Wednesday night was Miley’s first foundation agility class! Yay!! I’m having a mixture of the same feelings starting this class that I did when I started taking private obedience lessons with her. It’s exciting to start fresh with a new dog and hopefully avoid the mistakes that I made with previous dogs. But it’s also overwhelming when I start to think about how much there is to train for and how much work we have ahead of us to really start working like an in sync team. I think about things like how long it took me to figure out how to make the weave poles make sense to Heffner and Bess. But then I also start to think about how amazing it felt when they got it and we were able to start consistently nailing them! Who knows what training challenges Miley and I will have ahead of us? I do know that it's about time to start giving it a go!
When I signed up for this class, I did tell the instructor a little bit about my philosophies for training for agility with the breed that I have. A lot of it won’t apply until much later, but since we’re starting out with an instructor that we’ve never worked with before, I felt it would be beneficial for her to know where I’m coming from. While Miley is 14 months old, she’s still young for a giant breed. Which means that I don’t want to do much jumping with her. When we do start working with the jump standards, my preference is to keep the jump height low. Yes the dogs need to learn appropriate skills and build the appropriate muscles and coordination to accommodate the height they will be jumping competitively. However, she has got a loooooooooong road of training ahead of her before she is competition ready and there is no need to rush things right now. I also don’t do a lot of tunnel training. With H and B I greatly minimized the numbers of tunnels we did in training. For Heffner, we might do one tunnel a week during class. Once he knew it, I wasn't going to put that continued strain on his body. Bess was a slightly different story in that she LOVED tunnels. She was a tunnel sucker. I still minimized the number of tunnels that she did, but she did only do them during class once a week.
With all of that out of the way, we figured out when our first class would be and have joined a foundation class already in session. I wanted to make sure that I went into this class with the right mind set for myself as well as to make sure that it was a positive experience for Miley. Which meant setting realistic goals for what I wanted/expected to get out of it. This current point in time is a little tricky because I still don’t have my normal Miley. She’s still a little flighty, distracted and doesn’t have the attention span that I’m used to from her because she’s going through a false pregnancy right now (and hopefully will be done with it in another week or two). Which means that I have to take my expectations for normal Miley and lower them a bit. I also needed to take into consideration that this would be the first time that I was asking her to work WITH me and do tasks that she might not find all that interesting, while there was the distraction of other young dogs in the class doing their thing. Working around dogs who are getting trained for agility is a whole different ball game than working on random exercises and attention inside and around the conformation ring! I decided that regardless of the exercise, I needed to be happy to have a dog that was working with me at least a little bit and the biggest thing I was going to have to work on was teaching her to bring her attention back to me when I asked for it (as well as when she offered it), regardless of what else was going on in the class.
I set pretty realistic goals for Miley and I’m glad that I had a sort of mental game prepared before we entered the class. Because I did not have much of a dog for about the first half! The areas that I figured she would struggle with, she did. And the areas that I knew she would excel in she did.
We struggled with small movement exercises or exercises that were aimed at voluntary interactions with inanimate objects. She just didn’t have the focus or interest for fine motor skills or tasks that weren’t “exciting.” She also doesn’t have much of an appetite right now, so her food motivation is just about non-existent. Using toys isn’t appropriate because it gets her focus off what she’s supposed to be doing. Toys are great for some things, but, say, front pivots on a step stool? Not so much. Granted, if I really put the effort in, I’m sure I could find a way around this. Since her current attention span is temporary, I’m going to take the lazy route and say that I’ll take what I can get. ;)
The areas that she excelled in were the exciting exercises. Things like restrained recalls and front crosses on the ground. The latter done with two different toys. As soon as I brought out the toys her whole face just lit right up! Suddenly I had a very attentive and excited dog! I was more than a little thankful for this. I was about ready to tell the instructor that I swear this dog is capable of these things and I’m not making it up! Miley LOVED doing the front cross on the ground exercise. When she is on, that girl can make some seriously tight turns. These snippets, just like the snippets of awesome heeling in obedience are making me so excited about the working partner that is slowly building next to me!
All-in-all, it was a good first class. Lots of distraction with some good moments at the end. Miley is going to learn a lot about working in different conditions with this class, which is happily transferable to all sports. She gets exposed to working around a wide variety of drivey and “drivey” dogs. She gets to work in a barn with all sorts of natural distractions inside, not to mention being exposed on one side to the elements and everything that’s outside. And she will learn to work in a non-temperature controlled facility. All while I get to learn even more about what kind of a partner she needs me to be.
It’s a little bit scary starting all over again, but I can’t wait to see where this new endeavor takes Miley and I. Most of all, I’m looking forward to further strengthening the bond that she and I have as we continue to further learn how to work together as a team.