Agility Dog

When I first learned about dog sports, I wanted to do agility. When I brought Risa home so many years ago, I wanted to do agility with her. Agility never happened for Risa and so I got Kyu with hopes of doing agility with him. He got closer to it than Risa did but, as I struggled to get his IBD under control, I had almost written off agility for him completely.

He was enrolled in an agility class during the worst part of his disease. I pulled him from class and went by myself several nights because he was sick. Even as he recovered and I tried to figure out how to best manage his illness, he wasn’t the same dog in classes. He’d check out or refuse to set up. He’d miss jumps. He wasn’t having it. I eventually pulled him out of classes completely because he was never healthy enough to make it through an entire session and he injured his iliopsoas.

That was two years ago. And he hasn’t done a lot of agility since. I’ve taken a couple online courses and worked through some of those things with him on my own. Friends of mine have offered to help me as well. But I still felt like agility might never happen for him. I still haven’t gotten his gut as stable as I’d like. And what if he doesn’t even like agility after the numerous times he’d tried doing it when he felt sick?

The weather started to improve and so did his health. I had to make further adjustments to his prednisone dosage (after talking to his IMS vet) and he was more interested in continuing to train. I started asking him to do a little bit of agility and he was into it. In fact, he started following me around the yard when I was setting things up and “asking” me to do this thing! He did not hate agility; I did not accidentally ruin it for him when I didn’t realize how sick he was. He wanted to play!

I started working with him on some of the foundations I felt we’d missed. I worked on my handling with him. I took him to the training place and ran him on some small sequences and worked with him in the yard as well. A nearby venue offered day of trial entries and I decided that, as long as he felt well, I would enter him for a day. That day rolled around today and, with an absolutely gorgeous weather forecast, I loaded up the car full of stuff and dogs and we were off!

I had a lot of decisions to make in choosing to enter him. I didn’t know what jump height he’d measure into but I knew I wasn’t going to jump him at full height. Between his iliopsoas strain 2 years ago and his chronic IBD, it didn’t seem fair to ask him to do that. I knew that he suffers from a lack of stamina due to being on prednisone and I didn’t want him to get hurt trying to take a jump he couldn’t manage or blow off jumps entirely. I also had not jumped him at the height class he’d likely measure into much in the weeks leading up and decided that also made it unfair. So I entered him in the 12″ class knowing that would allow him to be the most successful. I also only entered him into two classes because he’s never trialed before and I didn’t want to overdo it.

His first run was actually a lot better than I’d expected. I think, at the beginning, he wasn’t sure why he was there. It was his first trial after all! Even though I lost his focus a couple times at the beginning, he returned to work quite quickly and was able to successfully complete the first course we ran ever! He took 1st place and Q’d! I was so proud of him! And proud of me for not totally messing it up. 🙂 There were definitely things I could have done better but we did it!!! If we had erred, it was easy for me to see what the likely cause was. Like when he got ahead of me in a line of jumps and he slowed to see where I was instead of taking the jump ahead of him. If I had recognized he was driving ahead and had told him “Go!,” he might have taken the jump!

The final run was at the end of the day. I wasn’t nearly as nervous for our first run as our final. I had NO IDEA what to expect during our first run and figured we’d just go and have a good time. I had planned on that for the second run as well but my nerves got the better of me. Unlike our Full House run where I got to pick the course and didn’t have to worry as much about him missing an obstacle, that was not the case in Jumpers. It was a set course. It had to be performed a specific way.

In addition, as it was a small trial, we were one of three dogs in the class. The other two competitors were seasoned; they’d run agility before. I am very green with my first agility dog and I know neither of us is as well-practiced as we should be. And figuring out how to navigate a course properly and set my dog up successfully is something I have struggled with before. I thought I had a pretty good game plan, though, even if I kept forgetting part of the course in the middle. I only got to walk it four times and I really could have used a couple more to build up my confidence. But no one else was still out there with me and, even though I know the venue is very laid back and it was still early in the day, I didn’t want to hold things up and I left instead of staying there to do what I needed to do to properly prepare.

I felt rushed getting Kyu ready since there was only one dog ahead of us. This didn’t help either. Despite a slow start getting ready at the line, Kyu started out pretty well. He even had a nice section in the middle where I was struggling to remember what to do when walking the course. Then, it started to go south. I’m not sure if it was my handling that was unclear to him or if he was just tired. He started refusing jumps. A lot of them. When we’ve practiced, I’ve noticed he’s likely to refuse a jump if he doesn’t feel well or doesn’t have the energy to clear it. I would guess that was a huge part of why he started to struggle during the run. I also started flailing my arms as if pointing at the jump would help him realize he should go over it despite not ever doing that ever in training so I’m sure that didn’t make things better for him. He still did take every jump even though he was struggling and sort of throwing himself over by the end. He missed the final jump of the course and then back jumped it which I thought NQ’d him but it hadn’t until I petted him down to let him know he was a good boy. If I’d just sent him back over it the right way, it would have been a qualifying run. Ultimately, I cost us a Q on that run and a title.

Even if we didn’t title, we had fun. And that’s the most important part. He wanted to be out there and work with me. Even when it was confusing. Even when he didn’t quite have the energy at the end.

In addition, and most important going forward, is that I learned stuff. I now have a better idea of where the gaps in our training are. I know what we need to work on to improve. I know what to focus on so that, next trial, we’ll be better prepared.

I know most of the work is on me. I need to spend more time figuring out my job so I can better instruct him. Like needing to recognize when he’s driving ahead of me and either giving him the knowledge to take a jump because it’s in the line we’re running toward or me remembering to cue him to “Go!” when I want him to drive away. And I need to build up my confidence in reading a course map and feeling like I can accurately figure out where I need to add crosses (and which ones to do) so that I can better instruct him on where to go. In addition, by spending time working on my skills, I’ll feel more confident when I’m out there which will build his confidence and keep me from doing flailing arms to try and “make shit happen” when it feels like things are falling apart.

Overall, I’m so happy with how things went today. My boy was happy to be out there running agility with me. He was focused and he was working. Given everything we’ve been through, that was the best part. The venue itself was also super friendly, welcoming, and laid back–my favorite dog sport description! Even people I didn’t know were all smiles and wonderful to chat with.

I can’t wait to do it again. Hopefully with a healthier dog and a healthier understanding of how to direct him on a course.

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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