Saturday, March 31, 2012

Agility Outtakes

We asked for it and you responded. Here are some of our club member's most memorable agility experiences.

Muggle LOVES the dogwalk.  So, in our second agility trial I knew we were in trouble the minute I saw the gamblers course with a U-shaped tunnel at the end of the dogwalk.  Muggle had a plan of his own and did the dogwalk repeatedly until the judge blew the whistle several times and accused us of training in the ring.  When he finally abandoned the dogwalk we walked off the field to applause and cheers.
-Lynne Hinkey And Muggle

During a handling class with Mike Adams I couldn’t get my dog Parker to complete an exercise.  He kept running away from me in the middle of the exercise to sniff and explore the outside of the field.  When Mike started to demonstrate the correct body language Parker zipped back on the field and followed Mike.  This answers the question…Is it the dog or the handler?
-Diane Rutledge and Parker

Little Bit peed on the judge’s shoes at her first trial at Palmetto Island County Park.
-Kit Simpson and Little Bit

Jefferson was smoking the course at his first away trial, but then he decided to take a potty break and poop on the field.  Then on another course I set him up wrong for a weave pole entry I said “Oh crap!” to myself and got eliminated for my language.  So we got eliminated for “crapping” and saying “crap”!
-Erin Queen and Jefferson

We were trialing in Asheville at a horse arena.  There were birds nesting in the rafters.  One of the mamas starting pushing the babies from the nest and they were not ready to fly.  Throughout the day babies would fall to their death.  Surfer was in a start line stay and I heard a thump.  I looked at the judge and told him there was a dead bird at jump #8.  He had to clean up the baby so that we could run the course.  Surfer never broke his stay.
-Wanda Usher and Surfer

At one trial Splash sat in the lap of EVERY ring crew person and then went over and begged the judge to pet him.
-Wanda Usher and Splash

Hunley has gotten stuck on the start line several times. He has a really good stay (like 10-15 minutes). In one snooker course, I left him and walked all the way across the ring and called to no avail. So I had to walk all the way back. He also has gotten stuck at the top of the A-frame and looks at me like he has no idea that I'm begging him to come down.
-Anne Cook and Hunley

Madison and I were walking out onto the field during our first trial, I was nervous and sweaty and it was time for us to go. I had walked the course, and I felt pretty good...and then Madison ran off the field as fast as possible without even taking a single jump!   We've since learned we need to hide her "dad" from her.  We made a comeback later in the day with a Q in Snooker!
-Lisa Nurminen and Madison

At a seminar Maggie ran a beautiful run.  Everyone was watching and then she decided to run by the fence and poop.  She also stopped and peed while we were doing the weave poles!  Gotta love my little girl!!  By the way we do walk and go potty before we run - I think she is just over flowing with excitement.
-Sheila Ross and Maggie

Rascal’s first trial I was a nervous wreck because he has never had a lot of attention span with agility.  Our first run he took off and just ran laps around the ring.  I just walked off in tears.  We had a few more runs that weekend and managed to get a couple of jumps in.  Abby’s first trial seemed like a piece of cake after that experience!
-Lindsay and Rascal

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Rewards of Going For It

Many times, when trialing, we short change ourselves by not pushing and trying to get the most out ourselves through our dogs.  As it’s often been said "nothing ventured-nothing gained.”   Recently at the Jacksonville trial, the judge presented the most difficult snooker course any of us had ever seen. We speculated that she would not be able to keep up when things started  moving quickly.  You see,  there were 4 “reds,” each one placed on one of the 4 outside corners of the course, making it a challenging running course.   Four of the numbered obstacles were combinations, and those combinations were comingled.  The highest 7-point obstacle was comprised of 3 jumps which, in effect,  could only be realized if the dog jumped one of the corner “reds,”  successfully meandered through the mine field of distracting obstacles and then completed the 3-jump combination.     If a handler wished to attain the highest number of points by completing the four 7’s, he would have to complete a total of 25 jumps (including the closing) in addition to 2 tunnels.

 There were 51 22" dogs competing, with  Circe as #24 in the running order.  When it was Circe’s time to run, none of the 23 dogs before her  had successfully completed four 7’s and the closing. The majority of the handlers did not attempt this, either for personal reasons or because it may have been an unreasonable request of their dogs.    When we stepped up and looked at the field, I knew it was important to give Circe a chance.   To get to the 1st jump in the #7 combination, Circe would need to avoid a number of inviting obstacles.  She was running like a champ and, by the time we reached the #7 obstacle for the 4th time,  you could hear a pin drop in the arena.   She completed the #7 combination and we headed for the closing sequence.  We were taking it home, but as she approached #7 for the fifth time, I prematurely moved to the right and Circe moved with me as though she was glued to me.  There was a gasp from those watching; however, I caught myself and moved back into the proper lane and Circe moved with me and completed the course for a perfect score of 59 points. 

Unfortunately, I once again did a “Randy” as I often do when Circe and I have such a spectacular run.  I must have paused, taking in all the excitement and let Circe take a “stroll” to the finish.  Circe earned another Super “Q,”,  but my excitement may have cost her 1st place, as  Stuart Mah and one other handler running afterwards also achieved a perfect score of 59.
This reinforced my belief that I must always push myself and that I must never hesitate to try new things – even in trialing.  This is the way I can learn.  No one will ever hit that home run unless he steps up to the plate and takes a swing.  I have failed many times and will do so many more times, but the satisfaction of running a perfect run is worth the effort and the risk.  Many times you need a Q for a title and you do not want to take a chance – this is understandable.  All that being said, I believe it’s important not to push your dog to do something  that is physically impossible.    By way of example,  I did not ask Justice to attempt the four 7’s on this course, as he no longer has the speed needed – he still got his “Q” and  I  still try new things with him and will continue to do so as long as he enjoys the run. 

I love this sport and my single complaint is that I did not start 30 years ago.  Maybe by now I would understand a little more.  Keep practicing and you will have a great run.

One final thought - It’s important  to put in the time on the practice field and listen with an open mind to those who have more experience - you will not be disappointed with the results and then Go For It.

Randy Hunter
Justice and Circe

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Are You READY?

As we all now, agility is addictive! When starting out with this sport, I don't even think I would have called it a sport, but that's exactly what it is. I thought this was just going to be a "fun little hobby to do with my dog." If anyone had told me back in September, as we began our first class, that I'd ever want to enter a trial I would have told that person they were plain-crazy. And now, a little over 7 months later, I know that I definitely will enter. The question is just when?

How do you know as a new agility team when you are really ready to enter a trial? I have thought about this a great deal lately because, in some ways, I am just so impatient to finally compete. I am not sure exactly why this is. I guess it feels like that's when we will have reached some marker of success on our agility journey. Logic and reason tell me that it does not matter when we trial or if we ever trial. But, my heart screams out for us to get out there and earn some rewards! I guess Clementine gets her peanut butter and treats and now I want my ribbons (and maybe even some Qs).

I've talked to many of you about this decision of when to trial and I found it interesting that there seem to be at least two camps of thought on when to first trial. I've heard from some that an agility team shouldn't enter a trial until they are more than ready to do so. Then, there are those who say "what the heck? Just go for it!" and suggest not having expectations for the first trial but using it as a gauge to see how we do as a team in the trial environment and to help direct further training. When making my final decision about the March trial, I took all of this and more into consideration. I found all the advice I had received to be valuable and I could see the truth in the differing points people had made. I wavered back and forth many times.

In the end, the advice that I heard repeated and what rang most true for me was to do what I thought was best for Clementine. I also heard repeated how SCARY and nerve-racking the first trial can be (of this, I have no doubt). When I took a step back and looked at my dog, I realized that she literally could not care less about when we first trial. This was all about me.

I was ready to trial but agility is about a team and I needed to look to the most important member of my team to find my answer. It's not for lack of practice that my team isn't quite ready. I take Clementine to the field any chance I get. Sometimes I feel like we might be "in the way" as we aren't at the level of many others at run-throughs and practice sessions but we just keep showing up.

We have already learned so much on our agility journey. Clementine is having a blast! She doesn't even know what a trial is. She just enjoys going out to the field, playing with her mom, visiting with pup and human friends, and learning new things while enjoying tasty treats! We've certainly had our challenges and she has had to overcome some fear; but we are getting there. I see her confidence and understanding growing. It is so rewarding to see this transformation take place. And that is the real reward in agility, I think. Many a human may be too competitive and too flawed to realize that the real rewards of agility have nothing to do with trialing, Qs, titles, or ribbons. The real rewards are the ways the sport of agility enhances this beautiful relationship that we, humans, are so blessed to have with our canine teammates.

So, the question remains: Are we ready? And the answer is: I'm still not sure. Come out in April and see! Maybe we will be running or maybe we will be cheering for all of you from the sidelines. I'm going to leave it up to Clementine!

One final question:  How did you know when you were ready for your first trial? Looking back did you make the right decision about that? Do you wish you'd waited or trialed sooner?

Tell us about it in the comments!

Katie Lynch
& (more importantly) Clementine

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Leaps and Bounds

Through my dog Rascal I discovered the sport of dog agility. Years later I started training my second dog, an Australian Shepherd named Abby, to compete in dog agility. I quickly found out that Abby was a completely different brand of crazy.  After a couple trials and a summer hiatus filled with triathlon training, I made the decision to pull her out of competition. We needed to go back to the basics.

I made a plan for Abby’s training and decided she would not compete again until she could perform each obstacle with enough proficiency to avoid getting faults. We started taking a beginning handling class (again!), worked on skill sets with friends, and endlessly worked on obstacle performance. Slowly, but surely I began to see a difference.  Better yet, other people started to see improvement. Of course, we had our terrible days of training, but those were often followed by brilliant days. Finally, the March trial came and it was time for her to compete. Not only did she run the courses better and with more confidence than in the past, but she received her first “Q” ever!  It felt amazing to hear everyone comment on her improvement. We worked so hard and it showed.

Recently I started teaching the introduction to agility classes and I see owners getting very frustrated with their dogs and getting discouraged.  I am able to tell them my story that started very similar to theirs. Just like any sport, dog agility takes a lot of work. You can’t expect your dog to read your mind and understand what you want them to do. The complexity of the weave poles alone is astounding. Some dogs don’t understand what you want them to do, some dogs are less motivated than others, and some dogs just don’t have the coordination or strength to do what you are asking.  The more you run and work with your dog the better you get to know them and know their abilities. Even if you don’t have time to go train at the agility field, find ten minutes to take your dog on a short run around the block.  YOU get exercise and you can practice lefts, rights, and speed changes with your dog.

Every dog is different so listen to advice you get from other people, but realize that it may not always work for your dog. Try something before you rule it out, no matter who the advice came from.  It doesn’t matter if the handler is a beginner or an international champion. It was, in fact, a beginner handler that helped me realize why Abby was having so much trouble with finishing the weaves. Don’t forget to trust yourself when it comes to your dog because who knows them better?

The most important lesson I have been taught when running agility is to smile at your dog. Most likely, the reason you continued agility after your introduction class is because you enjoyed agility and spending time with your dog. Don’t become so focused on “Q”ing that nothing else is good enough. There are small victories in every run. If you give yourself the chance you will learn more and become a better handler with each run whether it is in class, run throughs, or a trial. This weekend I learned that hard work pays off. What did you learn?

Lindsay Shuler
Rascal and Abby

Happy 4th Birthday to my sweet, crazy Aussie – Abby.  I am pleased someone gave her a brain for her birthday :)