Simon Is Starting to Work
Simon, Al, Gracie and I just got back from 5 days of agility training devoted to Simon. A friend who lives on the Olympic Penninsula has a great training facility, with both an indoor arena and an outdoor agility field. She invited us to come and stay in her guest house and work with Simon for a few days, so I took her up on the offer.
I couldn't be happier with how things turned out. We arrived on Saturday Am and Karla (my friend) had set up a fun run with a bunch of her students for the afternoon. We were indoors, with strange dogs, equipment that Simon hadn't seen before, and it was pretty chilly. In the high 30's. The whole day was set up so that Simon would be the focus, and the environment very similar to a large class/agility trial environment. There were 13 dogs, some of which were pretty reactive so Simon knew to keep an eye on them. Music was blasting over the PA system, and some of the dogs were pretty nervous, and had been known to ignore their owners and wander off and cause problems with other dogs. A little dangerous, but I made sure that I kept my eye out for potential problems and made sure that everybody was kept safe.
I had 5 runs each with Simon and Al. Just jumps, tunnels and weave poles, and he did fantastic. He stayed with me the whole time, was happy to play, and didn't get stressed by any of the dogs, or people. He loved the whole experience. I was able to get him to run sequences that we havent' been able to do at home because we don't have the room, and without any previous experience running the sequences on the courses that were designed, he understood the basics and ran through every run with lots of enthusiasm and only missed a couple of jumps during the whole afternoon.
I had a distinct feeling before this experience that Simon would get more focused in a stressfull situation, and that is exactly what happened with him. He gets very animated, and focused on me when we get into a situation where there is a lot of activity, and excitement.
Everything he does, he does with much more energy, and precision when put into this type of environment.
The next 4 days I intermittently worked with Simon both indoors and outdoors, on the contact equipment. 3 or 4 fairly short training sessions per day, followed by long walks or naps or play with Karla's 2 Border Collies, and Jack Russell Terrier. We worked a lot on the teeter, which he is getting more and more comfortable with, and was able to overcome his caution about facing a new teeter, which moved, sounded and felt different than the one he uses at home. I still had a squeeze chute on each side of the teeter while we were away, to make sure that Simon didn't bail off the teeter once he had committed to it. I have the teeter at almost full height (39") and full height is 44" to 48". He still doesn't like the teeter coming up behind him as he exits it, but what I'm more concerned about is making sure that he understands the correct path to enter the teeter, so that his footwork is consistent, and that he doesn't have an opportunity to misstep and scare or injure himself on the edge of the teeter if his leg slips off to the side. He is getting a bit tougher about things when he either bumps himself, or scares himself, but is still very soft. My job is to keep him working without him scaring or injuring himself for the next little while. As he continues to work, he will toughen himself up and hopefully will not react so strongly when things go awry. He'll eventually learn to "Man-UP".
Simon's running A Frame is excellent with a success rate of 90% or more. His Dog walk is good too. He never misses his contacts, but I will expect him to increase his speed with this obstacle as he gets more experience on it. Simon's table is awesome. He understands "down" is the default position, and gets into it quickly and holds it. I can lead out from the table and he holds his position.
He learned the tire while we were away, and although he went under it a couple of times to start with, he sees it as a jump now, and I just tell him "over" and he runs and jumps through it. He understands the "chute" (aka as the collapsed tunnel"), and although he has dodged it from time to time, comes out of it very fast, and doesn't seem to mind it at all. He loves the tunnels.
So given this information, I can see we have made a lot of progress, and that he is really starting to come along. It's been very slow, and gradual, but he's definately starting to love doing agility with me, and sees it as a good game. This is all very positive, which is nice to say, given that in the early fall I was almost ready to stop training him. He's worked very hard, and so have I. I'm proud of him.
I've just entered him in his first AKC agility trial, and he'll have 3 runs in an indoor arena in early Feb. 2 JWW runs in Novice B and 1 run in Novice B FAST.
This coming weekend there is a fun run where I train with Al, and Simon will get a chance to go play in an environment, that has been both good and bad for him, although the last few weeks he has been very happy to go into the building and do little bits of work with me. I'm expecting that the "vibe" from the real agility trial environment will energize him and keep him focused on me. I'm not expecting him to loose focus and wander off. I'm expecting that he will want to work and play with me.
I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing with him. Keep him excited and happy, and try to get more interest in him to play with toys. Eventually weaning him off food as his primary reward, and replace that with a toy/play reward. He's starting to show the treats that he is getting, and I don't want to get him too fat!!