Monday, March 26, 2012

Blue Ribbon Day

This Saturday, I entered Cadence in his second CPE agility trial.  We were only there for the afternoon, getting a couple runs in with the older dogs, so I decided to try him in the last class of the day again – the Level 1 Jumpers run.

He has been doing so great in class for the last few months that I was starting to get hopeful, but know that the trial environment has a lot more distractions and stress.  I figured we’d do our best and use it as a learning experience.

The trial was full and the indoor crating area was packed and loud.  Since it was a cool, overcast day, I left Cadence crated happily in the van, where he is very relaxed.  I took him out several times during the day to play some tug games, walk through the trial, work on attention, etc.  He did great and was playing with me and relaxed each time. 

I believe a large part of our recent improvement in class has been due to putting a lot of structure and ritual around agility, mostly based on Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed protocols.  As he is so drawn to motion, it was important to give him other things to do rather than think about chasing whatever fast-moving thing caught his eye.  When we get ready for our turn, we first go to his mat and have him lie down and relax while he is waiting.  When we enter the ring, he knows to reorient to me and walk nicely to the start line.  For a while, we prevented run-offs at the end of the course by having him run to a target, though it has been several weeks since we’ve needed that as he now runs right too me for his game of tug afterwards.  He likes the predictability, and it keeps him from wondering about all the other moving things that might be in the building, and whether or not he needs to herd them.

Unfortunately for our love of structure, Cadence was the second dog on the line.  Even leaving the walk-through a few minutes early and rushing him into the building, I was walking in when the dog before us was already running.  I tossed my jacket to Lowell, ran to the gate, emptied my pocket of treats and handed them to the poor gate steward to do who-knows-what with them, and rushed into the ring.  Ugh, this did not bode well.

Cadence’s head was spinning a little with the rush, but he sat at the start line nicely.  At which point, I realized he was still wearing his collar (dogs must run “naked” in CPE).  I fumbled to remove the collar, then went to remove his harness, which his leash was actually attached to.  I proceeded to fumble like a complete idiot for what felt like a half hour trying to find the clasp on a harness I have used a million times.  I had to even make him stand back up in the process.  Sure that Cadence, and everyone else at the trial, was probably rapidly losing patience with my ineptitude, as soon as the harness was off, I just took off running with him.  So not the start line we train for.  Sigh.

Fortunately, the chaotic beginning did not impact the run.  Video is below, and while there are a couple of spins, they are all totally my fault.  It is hard to run when you aren’t breathing.  Seriously, watching this video, I don’t think you would guess that the human half of the team is the one with years of agility experience.  Thank you Cadence for being extremely tolerant and patient of your handler whose brain had turned to complete mush, and her legs to jelly, way before this point.

We ran clean, and took first place and earned Cadence’s very first Q!  I couldn’t have been prouder.  The best part though, was seeing his face every time he took an obstacle – he was happy, intent, focused totally on me and not the environment, and having a good time.  We absolutely felt like a team.

He’s so much fun, and if it took a bit of work to get to this point, it has all been worth it.  I can honestly say that I have only continued to do what I felt was right by him, and am grateful to the teachers and friends who helped us along the way.  We still have lots more work ahead, but I'm excited for it and loving every minute of it with him.

Not to be outdone, Maebe and Lowell also took two first places that day, and ten-year old Django and I earned two third place ribbons.  A pretty successful day for the family.

Earning blue ribbons is exhausting, apparently . . .

Tired Agility Dog

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