Dog Agility Obstacles are not Always Equipment pt 4
As part four of this series from a question we posed to you about your greatest obstacles in dog agility, we get to read some really great journeys on overcoming shyness. These are some truly lucky dogs to have fallen into the hands of people that were willing to help them overcome their fear of people and dogs, all of which also became great agility dogs.
I had tried agility with my collie. After 3 times through advanced beginner, and a move that took us farther away from training facilities, I let it go and never competed with her. I did have some equipment — weave poles, a couple jumps, a tunnel, but they collected dust in our shed… Until I picked up a very shy foster girl at a shelter to bring her into my dog rescue.
Although she was initially shy, I noticed that she had an intensity and athleticism about her, and thought I’d try working with her on the few agility obstacles we had. When I did, her face would light up and she learned the weave poles in record time! I immediately changed her adoption write up to reflect that I was looking for an agility home for her.
After several applicants, but very little interest in pursuing agility (comments like “I just can’t wrap my mind around that ‘dog sports’ kind of thing.” I’m thinking, “You idiot! Can’t you see that she loves it?”), I decided that I would become her agility home! Okay, I’d never competed in agility, and the nearest training facility was an hour and a half away, but I was determined to give her this opportunity! In classes, she went directly from Beginning to Intermediate and skipped Advanced Beginning altogether! LOL! (I had taken the class 3 times already anyway!)
With her doing so well in class, I really thought she’d clean up at the trials, and just be as good of a dog as any out there. Boy, was I humbled! First off, I’m not that good of handler and I get nerves big time! Second, she picks up on my nerves, and also reverts back into that shy dog that I picked up at the shelter. So at our first trial, out of 8 runs, we got only one Q.
I considered going back and doing the advanced beginner class with her. But instead, we just kept plugging away and I changed some things that I was doing so that I could be more positive in the ring. I always thought I was a positive trainer, but some of my instructors saw some things that were being interpreted as negative by my girl, and I didn’t even know that I was doing them!
She still has a lot of fun when we are practicing. The trial ring is still somewhat of a challenge, but every once in a while, she’ll pull off that beautiful run that I know she has in her (and that I am capable of too!) It usually happens when I’m not expecting much, and not real nervous myself.
So that was and is our big challenge — the trial ring. It’s those really great runs that keep us coming back and competing, even though most runs are less than what either she is or I am capable of.
When the agility bug bit us, the biggest obstacle was finding a place to practice. A once a week class is not enough to really learn the skills to compete. I got the agility in a bag and took the show on the road to vacant fields, closed parks, and even parking lots. A side benefit which I didn’t realize until we were ready to trial was my dog had learned to focus on me and the task at hand, no matter what was going on around us.
Finally we found a practice field complete with equipment, but when training a new kid, I take the show on the road.
At this point in my agility career, a lot of what I’m doing is experimental. My lack of knowing the smaller components that go into the big agility picture and the order in which to teach them is the obstacle that I face. I love those Youtubes, blogs, websites, and DVDs though, from trainers like Susan Garrett and Silvia Trkman. They motivate me to all sorts of creative training venues I might not have taken otherwise.
Our biggest obstacle in agility has also proven to be our greatest triumph – fear aggression & helping overcome it through agility. My 2 year old lab/BC mix suffers from fear aggression and is very fearful of strange dogs and strange humans. We’ve spent significant time helping him feel safe around new people & dogs and decided that he would greatly benefit from some boosted confidence. We sought out a trainer who is not only an agility specialist but also a behavioral trainer & explained his problems. She agreed to give us some private lessons in an environment where our dog would feel safe and would be the only dog. Immediately we were struck by what a natural he was with the obstacles, and how confident he looked while doing what we told him to do in the ring.
Our next BIG step was to attempt a beginner agility class in a group setting. We did this with his “normal” behavioral trainer, at her home, where our dog already felt safe & comfortable. There are 3 other dogs in the class and initially he paid much more attention to being afraid of the scary new dogs than he did to the fun agility equipment. The dogs were not allowed to interact with him, and the owners all knew his story, so it was a very controlled environment. It didn’t take long until he switched his focus to me, rather than the scary things around him, and started to perform runs like the confident dog I know he wants to be. He almost ignores the dogs now, and instead is the star of his class. Just last night, one of the more “in your face” dogs in class ignored his owner’s recall and instead started racing around the yard, and came right over to my dog and got in his face. This other dog lacked what some might call “social graces.” Inside I was petrified, but instead of freaking I remained calm and to my surprise and delight, my dog remained calm as well. After the other dog was under control, we went on, did some jumps, and all was forgotten.
So I suppose I answered this question a little different than most. I’m sure since we’re beginners we’ll continue to encounter many obstacles on our path, but to me, I’ll always think of agility as a huge step in overcoming a major obstacle in my dog’s life.
Jan Thomas says:
July 9, 2009 at 1:30 am (Edit)
I have had many dogs in my life & have done training in obedience, hunting,tricks, & of course agility. I lost a dear K-9 friend (that I had worked in some movies with) just before Christmas. I missed her sooo much it hurt down deep. We had been together for 15 yrs. since I had adopted her at 3 days of age. Although I breed JRTs & have 13 living with me I always had a larger dog. I went on a search for another large friend, found and adopted “Sayre” a BC-Norweigan Elkhound puppy, from a rescue in NJ. She is very shy to strangers; although totally loyal to me. I decided to try her at agility to help her gain confidence in herself. She seemed to take to it like a duck to water. The chute worried her a little but, she soon learned that no one was going to hurt her when she came back out into the light of the ring and now she will do all of the obstacles with ease except the weaves……She is sure that someone will get her before she gets done with all twelve of the poles. Since this obstacle takes the longest I have worked on her focus and have succeeded in getting her through the weaves at home. Now we are tackling the task of weaving at different locations. So far we have a fifty percent success rate. As her debuts increase so does our success rate. We are still working on this bump in the road and I am sure we will figure it out. We have confidence in each other and most of all we love working together. At the end of a session she loves to lay with her head in my lap as if to say ” Boy that was fun…I love you.” And I love her as well.
My golden retriever, Jenna, and I took an agility class together a couple summers ago. She was only a year old, with lots of energy, so I figured it would be a great way of giving her an outlet (I should have named her dynamo!). My greatest concern for me was remembering the course. My greatest concern for Jenna was that she was no longer as fearless as when she was a puppy. I wondered how she would do when faced with some of the larger challenges on the course. To my surprise, she was was able to overcome any initial fears (except for the see saw)and had a great time! Since we were there for fun I didn’t press the issue – we always ran around it(in fact she would slow down when the see saw was in sight and too close). I loved our classes and after two years finally ordered equipment. Jenna will be so happy!