Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dog, be my valentine

It is a bit of a love story really.

A few days ago, my local dog training facility opened an agility training area. A couple of the myriad of reasons I quit agility was the cost of all that gas to get to the nearest center (40 miles) and the time it took to get there through traffic, often right around rush hour (45 minutes to 90 minutes). So yes, years later, here's Ahimsa opening up a mere 4 blocks from my house, with padded rubber floors, brand new equipment and 'rent it all to yourself for an hour' rates. For my budget $30 is more than I can afford weekly, but for a monthly treat, I can see doing this for a change of pace!

Many years ago, I was actively competing in agility and traveled to 7-8 trials a year. I loved the sport, my darling Stella competed right up to the Master's level in AKC agility. There is no feeling quite like doing agility with your dog - when it is going right you soar alongside your dog and they seem like mind readers, it's so effortless. Really though, it is because the dog gets so used to working with you, trusts your judgement (or melts down into barking to let you know you messed up with your timing) that she sees every twitch of the hand, hears the slightest inflection of your voice, even where your posture is pointing.

Stella passed away in August 2010 at age 15 - she'll always be my special dog. I still have Namio and ostensibly I raised him to compete in agility, but it ends up genetics rained on my parade and that my little guy has a heart murmur and hip dysplasia. Not that either of those conditions slow him down- like most Australian shepherds he is whip sharp, brimming with energy, loud, easy to train and wants to please (not always in that order). Early on, I competed with him at Novice level agility, gaining the jumpers with weaves title with ease. Then I started to notice something wrong with his gait and he gets out of breath easily - more examination by the vet revealed his health issues, and I stopped training him for competition, though we did keep going to class, doing lower jumps and so on until economic and time reasons drove me away.

So today I rented an hour for a special Valentine's Day frolic. Walking Namio to the arena, I had a lot of trepidation - would he remember the equipment, would he be afraid of the new space and refuse to do anything? Would there be other dogs to work around, lots of distractions (Namio is fearful and reactive around other dogs)? No such problem, we really did have the arena to ourselves.

Namio is ready to go!
He remembered almost all the moves, and so did I. I set up a simple jumps ( 8 inches to keep it easy on him) and tunnel circuit. He was so excited that he barked non stop for about ten minutes until I remembered that if I just use hand/body signals and no unnecessary verbal commands, that forces him to concentrate on me instead of barking. Like magic, the barking switched off and we were doing rear crosses, pinwheels, flips and pivots, all with body motion and hand signals (and me with a messed up ankle - so he did all of it with minimal motion from me - I can't currently run!). Namio remembered "Go" - which meant he would follow the flow of obstacles without pausing for instruction. He remembered 'here', 'out' and 'turn'. I am curious what else he might recall with some of the other equipment, but I feel his hip is probably too far gone for games with the dogwalk, weaves and a-frame.

Namio obeying the 'Go' command - 2 jumps, out to tunnel, some 60 ft away from me. Impressive for over 6 years away!

Namio constantly volunteered the tunnel - he loved that thing and made it so slobbery I wiped it down before putting it away.
Tired Aussies are a GOOD thing!
After he tired himself out, we did hide and seek, find the ball, find the food and lots of impulse control exercises where I had him lie down and wait while balls were rolled past - the reward being a release and getting the ball. We had a lot of fun and it brought back really wonderful memories of  Stella and Namio's glory days in the ring!