I've taken two years off from dog shows. This was due to Marco having a knee injury and then my house fire. So I've spent the last 10 months training my dogs pretty hard in agility for our comeback and in Ari's case his first agility trial.
The time off has allowed me to really think about why I do shows/trials and how to best prepare my dogs for them. And this past weekend I learned a lot. I love going to these events because it pushes me to work with my dogs several times a week and to grow my relationship with them. We're constantly learning together and I find that very rewarding. I believe they do too as they appear to love agility specifically. It's a really hard sport and just when you think you're ready something will come up and prove that no you're not.
During this particular trial I had the most success I've ever had with Marco. He has had a marked improvement over previous trials. By success I mean he was the least stressed I've ever seen him at a trial, he was able to complete behaviours that he previously couldn't (although not as well as he does in practice) and he had some great success in the Jumpers events. He also had a pretty nice Steeplechase run but alas we still can't hit those weave poles on the first go in a trial (something to continue to practice).
This was Ari's first trial so I wasn't sure what to expect. I wasn't sure how to warm him up (how early to take him out, how excited to get him, etc.). We were brand new and while at practice he has been extremely reliable and well behaved the trial environment is pretty different. I had mixed results to be honest. His first run on Saturday was great. He was the very first dog to go and while he made a mistake on course (ran by jump #3) it was because he was fast and I was out of position aka no big deal and I was really proud of him. Throughout the weekend I didn't know what was going to happen. He had a run in Gambler's where he qualified but the dog before us got Zoomies and raced around the ring. Ari watched this was great interest and as a result when it was his turn he wasn't listening very well until mid-way through. Luckily for me in Gambler's the end closing is really the most important part and he scored enough points before that. I did learn how to calm him down when he was wild in the ring (big score). He also had a Steeplechase run where he took one jump and then left the ring to go play with another dog. This has never happened to me ever... not with another dog, not in practice and definitely not in a trial. When he came up we leashed up and I took him for a time out. His next run he was great. I've learned that Ari can't really watch the dog before him or he gets either too excited or loses focus. I've learned he needs a food reward before he goes in the ring. And I've learned not to bring him out until almost the last minute as he gets stressed. I also learned some of the things I was worried about didn't come to fruition. On 5 out of 7 runs he listened perfectly and made some baby dog mistakes. He tried really hard to please and seemed to really enjoy himself.
For both boys I realized that while spending a lot of time on weave poles is necessary I also failed to reinforce my contacts enough and both my boys were nervous on the dog walk (not the teeter which we practice a lot). This means I really need to practice that more as both boys would have had a Standard Q if I had. So lesson learned.
We had fun and I left feeling good about my dogs and our training. I can't wait for the next one and to see where else we can go!
I'm going to be attending two seminars this summer which should also help me a lot. I'm going to be attending an Agility Workshop with Kim Boyes in July and a Drive and Motivation seminar with Amanda Labadie in August. Both seminars are being hosted by Two Paws Up. I can't wait. All three of us have a lot to learn from this awesome ladies.