As luck would have it Silvia Trkman opened LoLaBu Land 40km away and we signed up for Agility Foundations class. It was only scheduled once every two weeks, but I figured that’s fine, we’ll take it slow.
Even though we have improved by leaps and bounds since discovering frisbees we still had a few itty bitty problems:
– Couldn’t work off leash around other dogs (unless playing frisbee)
– Doing more than one behavior per reward was really hard (sequencing, anyone?)
– No access to agility equipment (except once every 14 days at LoLaBuLand)
– No access to a fenced-in area
I initially taught Cik&Cap to Ruby as direction of circling around a chair in the living room and even under the best conditions he was painfully slow. When I first used frisbees with Ciks and Caps and he went at a canter instead of a trot I thought he was lightning fast! It’s a good thing I was too excited to notice that in reality he was still quite slow.
Wheee! Cantering around boxes is so much faster than walking around chairs in the living room!
I thought every new thing he did was awesome. He did a figure eight? Wow! He went through a tunnel? Unbelievable! He did a Cik and THEN went through the tunnel? He’s a genius!
And weave poles: “It’s so magical! I just put a frisbee 1m after the channel, hold Ruby and say Where’s the frisbee?, then release him. Easy-peasy :)”
Oh, it took so little to make me happy those days 🙂
Every time I drove back from LoLaBu Land my heart was swelling with pride of my brindle boy who used to think that other dogs were the bestest thing ever invented and now found this agility gig more interesting than dogs. There were no fences at LoLaBu Land at the time so he was free to visit other dogs or go explore the countryside if he chose to.
One time he saw a cat and chased it into neighbour’s barn. Silvia’s comment was “And there goes Ruby…” He came back as soon as he made sure that the cat was secure and comfortable in its hiding spot 😛
But most of the time he chose to stick with me. Me! How did I ever get this lucky?
So with all that awesomeness I decided I could teach Ruby a running dog walk. Because that’s the logical thing to do when you’re a novice trainer with no throwing skills and a dog who most of the time acts like he never saw a clicker outdoors. And has no concept of training at full speed. And who still goes to check out other dogs while training. Which would be fine if you had a place to train with no other dogs present, but you don’t. And no access to equipment either.
I wasn’t really sure if whippets could be taught running contacts using Silvia’s method. Their running style looks a lot different from that of border collies and as far as I knew no whippet has been successfully taught with Silvia’s RC method. I knew of two whippets, Pan and Boing! who had running contacts, but were taught using a collection of methods, and Boing! was switched to stopped contacts eventually. Again, being the optimist that she is, Silvia didn’t try to dissuade me from trying.
I bought a plank, sand-painted it and couldn’t even wait until the paint was dry before testing it out. I took it to a small park between apartment buildings, with people, dogs, birds and occasional cat wandering around. Although Ruby had a lot of problems staying focused there, it proved to be a great environment because he practiced choosing playing with me over distractions many, many times over. I could always tell when one of the neighbour’s bitches were in heat because Ruby would get all brainless again, but with time he learned to work though those scents as well. (Fast forward a year later: he chose to leave a bitch in heat to play agility with me! Happydance!)
On the video above is our setup in a small park between apartment buildings.
The beginning videos of running contacts training are so painful to watch it hurts my eyes. I made every possible mistake in setting Ruby up. He was slow, bouncy and looked at me instead of focusing ahead. He avoided the plank if at all possible. I clicked him for jumping off the plank. I spent at least a month teaching poor fellow how to bounce on that plank before I found a way that made him run. I’m sure by then Silvia wasn’t feeling so optimistic anymore 🙂
Me? I was hooked. I thought that with just another training session or two I could get him to run consistently. Well, it took more than that, but I always had the feeling that success was just a session or two away. I recruited help from a second instructor (Daša Zakotnik) because I couldn’t see where Ruby’s paws hit and in the process gained access to dog walk and a fenced training area.
I thought I learned patience and perseverance during Ruby’s first year, but I had to upgrade it to 2.0 for running contacts. Still, after 8 long months we finally did it! When Ruby ran over the full-height dog walk for the first time – that was the most exhilarating feeling in the world. I was thinking about where to set him up when he ran over the dog walk all on his own and hit the contact. It was like magic 🙂