Friday, February 20, 2009

First Agility Trials

Syd ran in her first-ever agility trials on Valentine's Day weekend. Because I am trying to get a not-quite-ready dog ready for the CWCCA national specialty, Syd and I have been working really hard to try and get our act together! She's not really trial-ready, but I need her to get trial experience in new settings as much as possible before the April specialty. So, these trials are just my idea of really expensive fun-runs...

Because Syd's confidence and anxiety is something I always have to consider first and foremost, I decided to enter her in the FAST class for our first trials. I didn't know if she would flip out in the new environment, with all the barking dogs and high energy levels. Would she stay with me? Would she try to leave the ring? I thought that entering FAST would be a good opportunity to test the waters without fear of being whistled off-course at any time. I thought that if I could get Syd to work with me even for a few obstacles, or get her attention back if she was stressing, then I could try to make it a good experience, and then just leave the course once I felt she was overcoming any stress.

As it turned out, I didn't have to deal with any of that. Syd was definitely more comfortable in her crate when we were at the show site. She felt safe in there, and Kane was her buddy to keep her calm. But when it was time to line up for our run, Syd was really good. I took her to the practice jump area, and she was 100% focused on me, never even looking at another dog or person. I was so pleased with this start, I was optimistic that Syd might be able to stick with me on the real course.

Syd got her favorite cheek and ear massage as we waited for the few dogs ahead of us to run. She gave me the "sleepy eyes" look several times, and I was amazed at her level of calm. In hindsight, it kind of makes me feel badly that I had such low expectations for her first trial! Maybe I was remembering Big Nick's first agility trial (something I'll have to post about later, when I can handle remembering that experience!).

At the start line, the only sign of trouble was that I told Syd to Down, and she could not hear me. She was looking intently at the jump ahead of her. Her ears and neck were forward, and she would not make eye contact. OK, so there was no chance of a lead-out. Great. Slow mom, Fast dog. not a pretty combination! I got myself ready, and when I let go of the collar, Syd was off. Surprisingly, she did not zoom ahead and make up her own course. I was able to get her attention from that first jump and direct her around the course. She missed the Send Bonus because she took the panel jump and then came to check in with me *outside* the box before going back to take the tire jump. Well, this adventure wasn't meant to test our distance work, so it didn't much matter if she qualified.

Syd has had a confidence issue with the A-frame, something that has gotten much better since our very own A-frame appeared in the back yard. But, with the stress of the new environment, I wanted to see what she would do. Well, she wouldn't take the A-frame. No way, no how. She did run up the teeter, and for some reason she bailed just above the contact zone. That was new. But she tried it, and did not seem stressed, I think that was just more a reaction to the excitement of running the course.

When our run was over (12 points after all of our time faults, thank you very much!), I played with Syd and she got to have some really good treats! I was so happy that she made the attempt, and more importantly that she trusted me and she didn't freak out even for a second.

The second day was much better. Syd still didn't get the Send Bonus, this time totally my fault as I stopped moving altogether, duh. But, she ended up with 29 points and a nice run, a run that would have qualified her if she'd done the last jump in the bonus and gotten the Send Bonus. Oh well. She ran great, but again, once I knew she wasn't going to qualify, I tried the A-frame several times, concentrating only on the A=frame. Not gonna happen. sigh. So we went on to the triple jump, and she was delighted to soar over that and finish her run.

This week, we've been to our agility building for lots of practice. Syd's been working on the A-frame, and I can definitely see an improvement in her confidence, and I notice that she really puts more speed into her approach, which says to me that she's more committed to doing the obstacle. Last night, she even took the A-frame when I was at least 6 feet away from it and her. Normally I have to practically scrape the side of the thing when she takes it. So I am optimistic that Syd will be able to overcome this little confidence issue.

More than anything, I'm pleased with her overall confidence at the trial, no eyes darting back and forth watching to see if other dogs were "out to get her" and the confidence with the individual obstacles will come with practice and experience.

We head to the St. Louis area next weekend for another day of agility fun, so we'll hope that every new adventure builds on the last. :-)


Melissa said...

That is great to hear! I am so proud of her. You are doing a great job with getting her to overcome her troubles!!!!


karensbrae said...

That sounds so much fun!!!

penni said...

Great work, Sarah. I wish I was arriving in Topeka in time to watch you and Syd run.

Kathy and Kim Gibson said...

Oh that is just fantastic. What wonderful progress. Congrats to Mom and Sydney!

I will be in Topeka in time to watch and intend to do so!