is "What do you want me to do?" All you have to do is show him what you want and he'll do his best. And he is so FAST. I think he developed the speed as a survival mechanism: his mother and sister chase him all the time and they are merciless! The main challenge Ronnie has with Ted is just planning ahead - so often Teddy lands farther out from a jump than Ronnie anticipated and it's really hard to signal early enough that Teddy has time to respond. But they're getting their act together and really starting to understand each other. Teddy is a lot more advanced in his training than his sister, and is entered in his first agility trial the first weekend of December - I don't think he's quite ready but it won't hurt anything to give it a try. He'll be fun to watch - I'll try to get some video of it.

Their mother Kinsey, who is in a more advanced class later in the evening, is doing great. She and Ronnie are a pretty well-oiled team by now. She loves the running and jumping part, and doesn't mind doing tunnels or the dogwalk or anything else... except the damn Table. That is what has kept her from qualifying in Standard - she still doesn't even have her Open title in Standard - even though in the Jumpers with Weaves class (which has no Table) she is halfway to her Masters title. She'll hop on the table OK, but then at a trial she knows that Ronnie can't touch her, and doesn't have any food on him so she seems to make a game of seeing how high she can push his blood pressure. Her expression ranges from "What is this 'Down' you speak of??? I've never heard that command before!" (picture a charmingly cocked head) to a very simple "I don't wanna, and you can't make me!" A few weekends ago she had a near perfect run in Open Standard, except it took Ronnie about 30 seconds to get her to lie down on the Table. Which of course ran them over time and they didn't qualify.


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