I had a great training session with the dogs today.  I had planned on training in the morning, but I had a horrible night sleep and got up late.  Then I remembered a million and one things I had to do, including driving half an hour in the opposite direction of the training facility to the butcher I get my hormone and anti-biotic free meat for the dogs from.  They have a fresh meat day on Fridays, the day after they butcher, then everything goes into the freezer.  I always buy on Fridays so I can feed some meat fresh, and also cut things up and freeze them in portions that work better for me.

By the time I got to the training arena, it was 3:15 pm, and I had to leave by 4pm to make it home in time to get to work.  Ugh.  I almost didn’t bother but then I decided just to do what I could in the time I had.  Instead of unloading all the dogs and setting up their crates in the arena etc., I just left them in crates in the car and took one dog out at a time.  Since time was short, I focused mostly on Hannah.

However, when I slid back the arena door, much to my surprise, this is what I found waiting for us:

Somehow, a wild turkey found its way into the barn, and couldn’t find a way out.  I chased him around (gently), trying to coax him out, but he was having none of it.  He flew up on top of a large stack of hay in the corner, and there he perched (can you see him?) and watched us train:

Ok, back to training… We started with doing some box work.  This involves having four jumps set up in a square, about 15 feet between each opposing side.  Then you do various patterns in and around the box.  I’ve done this a bunch of time in classes and workshops, and fortunately write down all the patterns we’ve done.  So I have a nice long list to play with.  You can also set up a double box, and do even more complicated patterns.  It’s really quite amazing how much you can do with four or seven jumps.  Or even just one jump, which is all I have at home.  I think I will make three more so I can do box work at home.  It’s great fun and great training.  I’ll try taking a photo of my notes and posting that to give a better idea of what I’m talking about.

It’s hard to take photos while doing agility.  I tried taking a few photos but my timing was pretty off.  I did get a few that weren’t horrible:

And then I tried taking a few of her going through the tunnel.  At this point, Hannah had clearly had enough.  She stopped dead at the end of the tunnel and glared at me, as much to say “would you FOCUS!!”

I decided to do what I was told and put the camera away…

After I had worked Hannah for about 20 minutes, I gave her some water and put her away.  Next I brought out Mira.  I’ve lamented a million times about what a hard time Mira has with her start lines.  Today I decided to forget about start lines.  We will work on those at home by playing crate games (I just borrowed the DVD from a friend and will be settling in to watch it just as soon as I’m done this post – woo hoo!!  I’m such a party-er on a Friday night!!).  Trying to get her to hold her starts just increases her stress and that makes her more likely to cling to me and break her starts.  I’ve noticed that when practicing start lines, she gets so stressed out that she starts going around jumps to come to me, instead of over them.  Clearly the jump then is quite literally an obstacle, and definitely offers no pleasure. 

Today I blew off start lines and worked at making agility FUN for Mira.  I brought her in and immediately started playing tug with her.  I kept everything flowing and dynamic, never really setting her up to do anything but playing tug, then having her out, go over a jump, then tug.  Tug, jump, tug.  Tug, tunnel, tug.  Tug, jump, tunnel, tug.  Tug tug tug.  Tug weave tug.  Tug tug.  Tug jump tug weave tug. Tug, Tug, Tug.  Tug jump weave.  WOOO HOOO!!!! Huge party with tons of tugging.  

Mira did really, really well.  She was clearly having a blast and had no time to stress.  She was following my directions and going over jumps and when she did a jump and then into the weaves, I just about did a backflip I was so happy.  I wasn’t even planning on her going to the weaves – they were the next obstacle in line, but I never thought she’d take them after a jump (we’re still working on stringing two obstacles in a row).  The weaves don’t have much value for her, although I worked on building that today too.  Apparently it made an impression!

After the jump, weave, tug party, I gave her some water and put her up.  I don’t think we trained for more than 5 minutes, but we got a tone done in that short period of time.  I’m beginning to think that these short little power sessions are really a great approach.

Next I brought out Ross.  He immediately started sniffing around so I grabbed a bunch of dried liver and just did our usual routine of healing in patterns and then a series of obedience moves.  We worked for about two minutes, took a break, then another minute.  That was it.  It took everything I had to keep his attention focused on me, so I called it quits before he lost interest.

I kept Kess’s session even shorter.  I just brought her ten feet into the arena, played an intense session of tug with her, then put her back in the car.  I want her to walk into the arena and immediately think “Time to play with da mama!!!” instead of her current thoughts of “wow, cool, look at all the stuff to explore.”

During the workshop I took a couple of weeks ago, my instructor commented on how different more experienced dogs are in terms of their behaviour in the arena.  Dogs like Hannah walk in and are ready to work. If I were to just ignore her, Hannah would go off and explore until she found a ball and then she’d bring it back to me.  Most of the other more advanced dogs were like that.  The more junior dogs, however, are just blown away by all the sights and smells and have a really hard time focusing on actually doing agility.  

I was very pleased to see that both Hannah and Mira are past that and walk into the arena ready to work-play.  I am not worried about Kess – she’ll get there.  So will Ross, if I put enough time into working him.  Since I have no venue to compete with him, I am not that driven to do a lot of training in the arena with him.  But as long as he comes along for the ride, I’ll do stuff with him while we’re there.  I think it is good for him to learn to relax in an environment like that, even if he’s only ever there because of the other dogs.

The weekend is supposed to be fabulous in terms of weather, so I am going to do some training at home with my one jump, four weave poles and my crates.  And speaking of which, time to watch crate game!