Gasp! I am being a neglectful blogger. I must rectify this. I was holding off a bit before our next fun show, and then we sucked (read: I sucked and my dog picked up on it and proceeded to suck as well) and basically I spent the next few days having a fit. I don’t like having fits, I don’t want to be “that person” who weeps every time we don’t do as well as I thought we would, but I totally went there.
Basically what happened (as my trainer so rightly pointed out to me later) was that I had my expectations set too high. It was our second time at the CAANs barn, and I’d put a lot of work into Mufaasa to try and get him ready. Durning the round, I got tense and Mufaasa picked up on it, and started ground sniffing as an appeasement gesture, not bringing the ball back and just being completely unenthusiastic to the point where we didn’t even make it half way through the course before our time was up. He did a lot of the same stuff the first time we tried to do a round at that same place but I just had a treat bag on me—I wasn’t particularly shocked that he was lacking in enthusiasm and shrugged it off. But this time I was sure it would be different. I’ve switched to using his ball as a reward. I’ve heard over and over that balls aren’t great, especially since it can be hard to hit your reward line with any accuracy, but Mufaasa loves his ball. Like, other dogs have run up and bit him on the ass at the park to get his attention when I’m holding a ball, and he still didn’t loose his focus. Since I started training with it his drive has gone way up and he’s been learning things a lot quicker (and doing reps without loosing his drive). Basically he looked fantastic in practice, which suggested the ball would keep him engaged way better on course than a treat bag.
I even had a wicked master plane going into that weekend. For as much of the week beforehand as I could manage (it wound up being three days in a row), I’d take him to a park he’d never been in before and train there, so he’d get the idea that as soon as the equipment comes out, it’s go time. And it seemed to be working; there was no real discernible change between how he worked at a new park vs. our usual park. Here’s a short video of him doing a set point exercise at 26″ (at the very least his jumping form is coming along super).
He was doing serps and pinwheels like a champion, doing lead out pivots (even into weaves!), had absolutely figured out the decel exercise, and I could send him to a line of four jumps from about five metres away and have him complete it no problem regardless of what park we were in, whether there were a group of people throwing a football next to us or if random dogs were zooming in front of him in the middle of a sequence. Going into the weekend I was feeling really good about what we had accomplished that week.
The first thing we did at the fun-show was a short contacts workshop and he was AWESOME. Tons of enthusiasm, and no hesitation on the equipment whatsoever. We were doing jumps and other exercises in between our turn and his focus was dead on. The first week we were there I could barely get him to do circle work, this time it was like a completely different dog. I walked my course, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on where I was going. I was planning on rewarding every two to three jumps, and if he started sniffing I would go to one.
First three jumps: great! Everything else: blarg. Lots of sniffing, more than the first time we were there, and when I threw the ball he would just wander off with it instead of retrieving it like he usually does. At one point I did a couple of nose touches and a push-back to one jump, and he didn’t even make it over a single fence. That was three feet away from him. And set at about half the height he’ll be expected to do in competition. That’s pretty much a low point for me.
Now, I know it could be worse. He could be careening all over the ring so I couldn’t catch him at all. He could be terrified. I could train with really mean people (thank god I don’t, you guys are awesome). Intellectually I know Mufaasa is doing super great for his experience level, but when everything else is going so well, it’s like a kick in the teeth when it goes wrong. If he were running around in circles at least I could say there was some enthusiasm there. He just shut down and I totally failed to think of a way to get him back.
Part of the problem has something to do with just being in an indoor arena. He had the same problem when we were going to another trainer and we worked in her “pup tent”—basically a large arena with matted floors. The fun-show was held at an old (I’m assuming dairy?) farm. He lived on a horse farm for a while, so the smells shouldn’t be freaking him out too much, though my trainer thinks it might be because he was allowed free reign of the arena there he doesn’t think he has to focus at this new place, but I’m not convinced (I did all my initial basic obedience in the arena and that’s where I taught him to play fetch in the first place).
Whatever the cause, after this past weekend I’m convinced it’s specific to arenas. How do I know that? Well, there was another training meet at a nearby park, basically another chance to get him on the larger equipment (dog walk, teeter, a-frame, the whole shebang) and again just work our focus in a new place. There was a few incidents of him going into the woods when we were practicing, but he came back after just a minute (instead of forcing me to go into the woods and getting him), and later when we ran our round, he just tootled off twice to pee, and twice to go chug some water (easily fixed by making sure he’s peed and had a drink before we start our round). He was hesitant to go up the contact equipment for some reason, but I eventually got him on everything except the teeter (which was on purpose, he hasn’t done a full teeter yet and new environment isn’t the place to find out if he can). The big thing I noticed was that he stayed enthusiastic, was trotting along, and there was virtually NO SNIFFING. Here’s a partial video (we had a short intermission for our first run when a lady showed up with her two dogs, neither of which were wearing a collar, and upon seeing a group of people and dogs standing around watching another dog work on equipment, decided it was totally cool to just let her dogs run all over the place. Jebus).
Like I said, didn’t seem to realize he was suppose to go on the equipment, but in all fairness, I’d never asked him to do the full equipment on course before. Also, I really need to make my own tire jump (yes it will be my next DIY agility project), he’s somewhat inconsistent with it still. And I’m totally buying a contact trainer from the girls who made all the stuff you see in that video so we can really start working on our running contacts.
Oh yeah, and HE DID TWELVE WEAVES. He seriously could have done nothing else good yesterday and I’d still be thrilled with him (naturally I do not have video of him doing the weaves, but he did them). We were at six at home (since I restarted our weave training), and was planning on staying at six for the next week just to work on his muscle memory. But we were there, there were twelve weaves set up and I thought, what the hell, I’ll just see what he does, and he did all of them, like first try! And the weaves there weren’t sticking up particularly straight (damn you, rocky and clay filled Nova Scotia terrain!) so the few times he didn’t get it right I’m officially blaming on the equipment.
Yes, if I could get Mufaasa to go like that in an arena, I’d be doing backflips of pure joy. Or an awkward backwards summersault. Alright, I’ll fist pound (I am not a flexible person), but it will be an epic fist pound.
Now, part of the reason I spent the better part of last week in a funk was because I couldn’t think of a way to fix the problem. I wasn’t (and still am not entirely) sure what the route of the problem is (aside from me being a total downer on my dog). At the very least I now have a bit of a plan.
Step 1: Take him outside before our match and play fetch (with the chuckit for maximum throw length) so that his blood will be up as much as possible. Do not go in until just before our run.
Step 2: Ignore the course. Run him on obstacles in as much of a straight line as possible since that’s about the only thing we’ve had success with in there. He doesn’t know what the course is, and the ONLY thing I want from him next time is to maintain our connection. If that means mid-round we stop going over obsticles alltogether and just do some nose touches and circle work, so be it.
Step 3: Lighten up, it’s a fucking fun-match. Like, a match that’s for FUN. So have fun.
Step 4: Re-read my own freaking advise and stop being a n00b.
Step 5: Win the lotto and build my own arena to train in.
There, sound’s easy enough.