Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Big breakthroughs for the little Noodle last week in his foundation agility class! As Cadence is now 13-months old, I have been gradually increasing the amount of agility training we are doing. We are taking it slow though, and I am trying to do things right from the start rather than rushing and having things to go back and fix later on down the road.

After all the orthopedic problems that Tristan had, I have been very conservative with what I have asked Cadence to do physically up to this point. We spent his first year basically doing obedience, flatwork, impulse control and relationship-building games, Salo puppy jumping exercises, and shaping his end contact behavior (two on/two off) on a flat plank. Things like that. I wasn't worrying about having him jump bars or run over full contact obstacles. He still hasn't even seen weave poles, and won't for probably another couple months.

Fortunately, the above list has given us plenty to work on. By the end of the winter though, I was pretty happy with his flatwork/shadow handling skills and the way he has begun using his body over the jump bumps. So in recent weeks, we have started regular backyard training sessions with increasing obstacle work. He is now running down the down ramp on our mini-dogwalk and assuming his 2-on/2-off position until released, he is running to the end of a low teeter without hesitation, doing a nice auto-down on the table, blasting through chutes and tunnels, and we have begun putting a bar on the jump during his Salo exercises, which he clears nicely.

All along, he has been enrolled in intro agility classes, but I have been using them primarily as a means for proofing with distractions. Cadence is extremely motion-oriented, even by BC standards. He is not reactive or aggressive in the least, but when he watches other dogs run he does have a great urge to scream with excitement. Off leash, he has a great desire to run big Border Collie loops around everyone, so he had not been allowed that opportunity for quite some time. We spent our last session of classes occasionally participating in an exercise, but mostly working on showing impulse control and giving me attention. Thankfully, we had an understanding instructor who let us do our own thing for the most part. At home, we continued to build value for the obstacles, but class was mostly about control and focus.

After a couple-week break between class sessions, we started up again last week. I'd been working him a lot over those off weeks and he immediately was more attentive and calm when we arrived to class this time. After warming up on some single-obstacle exercises, we were ready to run a few little sequences that had been set up. I figured I would keep him on leash as usual, do a couple obstacles, reward him, and call it good. But as it neared our turn, Cade had yet to have a screaming fit and was still nicely focused on me. I had Lowell prepared to run interference just in case Noodle decided he wanted to run the ring gating dividing the two class areas (a fast, vocal BC was running in the course adjacent to us at the time), and decided I would see if our recent work was paying off. I took a deep, calming breath, and slipped off his leash.

Well, my Noodle made me very proud! We ran this, and the following sequences, without a hitch. He lined up and stayed nicely at the start line, stuck with me, followed my handling correctly, kept his criteria on the obstacles, and most importantly, seemed to be having fun. I would reward after every few obstacles, but it was fun to watch him start to figure out that this was the game - that you could do these obstacles one after another, and that you could run! I swear I could see a light bulb go off after he would do the first two obstacles, like he was thinking, "Wait, I can keep going and do another obstacle, and I can do it fast!" With each obstacle he took, I could see him dig in with more confidence and start to accelerate more and more. He had me hustling and even a bit winded at the end of just a short, easy course.

The best part was as we would connect as we were running. I'd see him coming out of the tunnel, our eyes would meet, and I could suddenly see us running his first course, entering his first competition, and becoming a true team. I could see that he was not just my baby Noodle-dog, but also my next agility partner.

We still are in no rush. Even though he made no mistakes this week, he is still nowhere near 100% reliable off-leash, so we will continue our recall and attention work. But we are making progress definitely, and I can see the day somewhere off in the future where we walk into the ring together. For now, I am glad that patience is paying off, and am glad that I am staying committed to the training methods and plan that I have chosen. I hope one day he can be a good example of the benefits of shaping and positive training.

OK, as we left class, I admit he did have to voice his excitement over the whole evening with one vocal outburst, but he quickly pulled it back together and acted like a dignified little Noodle again.

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