Hello hello, and welcome back to Teacher’s Pet, a column on all things training! Every other #TrainingTuesday, Brussels.Sprout, will share his how-tos for learning new tricks, updates on his own adventures in agility competition, and his favorite tips for helping you and your pup bond over training.
Teacher’s Pet Agility: And We’re Back!
Last time on Teacher’s Pet, we talked about stepping back from agility for a bit and returning feeling happy, health and refreshed. A few days ago, Sproutie had his first trial (aka competition) in over 6 months, and I couldn’t have been more proud.
Before we share more of our day, I want to give a quick overview of how an agility trial works. Different agility organizations (aka “venues”) offer trials, each with their own classes and rules. We compete in a few venues, but this particular trial was for CPE, whose main philosophy is for the dog and handler to have fun while competing. It was the perfect choice for our return to competition. Each venue offers different classes – the basics are Standard (all the obstacles) and Jumpers (pretty much just a lot of jumps, tunnels and sometimes weaves), alongside other games or strategy classes. Within each class you compete at different levels, with the course getting harder as the levels go up. We’re at Level 2/Level 3 in CPE, so we have a ways to go.
Standard (Level 2): This was our first run of the day, and it started off strong! Sprout has a love-hate relationship with the teeter (just imagine running up a narrow ramp 5x your height and then riding it down…), but this morning he loved it! Then we lost a lot of time getting stuck on the weaves. Sprout was a little too over stimulated and not focusing (and I was too scatterbrained to really help him) but when he did focus, he nailed them. Things started unwinding at the dog walk, where I messed up by just assuming he’d take it and didn’t pay attention (oops, we got faults when he popped off). The tunnel he took next was not part of the course (oops, more faults), and then he refused the A-frame (oops, even more faults), but I just kept going. See, Sprout tends to shut down if he thinks he made a mistake, so I wanted to just kind of let him think he was doing it perfectly. And he left the ring a happy pup who felt like he nailed it, and we celebrated with treats as though he’d won. Success in my book.
Colors: This was our third run of the day and our FIRST Q in many many months. A “Q” means you “qualified” by completing all the obstacles within the course time and fault limits. “Colors” is a game where there are two different overlapping courses in the ring, and you have to pick one course and complete only the obstacles for that one. We picked the pink course because it had the most tunnels, and Sprout loves tunnels. Sprout started a little slow and seemed unsure, then stopped to scratch himself (a bit of a nervous/excited tic), but after that his head was in the game and you can see he picks up his speed and finishes easily. I was super excited for him, and he was super excited to get many snackies as a reward after we left the ring.
Wildcard: This was our fourth run of the day, and our second Q (yay!) It was already mid-afternoon, so Sprout was starting to get a bit tired and unfocused. As you can see he stops a few times and gets into a show-down with me. The old Sprout would not have kept going and would have zoomed or run toward the exit the moment I approached him, but the NEW Sprout came back and finished.
I was so proud of him for sticking with me, and threw an even bigger snackies party for him after we left the ring to help reinforce the notion that good things come to those who wait. See, in class Sprout gets rewards every 4-8 obstacles, but in trials you can’t have food in the ring so he can get demotivated and impatient. This is pretty common for new agility dogs. Sprout learned pretty quickly that when he leaves the ring after a good run, he gets treats. But being the sneaky smart creature he is, he figured if he left the ring earlier, maybe he’d just get the treats without doing the work. Not so fast, buddy. So now we’ve been working on making sure he knows he has to do all the things before he gets all the snacks, and I think that’s finally starting to click.
None of our runs that day were smooth. In fact, most of them were pretty bad objectively speaking – we racked up 65 faults in standard (you need under 15 to qualify) – but each one a step in the right direction, and, true to the CPE philosophy, both handler and dog had fun while competing. Success!
Stay tuned for more adventures!
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