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