Just last October, Jayda was leaving the ring and hiding in tunnels. The other weekend at Skyline’s trial she showed everyone the wonderful dog *I* know she can be! She got it together and kept it together all weekend – 8 out of 8 QUALIFYING runs, eighty points, 6 1st-places, THREE new titles!
So the lovely Ms. Jayda (aka the Q-Bot or the Big Black Q Machine) adds her NADAC Novice Jumpers, Outstanding Novice Chances and Outstanding Novice Agility to her growing collection of letters :). I’m also seeing gradual improvement in her speed at every trial, which is encouraging.
Is she over her fears? Hardly – getting her from the car to the ring and back can be a challenge. Two of her worst phobias are unfamiliar, open areas … and parking lots! But she seems to have learned that the ring itself is a “safe” place. In there, it is just the two of us, the obstacles she knows and the game she likes to play.
A few things I want to share with anyone in a similar situation – these seem to be working for us:
- Jayda is NEVER “wrong” at a trial - if she takes a wrong course I just act like that’s what we were supposed to do and keep going.
- If she gets distracted, I don’t stand rooted in one spot calling her – I get right in her face and help her refocus.
This goes against the prevailing attitude in agility that “its the dog’s job to come back to you”. I think standing and waiting for the dog to re-engage is fine, IF the dog left to willfully pursue their own agenda (and even then, all too often it reinforces the behavior, especially if the handler subsequently removes the dog from the course). But if Jayda disengages, she doesn’t “need to learn her job” – she’s stressed, she needs my help and I give it to her. Go to her, get right in her face if necessary, anything to get her out of her own head and back on track.
- I am SINCERELY happy for her successes, no matter how small…and I TELL her so – dogs know when you’re not sincere. Instead of a mechanical stream of “good girl, good girl”, I talk to her a LOT while she’s running and praise every little thing. Heck – I AM happy when she gets it right! She also gets lots of treats right after she runs (her favorite part of the trial :)!)
- I don’t “micromanage” her – If I run her cautiously I’ll just slow her down and we won’t make time. I’d rather risk mistakes and keep her momentum. She’s teaching ME to “just go for it” better than my fast dogs ever have!