Simon's First Agility Competition!
Simon had a pretty exciting week! He had his first Group Agility Class on Tuesday Feb 10 and on Saturday Feb 14 he had his first run in AKC Agility competition.
It was a pretty scary having him entered in a trial where there were over 200 dogs entered, in an indoor building that has no room for people or dogs unless they are actually in the ring, and acoustics that seem to many dogs, to amplify the sounds inside the building. An added distraction is that there is a kitchen with a food table, right outside the Jumpers with Weaves ring, which has hot food that you can smell, which means the dogs know it is there from the other end of the arena.
So it was a pretty intense place to bring him out, but the reason I did it was because I wanted to know where we were in his development, and this would be a good test. It was either going to be a disaster, or turn out really well. The disaster, if there was going to be one, would be that Simon would just not want to play, and that he would just run off and ignore me, and do avoidance behaviors like sniffing the ground or running off to investigate what else was cool in the building, like other dogs!
I believed that he would do fine, as it seemed to me that in high intensity environments, like this building, Simon seemed more focused on me, and also more energized by being in such places. In my mind the odds were about 75% in favor of it turning out well. The downside of it turning out badly was significant though. It might mean that we could take months to get back to this point if Simon decided that it wasn't fun, or if something scared him in the ring. I'd been working for 4 ½ months to get him back to this stage since he had his terrifying experience/reaction to the Teeter, and his subsequent shut down.
I believed it would go well, but was quite frightened about what would be the outcome if the experience turned out badly from Simon's perspective.
Luckily, Simon's class was early in the day, so he wouldn't have to wait around all day, and then get his chance to run. I brought him out about 5 minutes before his run, did some focus work with him, played with him at a practice jump, and then brought him into to building when there were about 5 or 6 dogs ahead of him. He was paying attention pretty well, and did his tricks, spins, sits, downs, and back ups, with good speed, and enthusiasm.
When it was our turn, I led him into the ring. He was excited to go in, as there was all this room in there versus the crowds outside the ring. I led him to the start line, he was starting to survey the equipment. I sat him where I wanted him to be, and like a good boy he sat while I took off his leash, then I led out a few feet just past the first jump. He did look around for a brief second or so, and then I got his attention, and he held my eyes while I led out. As soon as I was sure I had him with me I said OK, and he was off like a shot!! He had a great run. Not his full speed, but he stayed with me the whole time, and when he missed taking a jump (called a refusal) he did so because I dropped a hand, and that means "come in", which is exactly what he did. The best part of this run was that when I was correcting the refusal, he had started to run off towards the bar setter in the chair, and when I called him he came right back and continued to work with me.
Simon had fun during the run. He was excited and happy to play. His tail was wagging, and he liked the cheers from everyone who watched and knew his story. After we left the ring, Simon had lots of special treats, and then we went for a walk and a run in the lure coursing field, just us two!!
Simon's run the next day was less stressful for me, as I knew he could do it, I just had to help him succeed. The problem with the course was that the weave poles were the second obstacle, and right after the weaves he would be looking directly at the goodie table right outside the ring. I handled the opening differently than I would have otherwise, just to help him stay focused on the course, and not all the food just outside the ring!! It was more handling for him by me, but I wanted to make sure he ran without getting distracted. The video was shot from the food/kitchen area, so you can see the goodies easily accessible to him!!
He did great, and handled the front crosses, and rear crosses that I did with him, and had a fast run of 20.92 seconds. Enough for first place. Simon was very proud of himself after this run, and proudly walked out of the building carrying his dental chew rawhide treat in his mouth, like a giant cigar. Simon was really happy through this run, stayed focused and although he has much more speed in him; he demonstrated to me and everyone else there, that he is going to be a very fast agility dog. He has a huge stride, is a good jumper, and turns very quickly. As a baby dog, running at almost 5 yards per second, this is very unusual. Particularly, at the 16 inch jump height.
It worked out great. Simon was very happy. He loved all the attention and the good treats, and best of all, I kept him focused and with me when we were running the course.
In the end, it couldn't have been a better experience!!. At the end of September '08 (a few months ago) I was almost ready to give up training him. I just didn't see that he was going to have what it took to ever get in the ring and do what he did. I'm so glad that I didn't quit on him. He worked hard to get to where were are now, and what we have done together to get to this point has changed our relationship. We're on the same team, now. He knows he is special to me and comes alive when we are working together.
Here is a link to the video of his runs. Visit My Website
Doing this with Simon over the Valentines Weekend, was one of the best experiences I've ever had in Agility!