Training for the sport of agility is a long process. Who doesn't want to complete a six week class and then go out and compete...I know I wish it were that easy! Many times I hear people say to me, "Where is this all going?" I can honestly say that I often ask myself the same question. But amazingly, if you carefully build behaviors, it magically all comes together.
I run an awesome little Sheltie. She is six and we have an amazing working relationship. Sure I send her off course now an again. But sometimes out there running her, I forget how many months/years we've worked to get here.
Last summer I thought, I need a training project. Fin is old enough now that I need to remind myself how much work it really was to get where we are. So somehow I decided to try a JRT. My goal with bringing home this Jack Russell was to see what I could do in 4 months. The question "Is this breed something I would enjoy and want in my life?" was one I wanted answered. After about 2 months my question became, "Can I live without this dog?" Soon she became Olive and now nearly a year later she is still with me (thank you Alison!).
This is the first dog that I've really tried to document what I'm training so that I could see how far we come. Over the past 10 months, we have been building skills to work together in order to play this fun game called agility. But in fact, we are right where we started: I love this little Terrier and she can do no wrong. This blog post is long. The intention is to summarize what I've done. Keep in mind not everything is here...tricks, hiking, arguments with the shelties, struggles with potty training, frustrations, all happened. My life is not without the little struggles, but despite the struggles Olive and I have made and continue to make progress to my first big agility milestone "Competition!"
I brought her home and started to get to know her. What stuff does she like and how can I use those things to get her to do the things I like. Stuff like potty training, taking food nice, walking on a leash, waiting for a cue to go outside or inside, staying near me when off leash...just the stuff that everyone wants to have in a great dog. During this month I introduced shaping training and started on some tricks to teach her to enjoy learning.
Having a ton of fun learning. This month we did loads of tricks. I also started her on circle work and restrained recalls. I also worked on a ton of exercises around just coming when called. In addition we just simply had fun doing searches, going places, meeting new people, and snuggling.
When she was 7 months we were doing much of the same things that we did at 6 months but I started on some sit stay recalls to side, with a front cross, and a shoulder turn. In addition I did many acceleration drills (all on the ground, no jumps). I played a little with wobble boards and balancing as well as pivoting. Mostly I just played and played working on her retrieve (at this point it was only a ball) and the joy of training so she would seek me out to work with her.
Participating in a real class (and having her bestie in the same class) was a really good thing as starting in October she really was seeking out reinforcements from the environment. If I didn't have the perfect toy or food (in her mind) off she went to go visit other dogs and handlers...cause their stuff was so much better.
Group class really helped me to refocus and charge my training making it super fun and continuing to build on the behaviors she already had. More circle work followed by accel/decell drills...every morning tons of running around the back yard before work, on breaks, and after work. No sexy weaves or contacts or jumps...just a lot of fun on the ground.
I wrote in my log for November, "I'm am totally smitten." Pretty much sums it all up. In preparation for some jump work, I started having her go around things (chairs, cones, trees) and then added shoulder turn and front cross to that. Still doing many accell/decell drills, circle work, and play.
OMG we did our first jumps! What a thrill. Adding jumps to accell/decell can be such an exciting time. I also was doing nose touch targets in preparation for contacts. In addition I was doing bang game on the teeter to get her used to the movement and noise.
First jumping class happened in December! Yeeha we are doing AGILITY!
I stopped all jump work in January deciding to focus on some of the basics again. It is a good month for reflection. I noticed that I had started to rely too much on food and the ball and other toys had lost value for Olive. I continued my play with her, body awareness, accell/decell and circle work, but I started to work really hard on retrieve of anything I tossed (building the value back into other toys).
Bang game and targeting is happening! Yipppee! I also took another jumping class and actually raised the jump standards so she was jumping 12" (she'll eventually jump 16" in USDAA).
March & April
No video for these months (I must have been busy. I continued jump exercises, my contact training for Teeter and dog walk (both stopped) and also started the box training for a running A frame. Sometime in April I started 2x2 weaves. She was weaving within 2 weeks!
Now we are here in June. Teeter is pretty good. Dogwalk contact...a ways to go. A frame...sorta stalled cause I didn't keep working her and I need to get back to this. Jumping and weaves, AWESOME! All that accell/decell work is paying off in jumping and I think we are ready for some fun matches to actually run short courses, still need a ton of reinforcements to continue to build value, but Olive is showing me everyday she loves the training process and wants to go play agility.
We started 10 months ago with a blank slate. Each month the most important thing to me has been to build that working relationship. I try to take time to just simply play with her everyday (wrestle, kissy face, tug, whatever). Even though I'm on a journey that takes a while, I can see improvement every month and I see a huge milestone of an actual trial in my near future.