So I left off my last post with a weird little proclamation about how I was going to look at running Mufaasa, and a hopeful note about how Raafi’s confidence in competition has come along. I’ve attended a few trials since then and the results have been mixed, but generally good.
I’m really in a strange place with Mufaasa right now. The other day my trainer handed us a list she received from a Kathy Keats class. It was a list of skills that your dog needs to know for agility , and each skill had the numbers 1-10 next to it. She told us to go through the list and if we would rate any of those skills below a 6 or 7 then it was something we needed to work on. I looked at the list for a minute and it was actually incredibly depressing as I realized that if I was being brutally honest the answer for each skill is 5 or less, especially when it comes to obstacle performance. He might knock every pole down in his first class of the day and go on to win the second. He might miss the a-frame every time on a Saturday and hit it with crazy distractions and difficult entrances on a Sunday. It’s really very hard to tell what we have under our belt in practice as I can’t ask him to do something more than once or twice in a row as he’ll start offering random things. I’m a bit at a loss about what to work on as there seems to be so much to fix.
As a practice dog in competition he’s been pretty good (aside from one particularly hot day where convincing him to pay attention was like trying to quickly drink a class of molasses). The bar total has been….impressive. Or he’ll go in and be ridiculously good at leaving stuff up no matter how incompetently I handle him. He even moved into masters jumpers, which is awesome, and, frankly, unexpected considering it took us a year to get out of starters. But I’m still in a spot where I don’t know where I’m going with him or what I hope to achieve with him.
At the moment I’ve resolved to take whatever he offers as it happens, but training with no clear goals is very, very strange. I like goals. I need strict deadlines, otherwise I procrastinate like a champion. Trying to train with no clear plans is just…well, I’ll tell you what it’s like as soon as I find a word for what I’m feeling. Confused? Conflicted? Directionless? I assume there’s some epic word in German that expresses exactly what I want. Too bad I don’t speak German.
Raafi’s progress has been quite a bit more satisfying. He did have one more elimination for eliminating at the first trial after Regionals (poop instead of pee this time, just to change things up) and did run out of the ring at that and one other trial. That seems to be his new habit if he’s unsure—flee the scene. Fortunately he seems to recover easily from that one once he’s back in the ring, and if I can get him back in I can at least re-engage and show him that nothing horrible is going to happen.
In fact he has actually moved into Advanced Snooker already and got a Q on his first try at the advanced level (which, funnily enough means he’s tied with Mufaasa in that class). Our most recent trial was easily our best—I feel like we are starting to gel as a team and I’m giving him the handling he needs to not feel like something has gone wrong in the first place. I have to learn to handle him from a bit further away and to cue a LOT earlier. At the very least he’s maintaining a similar level of enthusiasm throughout the trial day and looks like he’s really starting to find the fun in the competition ring. Once we conquer that part, the rest will be easy.
I’m still working to increase his commitment and mostly on just trusting him to do his job. After running Mu for two years I’ve gotten in the habit of being able to stay ahead and frankly not really trusting anything to happen as planned. As such I forget that Raafi actually has a pretty good understanding of his job for a baby dog and really, really likes it when I stick to the plan.
In the meantime we’re gearing up for the final big batch of trials before the end of the regular season, including my first “out of province” trial that I’m mega excited about. I also will soon have my own full dogwalk built and (gasp!) my own transportation to my handy-dandy indoor training space generously offered to me by a friend. It might seem a little crazy but I’m already looking forward to getting back into training mode this winter, and I’m excited to get started. This has been a year of not really coming close to meeting any of my original goals, which has resulted in refocusing on a lot of the fundamentals to try to figure out where the holes are. Funnily enough that makes me excited for winter training when I don’t have the pressure of upcoming competitions, which shouldn’t make a difference in how I feel about training, but it does, whether I like it or not.
Anywho, here’s a few videos of the last two trials we went to. I almost skipped this trial when the venue was changed, as I’m not in love with the footing. If you watch you’ll see my dogs adding a LOT of strides between the jumps, and Raafi never really properly jumps in extension. I was also handling him hesitantly as in our unfilmed first round of the day he managed to run out of the ring at both ends, though he did come back. He scored his first jumper Q (and would have scored a second if I hadn’t screwed up) and got his last snooker he need to move into advanced. Mu had a terrible standard, a messy (and short!) snooker, and then Q’d his last advanced jumper, and then knocked down half the course in his first Masters jumpers. Like I said, I really have no idea what that dog is going to throw at me at any moment.
And here’s Raafi at our most recent trial. First two rounds we were so close to Qing I can still taste it. I likely would have gotten that standard if I had just trusted my AWESOME (and in several places butt saving) dog and just asked for a swing into the tunnel. I’m still scratching my head over him pulling off the tunnel—usually my biggest challenge (after dealing with stress) is keeping him from going into off course tunnels. And then there was snooker, which we somehow Q’d with him getting zero points for three out of the four opening combinations, and me throwing in an unnecessary blind cross out of habit, which then necessitated a rear cross (executed late), and I’m pretty sure I forgot how to cue a turn in a timely manner for the whole of the closing sequence. God I hate snooker.
So, yes, a-frame not great for that last class, but I was actually ok with it as it showed a dog with a lot of enthusiasm for the last class of the day. It also showed a dog not stressing and fleeing the scene when I stuttered around like the greenest handler on the planet. Bit by bit my baby dog is figuring it out.