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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rouge's First Agility Trial

Video of May 29, 2010 - Nov Std Run

Today was Rouge’s first ‘official’ agility trial and I was a bit nervous. 

The problem with being a dog trainer and a perfectionist is that I’m always thinking “I should do more work on (fill in the blank)”. I’m also keenly aware of the areas I haven’t trained completely (i.e. weave poles) and our potential weaknesses (i.e. her healthy curiosity).

But for once I followed my own advice and thought it wise to pick and then focus on just one goal to execute during our runs. In this case, I decided that our goal would be to stay connected and work together as a team throughout our run. 

Rouge is very knowledgeable on the equipment (yes, I do need to finalize my weave training which was temporarily put on hold when her love of life disabled her ability to concentrate), and she has wonderful sit stays, an automatic down on the table, an amazing 2-on-2-off contact performance, great collection work over jumps and she reads rear-crosses like a pro. But like a lot of young dogs, her exuberance can elicit visions of a crazed mad-woman dashing around the mall on a timed shopping spree!

So  our goal of working together as a team during our run was not only fitting for her, but also for me. It recently dawned on me that as her trainer, I needed to touch-base/check-in/be aware/stay connected with Rouge at a specific point between each obstacle as well. Additionally, I also needed to take a step back on the drivey portion of our run and focus on quality when in new environments.

As much as I like to run at full-speed, I had to also be aware that for the moment, the adrenaline rush that comes with running in a new heightened environment was overtaking Rouge’s ability to think clearly about her job(s) in Agility. So, I toned my running down a bit and made sure I had her attention at each point of the course, whether that was on an obstacle or between an obstacle.

For us, this was the winning formula that enabled me to keep her on task and to share continuous ‘good job’ rewards to enforce all of the positive behaviors she was offering.

Sure, we had our technical faults (a run-by to a wrong course), but what I am most pleased with was how quickly Rouge collected, returned to me and got back on track to continue the course. I’ve always said that how fast a dog recovers when a plan goes awry can be an important indicator as to where they’re head is in the game and how far they’ve come (or how far they need to go).

Let’s talk brilliant moments because Rouge had one that nearly blew me out of the water. Our Standard run (in the rain) used the short chute to the broad jump to a ‘C’ shaped tunnel. To the left of the tunnel was the dog walk (have I mentioned how much Rouge LOVES her contacts?). I was behind her and so she was left to make a choice between her favorite (a contact obstacle) or the tunnel and she did an AMAZING job of checking in and correctly choosing to drive to the tunnel entrance. I was stunned. Happily of course!

Another brilliant moment occurred on both courses when Rouge checked in with me and chose to correctly take my forward movement cue (again, I was coming in from behind) and actively sought out the last jump on the course and drove to the obstacle. Yeah for her!

After each run, multiple people asked “Did you qualify?” Gosh, I felt like I’d just climbed a mountain and our achievement was far bigger than a Qualifying ribbon. Today's runs have increased my confidence with her and have motivated me to move toward finishing our weave pole training. 

Our next trial will be at the end of July at the Chuckanut show and I'm really excited to come out even stronger and better trained there. It's nice to have a clear cut goal to work toward!

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