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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For the Love of the Sport

As the Puppies Grow...

The attached picture of Ru was taken almost a year ago, but it's one of my favorites. She's not so puppy any more and is now almost 16 months old. While she is technically old enough to compete in AKC Agility, I prefer the 18 months that USDAA uses as their guidelines.

Ready or not, Ru will compete in the PSLRA Lab Trial that I'm co-chairing in mid-June. I mean hey, why not make her debut in front of friends! : )

I've been feeling the pressure a bit since I haven't been practicing as diligently as some, but I've certainly spent daily time bonding with her in non-agility ways - so there is a plus and she certainly isn't being ignored. On the contrast, she's a spoiled brat !

This is a hard age because she's probably ready physically for the challenges Agility has to offer, but I've intentionally chosen to be conservative and take it easy on this (as I have been with all of my prior dogs) and that's why I hadn't practiced as much as some at this age. 

For the record, mentally Ru has an incredible work ethic and LOVES to be with & interact me. I've known all along that she enjoys the parts of Agility we have trained, but was concerned when she was a bit slower and more cautious when it came to putting it all together with jumping AND handling. You could definitely see the wheels turning while she worked through the information being tossed at her at a faster and faster speed as she progressed (this is a good thing). 

Here's where training with Stacy P-G and Pinky way back when came in handy - Stacy taught me that as long as they're thinking, let them finish the thought and see what conclusion they come up with. Far too often handlers step in to make the decision for the dog - not the best way for the dog to learn. It's amazing how that sound advice from over a decade ago is still very relevant today and has quickly paid off.

Tonight I finally got a full glimpse of what Ru is capable of and I'm thrilled
  • Tonight she was a little speed demon over the jumps (a first). While I had the speed over contacts, I hadn't had it during jumps & handling sequences so I was so amazed at the progress and enthusiasm she suddenly showed tonight. 
  • Next, she took 3 jumps in a straight line, a very tough sequence for a young dog.
  • On the first approach to the teeter, she did hesitate a bit earlier than I would have preferred. However, I'm proud that she recognized the obstacle and adjusted to fit her comfort level (although ultimately I'd like to heavily reward going to the end of the board & riding it down).  So I was VERY pleased that as the night progressed she ran toward the last 1/3 of the board with confidence and rode it down easily on her own accord. I was very generous for that teeter performance and am encouraged that she offered more on her own accord!
  • Next, Ru loves her contacts and will often pull to those obstacles rather than follow my lead. I continued my work from last week on by-passing contacts and taking a different path. I was so pleased when this week she easily got the concept and again, I rewarded generously for her decision. (Note to self: remember to stop and reward the jumps as much as I had the contacts so that all obstacles have equal value).
  • Next, what stuck out was that I really need to go back to my rear-cross work with her. As she gains speed and confidence, she is not reading (or I'm not executing properly) the rear-cross as it's been trained or to my criteria expectations. This is normal for the transitional phase and should be some fun homework for us to do over the next week or so.
I believe that one of the things that made us successful tonight was that I made sure to be very generous with my praise and treats over the last few weeks. I worked hard to focus on the positive and to change my attitude to look for those good things vs. the 'faults'. I also worked hard to break things down into smaller, more managable & successful parts.

As a bit of insight, there was a week in the past where I came to the conclusion that I was expecting Ru (my Dalmatian) to act like a Border Collie (namely like my now deceased BC, Coal, the last dog I trained from a puppy). Imagine my disappointment when she wasn't Coal and shame on me for inadvertently going in that directions. But, I'm human and since I allow my dogs the luxury of learning by doing, I need to give myself the same space. It was a good reminder on how every dog IS different and that just like when I'm teaching, I need to remember to adjust more liberally to my own personal dogs.

Additionally, I think it's easy to forget the amount of time and effort we put into our older dogs and that it's way too easy to expect our younger ones to 'just know' those things. Too bad osmosis doesn't work for dog training since I'd be soooo rich if I could accomplish that.

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